'Typosquatting' premium rate phone firms fined £100,000

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Image caption 'Typosquatting' directs consumers to fake sites when they mistype the address

Two companies running premium-rate phone competitions on "typosquatted" sites have been fined £100,000.

Typosquatters use misspelled versions of the web addresses of well-known brands.

Premium-rate phone regulator PhonepayPlus said Amsterdam-based R&D Media Europe and Una Valley BV used typosquatted sites.

The regulator said consumers were "misled" and additionally ordered the fined companies to refund callers.

PhonepayPlus said the companies had also failed to provide clear information about pricing.

Consumers visiting the typosquatted pages, which resembled well-known websites, were invited to take part in competitions.

The competition sites had web addresses, similar to those of legitimate brands, like Wikipedia or Twitter.

In the competitions, the regulator said, participants were given the impression that entering contact details and answering a few questions were all that would be required to win a prize.

However, participants began to receive text messages asking them quiz or survey questions, with each message costing £1.50 to receive and a further £1.50 to answer.

PhonepayPlus said one victim was charged £63 after using a site based on YouTube.

Brand abuse

PhonepayPlus sanctions all premium-rate telephone service providers who operate in the UK market.

All providers are obliged to register with the organisation and abide by their code of practice over fair use.

The regulator said R&D Media Europe and Una Valley BV breached this code of practice.

As well as the fine, PhonepayPlus' tribunal ordered the two companies to refund those that have lost money through these competitions.

The organisation's chief executive Paul Whiteing said: "These judgements send a clear message to providers that they cannot play on the public's trust in well-known websites to promote services."

Neither R&D Media Europe nor Una Valley BV could be reached for comment.

Charlie Abrahams, vice-president of brand protection firm MarkMonitor, told the BBC that typosquatting is one of the most common methods of scams involving cybersquatting.

"The infringer is preying on the possibility of the consumer missing out a dot or making a mistake," he said.

"It is breaking the law by attempting to make profit by impersonating a trademark."

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