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Adult 020 chatline scam tackled

It follows mass of complaints to industry watchdog


Texting on a mobile phone

A sex chatline scam first exposed by Which? in 2002 has finally been taken to task after years of exploiting a legal loophole.

Telecom Billing Services (TBS) has a history of running extortionate chatlines on 020 London numbers under various names.

Sexlines normally operate on premium-rate numbers – which are regulated and controlled – but because TBS operated outside this system, it could evade controls, including those on children’s ability to access adult services.

Now telecoms watchdog Ofcom has finally taken action after TBS sent people unrequested texts to try to snare them into calling its expensive adult chatline.

Explicit texts

The adult chat service was operated over landline numbers starting with the 020 7 code and customers were charged a minimum of £12.95 per call.

Ofcom said it had received more than 400 complaints about TBS since January last year, of which about 55 related to the company’s use of text messages as adverts.

Some complainants said the ‘sexually explicit’ text messages advertised the adult chat services without making its charges clear. Others said they received texts which simply asked them to dial the number shown in the message.

Callers were billed at the standard landline rate, plus an additional minimum charge of £12.95 per call.

Persistent misuse

After an investigation, the regulator found TBS in breach of the Communications Act 2003.

Ofcom said it had ‘reasonable grounds to believe TBS has persistently misused an electronic communications service thereby causing others to suffer annoyance, inconvenience and/or anxiety.’

The regulator ordered TBS to refund anyone who’d paid up after getting the unsolicited text, and waive all outstanding charges. It also said it would consider fining TBS up to £50,000 if it failed to comply.

Learn how to get your money back after a scam with our guide.

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