EU set to take action against mobile phone service scams

With an ever-increasing number of sites on the web offering ringtones, wallpapers, and games, there is also an increasing number scamming consumers. The European Commission is attempting to address that.

The government has launched a bloc-wide "sweep," where the member states simultaneously check Web pages for breaches of consumer law. The mobile services sweep took place between June 2 and 6.

This is not the first time the EU has conducted such a sweep. In 2007, airline ticket sales were investigated.

Specifically, authorities were looking for violations in three areas of EU law: the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, Distance Selling Directive, and the E-commerce Directive.

A total of 558 Web sites were checked during the period, and the EC found 466 of them required further investigation. Of those, 76 may require cross-border cooperation between member states' consumer protection agencies.

There are some notable names on the list: For instance, several reported localized versions of Jamba as being in violation of EU laws. Vodafone in Iceland was also included. A list of the disclosed providers is available on the Europa Web site.

In Europe, ringtones are big business, making up 29 percent of mobile content revenues in the region last year. Altogether, 2007 sales are estimated to be 691 million euros.

EU Commissioner Meglena KunevaEU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva said authorities had received hundreds of complaints about mobile service sites. She said the sites were misleading users into charges they may have not initially bargained for.

"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," she warned.

Half of the sites were targeting children, and many contained multiple irregularities that concern authorities. For example, about half did not clearly specify charges, while 70% lacked information required to contact the trader.

Furthermore, three out of every five sites represented their services and related charges in a misleading way: for example, listing ringtones as "free," but later charging the customer for services as part of some sort of contract.

Authorities are now proceeding to contact those services which have raised a red flag with investigators. They will be asked to either clarify or correct their problems, and failing to do so could result in legal action.

Member states are being asked to report back on their progress during the first half of next year, the EU said.

Here in the US, such services have gotten carriers in hot water. In June, AT&T settled a suit in which it was accused of allowing third-party operators to charge its users for services without adequate explanation of those charges.

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