Wednesday 26 July 2017

Customers hit with huge bills for unwanted phone services

Brendan Burgess, from Sandymount in Dublin, with his mobile phone. Photo: STEVE HUMPHREYS
Brendan Burgess, from Sandymount in Dublin, with his mobile phone. Photo: STEVE HUMPHREYS

Aideen Sheehan Consumer Correspondent

Hundreds of consumers never saw the huge bills coming for tarot-card readings, and fortune-telling services they never wanted.

The Irish Independent can reveal details of the premium- rate phone companies that incurred the wrath of customers last year.

The state watchdog ComReg investigated 575 complaints in 2011 about premium-rate phone services.

These are phone services that charge customers high rates -- often as much as €2.40 per text -- for services such as horoscopes, social chatting or sports updates.

Three companies dominated the list of formal complaints to ComReg -- accounting for almost two-thirds of all complaints investigated, a Freedom of Information response shows.

Comreg declined to give a full breakdown of the nature and outcome of the complaints it investigated citing confidentiality and possible damage to its future negotiating position.

Dublin company Inkred, which operates a number of competition, fortune-telling and social chat sites, led the way with 140 complaints in 2011.

Details of complaints received over a one-month period show that problems with their "Prizeclub" service were the main source of dispute in January 2011.

Prizeclub is a text-based service that claims to have been used by half a million Irish subscribers. Customers are charged €4 a week for the chance to enter regular competitions.

Inkred declined to comment on its high complaints' tally or give details on how many customers it had issued refunds to over disputed charges last year.

Realm Communications, which operates the controversial Irish Psychics Live service and a number of other fortune-telling, weather and competition sites, was the subject of 97 complaints, with at least one problem relating to alleged underage access.

The Irish Independent also discovered that a link on its Irish Psychics Live website offering "€20 free phone credit" actually blacks out the crucial detail that availing of this offer will sign you up for a €40 a month subscription service to FoneClub.

This concealed information only becomes legible if you first provide your mobile phone number, allowing it to bombard you with promotional offers.

Realm declined to comment on its complaints record or the obscuring of cost information on the Irish Psychics Live site.

Zamano Solutions, meanwhile, was the subject of 130 complaints.

This Dublin-based company, which operates internationally, runs a number of subscription- based phone services ranging from tarot texts to movie previews and ringtone downloads.

Zamano incurred fines totalling more than £250,000 (€305,000) between 2006 and 2010 from the UK regulator Phonepayplus for breaches of its regulations.

A Zamano spokesperson said those UK breaches related to historic issues, and the complaints received by Comreg last year were "a tiny percentage of their subscriber base in Ireland".

He declined to give details of how many customers complained directly to them or received refunds.

Irish Independent

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