Crazy Frog frenzyThousands could be in for a refund

21 December 2005

Thousands of mobile phone users who ran up big bills downloading the Crazy Frog ringtone could be in line for a refund.

The premium-rate number watchdog Icstis has ruled that a company behind the craze misled customers by not making clear that it was a subscription service.

Icstis has fined mBlox GBP 40,000 and ordered it to pay refunds to 338 people who complained. Many were parents whose children signed up, only to find their phone credit swiftly drained. The watchdog has called for thousands of other customers who believe they've been ripped off, but haven't yet complained, to get a refund. They should contact Icstis, which will advise them how to apply.

The Crazy Frog character is the creation of ringtone-maker Jamba and is sold through its website, called Jamster . To buy the ringtone, consumers had to send a text to a premium-rate service run by mBlox. Icstis has no power to fine Jamba as only companies directly running premium-rate numbers fall within its remit.

Ictsis said adverts promoting the service didn't adequately explain the cost. Hundreds of consumers thought they were making a one-off purchase but in reality they were signing up to a subscription service costing between GBP 3 and GBP 5 a week.

Careless disregard

Icstis found that while a lot of thought had gone into producing the adverts, it seemed that little time was spent on the terms and conditions, which left out important information and were unclear.

Icstis Director George Kidd said: 'Consumers should not be made to work to find out what any premium-rate service involves or costs. Although the [Icstis] panel found that there was no fraudulent or malicious intent behind the service, the companies concerned showed a careless disregard and unprofessional attitude to consumers in failing to be clear on the exact nature of the service.'

Industry sources estimate that Jamba and mBlox turned over about GBP 2 million so far this year through Crazy Frog and similar promotions.

In September, Jamster was rapped by the advertising watchdog after parents complained that children were being tricked into running up huge bills.

The Advertising Standards Authority subsequently ruled that the ads couldn't be shown before the 9pm watershed.

MBlox, which has 20 working days to appeal against Icstis' decision, said that Icstis should have the power to fine content providers such as Jamba directly. It is considering whether to request a judicial review of the Icstis' code of practice.

It added: 'In future the regulatory framework should make the people who create and promote mobile content...accountable for the content transmitted to consumers and the marketing practices they adopt.'