A UK game firm has been fined £45,000 ($74,000) for using a bogus web game distributed on Facebook and Tumblr to trick mobile users into agreeing to receive weekly premium-rate texts.
According to phone-paid services regulator PhonepayPlus, between January and July 2013 Nobinet Ltd offered prizes such as including iPads and Playstation 3 consoles for users obtaining high scores on a Pac-Man game advertised on social media sites under the Playneto and Gameztour brands.
Consumers were lured to the game by a link promising to reveal people that viewed their profiles, at which point the ads embedded themselves (in the case of Facebook) on their walls. To enter, users had to enter their mobile number after which they were charged either £3 or £4.50 per week using premium rate texts.
The regulator said it had received 8 complaints from people who said they had not agreed to the charges, including from parents of a 13 year old and a 17 year old. A full refund to affected users was awarded.
"Consumers were tricked into signing up for this service by misleading digital marketing," commented PhonepayPlus director of strategy & communications, Patrick Guthrie.
"Most affiliate marketing services follow the rules, but this case should be a warning to consumers to take care following adverts that then require them to enter their phone number online. If an advert promises something that looks too good to be true then treat it with caution."
Although the fine is small, action by the regulator is still a relatively rare event. The scale of losses or victim numbers havent been released but the £45,000 sum is probably indicative.
The regulator was involved in spate of actions against providers in 2012, including a fake Angry Birds app that ended with a £28,000 fine. Earlier the same year, two firms found guilty of exploiting typosquatting were hit with a large £100,000 bill.