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70% of ringtone-scam websites corrected or closed following EU probe - 17/11/2009

Hand holding mobile phone in front of computer screen ©EC

Authorities investigated 301 mobile phone services websites in follow-up to EU crackdown on misleading consumer practices.

Authorities investigated 301 mobile phone services websites in follow-up to EU crackdown on misleading consumer practices.

So far 54 have been shut down and 159 others “cleaned up” – forced to correct practices that violate EU consumer law. Italy fined nine content suppliers and mobile operators a total of about €2m in connection with the probe.

The websites were among 558 scrutinised over a week in June 2008 – a 29-country operation carried out jointly by EU countries together with Norway and Iceland. All sell content for mobile phones, like ringtones, wallpapers, logos, games and subscriptions to chat services.

The sweep was prompted by hundreds of complaints, often from parents hit with a big phone bill after their children unknowingly subscribed to a ringtone or other service. Many of the sites target the young.

The sweep was the second joint action by enforcement authorities across Europe. In 2007, 15 EU countries teamed up with Norway in a probe of websites that sell airline tickets.

EU consumer commissioner Meglena Kuneva said more sweeps were in the works. “These results show that EU-wide enforcement cooperation can make a huge difference in cleaning up a market for consumers.”

The market for mobile phone services is growing, reflecting the popularity of the phones themselves. In 2007 the value of European ringtone sales was estimated at €691m, including but not limited to purchases via the Internet.

Austria, Hungary and Romania had the most sites in breach of consumer rules – 21 each. France and Lithuania had 20 apiece, followed by Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands with 18, 17 and 16 respectively.

The companies fined in Italy included Telecom Italia, Vodafone or Fox Mobile and Tutto gratis.

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