EU Cracks Down On Mobile Ring Tone Scammers

"This EU wide action is a direct response to hundreds of complaints from consumers that have come into national authorities," said EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva in a written statement Thursday. "Far too many people are falling victim to costly surprises from mysterious charges, fees and ring-tone subscriptions they learn about for the first time when they see their mobile phone bill. There will be Europe wide enforcement action to track down each of these traders."

In particular, the investigation found that many of the sites touting services for mobile devices, such as ring tones and wallpaper, are specifically targeted to children. At least 50 percent of the scrutinized Websites were geared for children, often using cartoon characters, famous TV personalities or encouraging parental consent, the investigation found.

Kuneva called for the EU Commission to take appropriate action to protect children from being scammed by fraudulent mobile phone advertisers.

"But we need to get a clear message out particularly to teenagers and childrenand#8212;be on your guard! It's all about the small print! There are many reputable traders out there, but to be safe buying these services, check the fine print every time and make sure you are not signing up for more than you bargained for," said Kuneva.

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The investigation, known as "The Sweep," indicated that 466 Websites require further scrutiny, out of an examined 558. Other mobile phone Website problems unearthed by the investigation included unclear price information, no name or contact information about the advertiser and misleading or hidden contract information.

Meanwhile, almost 50 percent of all the checked sites had discrepancies related to the information about the price, with many of the charges and fees labeled unclearly or not mentioned at all. Often listed prices did not include taxes, and in the case of subscription services, the word "subscription" or the length of the contract was not clear.

Altogether, 399 of the scanned Websites lacked some of the information required for potential buyers to contact the vender. The missing information often included name, address or contact details of the advertiser. Hidden and misleading information is in direct violation of the EU's eCommerce Directive law, which requres the service provider to display contact information, including e-mail address.

In addition, more than 60 percent of the mobile phone product sites presented information in a way that was intended to mislead the customers, with key information on the terms of the contract hidden or in fine print. In addition, words like "free" were often misused to trick customers into signing long-term contracts.

The European-wide investigation was conducted across the 27 member states, Norway and Iceland between June 2 and 6.

The investigation, known as "The Sweep," is a coordinated, simultaneous enforcement action carried out within member states that checks Web pages for breaches in European consumer law.