70% of ringtone-scam websites cleaned following EU investigation

Since June 2008, when initial checks took place, 301 websites were investigated by national enforcement authorities for serious breaches of EU consumer law. 70% of the 301 cases investigated, have now been resolved. 52% (159 websites) have been corrected and 17% (54 websites) have closed.

70% of websites investigated for mis-selling ringtones, wallpapers and other mobile phone services have been corrected or closed, following an 18 month EU consumer crackdown carried out by 27 Member States, Norway and Iceland.  The three main problems found were: unclear pricing (for example, information was missing or incomplete); failure to provide complete trader information; and misleading advertising, in particular, advertising ringtones as "free" where the consumer is in fact tied into a paying subscription.

The market

More than 495 million mobile phones are owned by Europeans. Ring-tones alone were estimated to make up 29% of the overall "mobile content" market in Europe in 2007 (about 10% higher than 2006). The value of European ring-tone sales in 2007 was estimated at €691 million.

Results of the 2008 Ringtone Sweep

Of the 301 sites investigated, 70% of problems have now been resolved, (159 have been corrected (52%), and 54 have closed (17%)
Over half of these websites specifically targeted children (54%, 163 websites) using children's cartoon characters, well known TV characters or required parental consent. Many websites indicated multiple irregularities.

The 3 main problems found in the websites investigated were:

  • 41% of all the websites checked had some irregularity related to the information about the offer's price (124 websites out of 301). On many websites information about the price was incomplete or not referred to at all - until the consumer was invoiced via their phone bill. In particular, in the case of a subscription, the word subscription was not clearly mentioned or the period of a subscription was not clear.
  • 75% of all the websites checked lacked some of the information required to contact the trader - the trader name, geographic address or the contact details were incomplete (225 websites out of 301). This is against EU law (the eCommerce and distance selling Directives which require details of the service provider, including an email address, to be displayed.)
  • 35% of websites investigated presented the information in a misleading way (105 out of 301) Information on the contract was available on the site but hidden in small print or hard to find. In 28% of the misleading cases, services were advertised as "free", but the customer was misled and later found that there were charges or that they were tied into a long term contract.