Two Dutch outfits who misled consumers by allowing their competitions to be promoted on websites with very similar web addresses to popular sites have been fined £100,000 each by PhonepayPlus, the UK regulator of premium rate telephone services (PRS).
Competitions were promoted on sites that ‘squat’ on addresses very close to popular, well-known websites such as Twitter, YouTube and Wikipedia. These included competitions for iPads and Mac Books were promoted on websites with addresses such as wikapedia.com and twtter.com. This practice, known as ‘typosquatting’, takes advantage of consumers mistyping when they are searching for popular websites. In both cases, the landing pages for the ‘squatted’ sites looked like the genuine sites the consumer was searching for – the ‘squatted’ sites used the same logos, colouring and fonts.
These ‘squatted’ sites informed consumers that they had won or could claim a prize, such as an iPad. In both cases, consumers were given the impression that to enter or claim they simply had to enter their contact details and answer some questions. In both cases, one screen asked consumers to input their mobile phone number. Consumers then received a PIN number on their mobile phones to use for the website competitions. Consumers also began to receive texts to their mobile phones asking them quiz/survey questions, which they could text back to answer. Consumers were charged £1.50 for each question received on their mobile phones as well as £1.50 to answer each question. One complainant said that his fiancée ‘was tricked into a service on youtube’ and that she was charged £63 in total.
PhonepayPlus' Tribunal found that that the providers had breached the Code of Practice as a result of promotions that had misled consumers and that had not provided clear information about pricing. R&D Media Europe and Unavalley BV were both fined £100,000 and ordered to refund consumers. Paul Whiteing, PhonepayPlus’ Chief Executive, said that the judgements send a clear message to providers that they cannot play on the public’s trust in well-known websites to promote services. “We want consumers to continue to have confidence in the digital market place and we will do everything we can to ensure that they do,” he said.