Firm fined for text bombardment

By Benedict O'ConnorA FIRM that plagued a man with premium-rate cash prize text messages has been fined £100,000 and banned from running competitions for a year.

By Benedict O'Connor

A FIRM that plagued a man with premium-rate cash prize text messages has been fined £100,000 and banned from running competitions for a year.

Richard Blackwood, from Hawstead, near Bury St Edmunds, was alarmed by a number of messages on his mobile phone telling him he may be in line for a cash prize.

But having read newspaper reports of people being left with huge phone bills after unwittingly calling premium-rate lines to claim a prize, he decided not to take the bait.

Instead Mr Blackwood complained to telephone watchdog, the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS).

It has now fined PRS Communications of Basingstoke, the firm behind the texts, £100,000 and imposed a one-year ban from operating competitions.

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Mr Blackwood said: “I had at least seven calls and it was becoming a thumping nuisance, and I thought as a respectable citizen I ought to do something.

“I am overjoyed they have been taken to task for these so-called competitions and this dubious practice has been stopped.

“I have spoken to people all over the country who have received similar messages and I have heard reports of people paying up to £20 per minute to call these claim lines, and hopefully the more people get to hear about these competitions, the less people will fall victim to them.”

A spokesman for ICSTIS said: “Firstly, unsolicited messages in this fashion are illegal and anyone who receives one should make a complaint, and certainly should not ring the number they are given.

“Secondly, no-one is going to give you £2,000 for nothing, therefore if you haven't entered a competition, you haven't won one - it's a simple as that. We have never come across a single one of these competitions which has proved to be genuine.”

A report from ICSTIS into the practice added: “We noted several apparent breaches in the code of practice, which is a set of rules to which all operators of premium-rate numbers must adhere.

“One of the main concerns was that the service was being promoted in a misleading fashion, with complainants receiving a lack of information about the competition, that they had not been made aware of the cost of calling this premium-rate service or the length of time they would have to hang on the line in order to claim their prize.”

The report added there had been difficulty in obtaining information about who was running the competition or how to contact them or even what the prize was.

ICSTIS said it had spoken to PRS Communications, which had maintained that all of the people who received messages or phone calls had consented to receive that type of call.

In addition to the fine and the competition ban, ICSTIS has also asked the firm to refund anyone who has complained about the competition charges.

The East Anglian Daily Times tried to contact PRS Communications, but was told it had moved and its telephone number had been reallocated to another company.

benedict.o'connor@eadt.co.uk

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