ICSTIS, the UK premium rate services watchdog, has slapped a Leeds-based service provider with a £50,000 fine - its biggest to date - for sending misleading spam text messages.
The regulator also barred access to Moby Monkey's "£500 Mystery Award" service. It took action following more than 200 complaints from the public over Moby Monkey's SMS "seriously misleading" exhortations to ring a premium rate number to win a £500 mystery prize. Punters who took the bait found that only discount holiday vouchers, with undisclosed terms and conditions attached, were on offer.
There's more: Moby Monkey also promoted the service in "an inappropriate manner, with many messages received by children or by some mobile users repeatedly. Other breaches of its Code upheld by ICSTIS included taking unfair advantage of consumers (by falsely emphasising the need to call the service urgently), encouraging unauthorised use (many corporate mobile users received the text messages) and unreasonable delay during the actual premium rate call".
ICSTIS director George Kidd said the size of the fine reflects the "serious consumer harm caused by their service and its promotion, and will act as a warning to the industry: misleading consumers in this way is totally unacceptable. Promotions of this kind are likely to be barred immediately and the offending companies fined heavily".
But will Moby Monkey pay up? A notice pinned on the domain mobymonkey.co.uk reads:
The company behind this website have failed to pay for it and other work associated with it, despite a Court Judgement that they should do so.
As a consequence this site has been suspended until payment is received.
Moby Monkey appears to be connected to a Leeds company called Game 24/7, dissolved in March this year by Companies House for 'non-compliance', according to The Guardian. "Interestingly, Game 24/7 was fined £20,000 by ICSTIS last September for breaching regulations with a mobile ring-tone download service," the paper reported in April.
The UK premium rate market generated approx. £600m revenues in 2001, according to ICSTIS, which says that there around 20,000 services in operation at any one time. ®