By Hannah Bayman
Crazy Frog's Axel F became the first ringtone to reach number one
When I ordered the Crazy Frog Axel F ringtone, in an ironic mood, I expected a bit of derision from friends.
What I did not expect was to be hit with a hugely-inflated mobile bill after being sent a slew of junk texts.
After texting a number on a television advert to get the tone, I was bombarded with messages from Jamster inviting me to download more tones.
It wasn't until my next bill arrived from Orange that I discovered each junk text from Jamster had cost me £3.
When I called Orange, the call centre operator told me I was one of hundreds of people he had spoken to with the same complaint.
Instead of ordering Crazy Frog's Axel F as a one-off tone, we had unwittingly subscribed to an expensive ringtone account, with Jamster sending premium rate reverse-charge texts every few days.
The new version of Axel F, the theme to the Beverly Hills Cop films, became the first ringtone to make it into the UK singles charts - hanging on to the top spot until last week.
It is the biggest success story so far in a booming ringtone market in the UK, valued at £1.6bn in 2003 and predicted to rise to £2.5bn by 2008.
But there may be a darker side to the Crazy Frog phenomenon.
While ringtone-maker Jamster and its telephone service provider mBlox made an estimated £10m from the craze by January alone, thousands of customers may have lost out.
Icstis, the watchdog for premium rate services, is investigating mBlox after receiving 110 complaints from the public about the Jamster Crazy Frog service.
London-based mBlox could have its lines closed down and be fined a maximum of £100,000 if it is found to have breached regulations.
In April, mBlox was formally reprimanded and fined £2,000 for another promotion involving unsolicited text messages.
Catherine Bell, Icstis spokeswoman, told the BBC News website: "We are investigating the promotion and content of the Crazy Frog service, run by mBlox for Jamster.
"We are looking at whether people are aware they are signing up for a chargeable subscription service and if they know how much they will be paying and how often."
Operators can be fined up to £100,000 for breaching guidelines
Ms Bell said the watchdog was also investigating whether Crazy Frog products had been inappropriately aimed at children, particularly because of their use of dancing cartoon characters.
Tones from the Crazy Frog character have been heavily promoted in prime-time television adverts, like the one to which I responded.
I did not spot the impossibly small print whizzing by on the bottom of the screen while a larger-than-a life Crazy Frog gyrated to his latest tones.
If I had, it would apparently have informed me that by ordering the ringtone I had also signed up to a subscription.
The watchdog's 2004 code says pricing information must be spoken on television adverts if maximum call costs can exceed £2.
The code also states that "textual pricing information must be easily legible, prominent... presented in a way that does not require close examination".
When I visited the Jamster site to find out why I was receiving junk texts, I found nothing in their terms and conditions that mentioned either charges or subscription.
Similarly, an email to Jamster customer service to ask if I was being charged got an automated response, again with no word of charges or subscription.
It wasn't until I called Orange, after receiving my mobile bill, that I found out that I had a subscription and how to cancel it.
Andrew Bud, mBlox's executive chairman, said: "At mBlox, we look after the transmission and settlement of messages for many well-known brands, and we impress on all our clients the obligations and standards they must adhere to under Icstis' and operators' codes of practice."
Jamster were unavailable for comment.
A panel of members from the Icstis committee is to rule on the case next month.
Unfortunately it is too late for me and many other mobile users.
Maybe I was in a minority to enjoy the Crazy Frog's tinny tones. I certainly find them annoying now I've been made to pay more than £40 for the privilege.
To stop reverse-charge texts to your mobile, text STOP or STOP ALL to the five-figure number they are being sent from. The number should start with an 8.
After reading this article, I have just checked my phone bill. Since downloading the 'Crazy Frog' animation for my younger cousin, it informs me that I have been charged £12.76 for receiving just 5 messages from this "premium service". I have put a stop to this, and for that I thank you. As a student and money being thin on the ground, I am completely disgusted. I will be phoning their customer service line shortly.
Thomas, London, England
I had a similar experience. I received a text message saying I could join a 'club' for £1.50 and have access to ringtones. I joined so I could get a cheap ringtone every now and then, but I didn't realize they would send me one every week and I would have no say in which one I wanted! I checked their website but they gave no details how to stop and only being 14 and not exactly rolling in money I eventually bought a new sim card and I have stayed away from such promotions since.
Michael, Whitwick, Leicestershire
There is a way to get your money back, you just need to investigate it. I noticed a series of short-code numbers costing me £3.00 per charge on my phone bill. I rang my operator to find out what they were for. While I was on the phone I got them to check for any other suspicious charges or short-code messages, they were more than happy to give me the contact details of the companies running these short-code message services. I rang up the companies involved and played hell, saying how dare they charge me for something I didn't want or ask for. I had purchased a product fair and square in my eyes, there were no indications had of a subscription service in the adverts. The company offered to refund me the total amount they had charged me, stating that it would take 3 weeks for the payment to arrive in my account. It didn't, so as soon as the three weeks were up, I was on the phone again, this time it worked. A crisp £20 in the post a week later, my girlfriend got a £50 payment into her account a week later after only one conversation with a company. Just go through your phone bill, and chase it up. It's your money at the end of the day.
Matt, Chester, UK
I had a similar experience through a website where it purported to be a simple site used to keep in touch with friends by having a network of addresses. After signing up I then began receiving reverse-charge texts and was even billed for ones that I didn't receive whilst I was abroad!
I too was fooled into downloading the ringtone. Every time I was topping my phone up, my credit was just disappearing straight away with a backlog of the premium rate texts messages. Every time I sent the stop text, the messages just seemed to come from a different number. In the end, it cost me around £60 and I had to go through the expense of changing my number and letting everyone know what the new number was. I did complain to ICSTIS but they said they couldn't do anything about it, and all my network could suggest was to contact Jamster and mBlox, at further expense!
Sean Round, Solihull, UK
Thank heavens I read this article. I have just checked my messages - I rarely use text - and found half a dozen texts from Jamster. I now await my mobile bill with trepidation. These tricksters should have their predictive thingies chopped off.
Gordon, East Midlands
Yes I have suffered the same problem, ordered Crazy Frog for my own and my son's mobile, expecting to pay £3 for it, but nothing else. When my bill arrived it had two further text messages at £3 each. I spoke to Onetel who gave me a phone number to ring, which I did and told the responded exactly what I thought of being ripped off, still at this stage not knowing that it was a weekly contract. Within a week Jamster phoned to say they were very sorry about all the charging and told me that they would send me a cheque for £12 for each text, lovely I thought, even better a week later two envelopes arrived each with £15 in cash in each. Well done Jamster you made one customer feel that you are an honest concern.
John Akers, London
I have also had these charges via Jamster, the small print is virtually impossible to read, I did try to stop them by sending the appropriate text, but it seems my details had been passed to numerous companies that also charged my £2.50 per text to advertise their "services", I eventually had to change my number as these texts had mounted up to £100, when I did call my O2 operator, I was told they could not do a single thing to stop it. Something must be done.
Gemma, Lancashire, UK
Perhaps this is justice for all those forced to put with this irritating ringtone daily as we commute to work.
Alangir Miah, London
It seems to me that it is time for Ofcom to require mobile operators to enable a means for a customer to bar reverse charge text messages. If someone makes a reverse charge call to my home number I can decline to accept the charge. If the postman wants to deliver a letter which I have to pay for I have the option to refuse it. I should have the same option for all communications which will cost me money to receive.
There is a simple answer. What is wrong with phones that just ring? Mine, does. No texts, no bills and no frogs!
Andrew, Hadleigh, Essex, UK
I also ordered this ringtone thinking it would be a bit of fun for a couple of pounds. Soon after I topped up my pay as you go mobile and on checking the balance a couple of days after that noticed that my recent top up had disappeared. The mystery is obviously down to these unwanted premium rate texts. I shall immediately go and put a stop to them. I hope no one who might rely on a mobile phone finds out that their account is empty when they need to make an important call.
Becky Kestigan, Bristol, UK
My teenage son complained time and time again that as soon as he put credit on his phone it was gone. After several weeks of trying to get the unsolicited texts stopped, he finally changed his sim card, it was the only way.
Ann Norris, Bignall End, Staffordshire UK
Sorry but I did notice the subscription service message in the TV ads so more fool anyone who didn't. No sympathy here.
Paul H, Bedfordshire, England
I work for Vodafone, the amount of people having the same problem is unreal. This is why I advise ONLY to use internet portals supplied by the network, because if anything goes wrong the network can help and credit your account back. Going to adverts on TV and news papers is just asking for trouble!
Kurt, Stevenage Hertfordshire
I must congratulate Jamster on their fine business practices. I can't think of anything that fills my heart with greater joy than the thought that everyone I have heard, gleefully playing their Crazy Frog ringtone in their post-ironic way is now being bombarded with expensive text messages. Good work Jamster.
Reverse charge billing for mobile phones should be banned outright. It's too easy for a company to abuse, and even with regulation it will not solve the problem. If you want a service, you should contact them, pay per text sent to the network, not for each text received!
I had the same experience as everybody else. I heard on the radio that i should text a number to get a free ringtone, which sounded great. I texted the number, and got my free ringtone. However, unknown to me, i had just signed up to a weekly messaging service. Every week i was sent a text, costing £1.50 every time. This all added up and eventually cost me £9. Considering i don't have a job, due to my age, £9 is a huge amount of my pocket money. I eventually changed sim cards as it did not stop. This created more hassle as i had to tell people my new number, and things became more complicated. This is wrong and these companies should be stopped. Thanks
Joe , Bromley
Surely charging people to receive text messages should be outlawed. If someone tried to charge you for receiving junk mail in your post, or for getting phone calls, you wouldn't have it. You should only pay to make phone calls/texts, not to receive them.
I'd like to find out how they send these reverse charge texts so i can send them some.
Simon, West Sussex
I work in the communications industry, and luckily I know about ICSTIS, but as it's the regulator responsible for companies charging premium rate services wouldn't it be good if it raised its profile, so that the general public also knew about it?
Just to help that cause, they're contactable on 0800 500 212. Normal hours of operation are 8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).
Duncan Taws, Morecambe, Lancashire
I used to work for Vodafone and around about 80% of the calls i answered were people asking why they'd been charged for these texts and why they keep receiving them. I don't think I met one single person who was aware they'd subscribed to Jamster and were blissfully unaware they were getting charged £5.50 every three days. I think it's amazing these companies haven't been investigated yet, they are getting away with daylight robbery.
Ben Woodward, Tamworth
And people wonder why I don't have a cell phone.
Heather Brennan, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Surely the mobile operators could make it an option on every mobile contract about whether to receive texts from these premium services even if by default it is to allow the messages and you have to contact them to have them blocked. In this way parents can be sure that their children aren't wasting their credit on something they don't understand and would also stop the problem of premium texts simply migrating source number.
Andrew, Coventry, UK
I have had the same problems as you have described. It's as if I had written the story. I unfortunately didn't realise for over a month and found my phone bill to double. This has put me off ever downloading tones or games again. I feel ashamed that I was so easily fooled!
David, East Grinstead, West Sussex
To everyone who signed up to Jamster and that idiot frog and its ilk... you have committed crimes against taste and deserve to pay and pay!!!
I had a shock when I received a phone bill with over £42 worth of text messages, all from when I tried to get the original Crazy Frog from Jamster. However I did get in touch with them and got a full refund. My advice is email them via their website - it worked for me.
Maria, Tipton, West Midlands