UK premium-line regulator PhonepayPlus has slapped Churchcastle Limited with the largest fine it has dished to date, ruling the phone-quiz host guilty of misleading and bamboozling callers with impenetrable terms and conditions.
After it received 15 complaints, PhonepayPlus found Churchcastle guilty of targeting the elderly, keeping them hanging on the line at up to £1.53 a minute, inducing them to call back without explaining the costs properly, and then providing cheap prizes, all of which mounts up to a £800,000 fine and refunds to anyone who asks for one.
Churchcastle advertised its quiz line in various national papers, requiring players to complete a word search over the phone, but according to the regulator that call was just the hook with which marks were snagged.
Next up was a letter, explaining that a prize was in the offing but offering the chance to win more just by calling in, which is where the really expensive charges came in, after which the customers were sent poor-quality jewellery.
Churchcastle is no stranger to controversy. The company was rebuked in 2006 by the Office of Fair Trading (which regulated this stuff before PhonepayPlus) for mailing people to say they had won a prize. This lured 56,000 victims into calling a premium-rate number in the hope of collecting their winnings - which turned out to be derisory coupon books.
Prizewordsearch.com, the site run by Churchcastle Limited, is still in operation, and the company tells us that it may request a review of the findings as:
"There was not a shred of evidence to undermine our belief that over 99% of callers both fully understood and enjoyed entering the competitions concerned."
The company insists it's always happy to refund anyone who feels otherwise. ®