Premium Rate Firms Fined £450,000 After Dodgy Facebook Campaigns

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PhonePayPlus reaches out to Facebook to clamp down on dodgy premium rate businesses

Two firms have been fined a total of £450,000 for duping people into dialling premium rate phone numbers to take part in competitions promoted on Facebook.

Regulator PhonepayPlus handed Amazecell a £300,000 fine and fined mBill Pty £150,000 for misleading consumers and not providing clear pricing information.

The organisations were caught employing affiliate marketers to promote premium rate competitions by lying to Facebook users. The marketers misled users by offering them vouchers for major retailers such as Asda and Tesco, posting onto users’ walls without them knowing about it.

They would also attempt to spread their campaigns by asking users to share the promotion across Facebook to get hold of vouchers.

Premium rate lies

Once users had clicked through to collect vouchers, they were asked to take part in a premium rate game by sending in their mobile number and, in some cases, the cost of the competition was hidden. In the case of Amazecell, users were charged £5 per question sent to their phone.

“These adjudications send a strong message to providers that they need to be sure how their services are promoted online by affiliate marketers. These judgements make clear that misleading behaviours such as this will attract sizeable penalties,” said Paul Whiteing, PhonepayPlus’ chief executive.

“We have contacted Facebook about these issues and we want to discuss with them what steps can be taken to prevent such abuse of social media before harm occurs.

“For consumers and social media users who are concerned about such practices, I would give this advice: Treat your phone number like your bank card pin number and before you input it online, be sure how the number will be used and what you are signing up for.”

Meanwhile, the Office of Fair Trading has written to 62  top online retailers after a sweep of 156 websites found many may not be fully complying with consumer protection law. Almost two-thirds did not offer an email contact on their site, as required by e-commerce regulations.

Earlier this month, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it was planning to fine two individuals over £250,000 for sending millions of spam texts.

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