Complaints to watchdog soar over 'unwanted' top-rate phone services
Thousands of consumers are encountering problems with unwanted premium-rate phone services every year.
Around 1,000 consumers a month contacted the communications watchdog Comreg because of issues with these services last year, with over 90pc denying they had subscribed to them.
Out of the concerns raised, Comreg logged 982 formal complaints about the multimillion-euro sector in 2013.
Premium-rate services include horoscopes, chatlines, sports results and ringtones, which you sign up for and access and pay for via your mobile phone or landline.
Many of these involve charges of over €10 a week for information received by text to your phone.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent under Freedom of Information show Comreg received 982 complaints about these service in 2013 and 1,077 in 2012.
This was far higher than the 575 complaints received in 2011, despite the introduction of a stringent code of practice for the sector in 2012.
Comreg is now considering tougher measures to protect consumers. In particular it wants to ensure customers are given unambiguous price information when they sign up for a premium phone service.
Most complaints received by Comreg centre on consumers denying they had signed up for a premium-rate service or had no recollection of doing so.
Some 449 complaints related to UK-based Mobile NOBO; 222 related to Dragonfly Mobile Ltd; 71 to Infaze Ltd; and 68 to Dublin-based Zamano Solutions Ltd. Most of the complaints received last year are still under investigation. However, Comreg published details of completed investigations in the last two years, where it found the provider to be in breach of its Code of Practice.
Global Billing Solutions (GBS) was ordered to refund customers last July for multiple breaches involving its ringaling.tv service, which provides ringtones, music, games and video clips at a cost of €12 a week. Some ringaling.tv customers were signed up via a misleading web address, youtebe.com, with branding similar to Youtube, which enticed them to enter their mobile phone number to win a prize, without making them aware they then faced premium-rate charges for downloading material.
GBS also had its Smartphone Tips and FoneClub services licences suspended last year, because it failed to refund customers after breaching conditions.
TV3 was instructed last May to refund customers who had entered text-based competitions in autumn 2012 because it did not include price details of the €2 entry fee in its promotional material, which also stated "no purchases necessary".
And one of the biggest Irish operators, Zamono Solutions, was also ordered to refund customers after Comreg found its Winclub service, which charged users €15 to enter an online competition, did not make the costs clear.
The Irish Phone Paid Services Association, which represents companies, says on its website that the industry had domestic revenues of €94m a year in 2006/07. The association could not be reached for comment over the high level of complaints about the sector.