Premium rate regulator tackles misleading digital marketing practices with new guidelines for the industry and advice for consumers

Paul Whiteing

PhonepayPlus today publishes guidelines for the premium rate services industry on the use of certain digital marketing practices that the regulator has identified can be misleading to consumers. PhonepayPlus also has new advice to help prevent consumers from being caught out.

The Guidance document outlines eight practices often used by affiliate marketers which are either always misleading or have the potential to mislead consumers. These include the use of content locking, adware and certain promotions on social networking sites.

Today’s Guidance aims to assist providers of premium rate services that conduct affiliate and other marketing online in ensuring that their promotions remain complaint with the PhonepayPlus Code of Practice.

Digital Marketing is a fast changing area and consumers can be well served by innovation. However, providers must ensure that their marketing, be it in-house or through affiliates, is compliant.

The Guidance re-confirms providers’ responsibilities under the Code, highlights a number of practices identified over the last 18 months that may be considered misleading and, critically, suggests a number of practical steps providers can take to help ensure that their marketing is compliant.

The published Guidance can be found by following this link: http://www.phonepayplus.org.uk/News-And-Events/News/2013/11/Digital-marketing-Guidance.aspx  

In addition, PhonepayPlus publishes advice to help prevent consumers from being caught out. PhonepayPlus has seen cases where consumers have been misled by affiliate promotions, even where they did not intend to use a premium rate service.

Consumers are advised to:

– Stop, is the advert offering something that is too good to be true?

– Look at the website you’ve been taken to, is it offering what you thought it would? Does the logo look right?

– Read the small print. Look for numbers, they often stand out and contain prices.

– Protect your phone number. Treat your phone number like a bank PIN. Only enter your mobile number online if you wish to subscribe to a particular mobile service or wish to be contacted.

– Stop any text services you don’t want by texting ‘STOP’ but keep the texts as evidence.

– Check your bill regularly. Are there any charges you don’t recognise?

– Tell PhonepayPlus if you have a problem through our helpline: 0800 500121 or online at http://www.phonepayplus.org.uk

Key facts

1. PhonepayPlus estimate that consumer complaints relating to digital marketing now represent around 20 per cent of total complaints received by PhonepayPlus, up from less than 10 per cent in mid-2011 – although down from a peak of 50 per cent in mid-2012. Total consumer complaints relating to the digital marketing of PRS received by PhonepayPlus now average over 200 per month.

2. In 2012 alone, PhonepayPlus’ Tribunals adjudicated on ten cases directly related to the digital marketing of PRS, levying fines of £1.38 million against PRS providers deemed to have been in breach of the Code.

3. The total number of consumer complaints against these ten cases was 861 and resulted in fines ranging from £10,000 up to £500,000 depending on the severity of the Code breaches. Of the ten cases, subscription-based quiz services were especially prominent. This is of particular concern given that subscription-based services can result in high cumulative spends and therefore have significant potential for consumer harm.

About the author and PhonepayPlus

Paul Whiteing is Chief Executive of PhonepayPlus. PhonepayPlus is the organisation that regulates phone-paid services – the goods and services that you can buy by charging the cost to your phone bills and mobile pre-pay accounts. Further details of its work can be found at www.phonepayplus.org.uk .

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