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Last Updated: Friday, 15 July, 2005, 20:46 GMT 21:46 UK
Frog charge drives parents crazy
By Hannah Bayman
BBC News

The Crazy Frog in its original incarnation on Eric Wernquist's site
Crazy Frog's Axel F remake has spawned a ringtone phenomenon
Kirstie's mother was furious when her 12-year-old daughter came home from a school trip to Austria with her biggest ever mobile bill.

Jo Peacock, an IT manager from Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, confiscated the phone and rang Vodafone to find out why the bill was so high.

She discovered it was not Kirstie who was to blame, but Crazy Frog.

Mrs Peacock had let her daughter order Crazy Frog's Axel F ringtone on the Jamster website, without realising she would then receive reverse-charge texts until further notice.

Ms Peacock told the BBC News website: "I was disgusted to find each text had cost 3. While Kirstie was in Austria I had been charged double as she had been roaming. To say I was livid was the understatement of the year.

Kirstie Peacock, age 12
Kirstie Peacock's mother Jo said the problem harmed their relationship

"I accept I should have been more cautious, but I am particularly appalled as in my view this seems to be aimed at children. These adverts should be removed from prime time channels.

"Kirstie has got to the point now where she is frightened to do anything on her phone.

"It really affected our relationship during the three months I was taking her to task over her big mobile bills."

Icstis, the premium rate watchdog, is due to report on Crazy Frog in August after similar complaints. It is also looking into claims the Crazy Frog ringtones, an over-16s service, were aimed at children.

Premium rate services for under-16s must not cost more than 3.

Axel F by Crazy Frog topped the UK singles chart in May, but the cartoon character's reworking of the Beverly Hills Cop theme tune was an even bigger hit as a ringtone.

Carol Kenton, from Ilford in Essex, was also left angry when her 10-year-old daughter Leigh downloaded the Crazy Frog tone.

My daughter is quite angry and I think it is a blatant rip-off
Carol Kenton

She said: "Every time her dad gave her credit in good faith, it just disappeared. After four weeks, we found out it was going to pay for reverse-charge texts.

"My daughter is quite angry about it and I think it is a blatant rip-off.

"Crazy Frog is a cartoon character so it is very much marketed to appeal to children."

Another parent, Karl from Fareham in Hampshire, who does not wish his full name to be used, rewarded his 13-year-old daughter with 10 credit for her mobile after she did well in exams, but was furious to see it disappear as a backlog of reverse-charge texts arrived.

Karl said his daughter was "distraught" after ordering what she believed was a free ringtone from Jamster on the internet.

He said: "With no credit left we decided to buy a new sim card to avoid further tears and upset.

"I feel they are deliberately targeting children and I would like to know if we can get her money back."

Crazy Frog
Axel F became the first ringtone to hit the UK charts in May

If Icstis upholds the complaints, it could impose a fine of up to 100,000 on mBlox, who provide telephone services to Jamster, and close down offending lines.

Jamster said their adverts conform to guidelines and inform customers they are subscribing to an over-16s service.

Andrew Bud, executive chairman of mBlox, said: "Children are more mobile phone savvy than their parents. This is a major problem."

"Everyone involved in the industry has an obligation to help parents learn about what their children can do with mobile phones."

Mr Bud is one of three industry executives who have recently joined the committee of Icstis, although they will not be involved in adjudication.

The Mobile Entertainment Forum, a trade body of ringtone makers and telephone companies, including mBlox and Jamster, is drafting a fresh set of voluntary guidelines expected to include advice on clearer advertising.

Meanwhile, Icstis has published a leaflet on reverse-charge text services for young people and parents.

An Icstis spokesperson said: "We are trying to educate parents and younger consumers.

"As well as our leaflet, we are working on the 11th update of our code of practice, to include clearer rules on SMS subscription requirements from service providers."


Have you had a similar experience after ordering mobile phone ringtones? Send us your comments and stories using the form below.

Thank you for your comments.

If this was any other country, the company would be shut down, sold off and the profits used to repay the many people who have been ripped off. It is just like asking someone to change a tyre and them replacing everything in your car, then charging you for a new car.
James, Taunton

I consider myself a quite open-minded parent, but I have to wonder why any parent would give a 9 year old a cell phone.
Lynn, Victoria, Canada

It also happened to my 12 year old son and I accused him of using up his credit quickly when it wasn't his fault. Even attempts to stop it happening were met with claims of "it's not illegal and there's nothing we can do" from his service provider, so he lost his money.
Kevin, Stevenage, Herts

Maybe this is just a really, really good way of teaching under-16s and their parents that nothing comes for free. If parents keep forking out for credit without wondering where it's all going then there is something seriously wrong with them - in this instance it's Crazy Frog, in another instance it could be the kid phoning premium rate adult chat lines. I never got overcharged as a child for carrying, at my mother's behest, a quid in "change for the phone" which she would top up each time I called home to let her know what I was up to.
Mary, Lowestoft, UK

We had a similar problem a while ago with my son's mobile, he was totally unaware that a one off request for a ringtone meant an ongoing subscription of 5 per fortnight. I rang the company in Germany and they stopped the subscription and issued a partial refund. Subscriptions should only be available to credit card holders so that they know the subscriber is over 18. Mr Bud says that kids are mobile phone savvy, but some are more so than others - I have seen kids offering to show others how to get to a service and then accepting the charge for "their friend". The phone companies must put their house in order and allow parents to register when a phone is for a child and ensure the services they are offered is limited.
Steve R, Basingstoke, Hants

The same happened to my son - he requested a free ringtone (never received) and ended up with all his credit being taken. Virgin Mobile didn't want to know as they were getting a cut of the costs. It's very, very wrong - legalised theft ?
P Curran, Bolton

It's relaxing to see that so many people are ripped off by there money by Jamster. I thought I was the only one. I didn't realise it until nearly 40 euros were gone through my credit. I had to block my wap service to stop this theft by the company, so that the message won't come in. The government should stop this so-called illegal activity, in my words, immediately.
Gaurav Rai, Dublin, Ireland

My son signed up for one ringtone costing 50p on his new phone and we got a bill for over 60 for unsolicited text messages. After reading the small print on the Jamster website I found that it should never have accepted him as a 'member' because he wasn't yet 16-years-old. After complaining to Jamster and enclosing copy invoices, I did get a full refund. How you prove it when you have a pay-as-you-go phone I don't know though. I presume they rely on this to keep the money rolling in. I hope the mobile companies can come out from behind the data protection barrier that was put up when I asked them what to do to stop the calls - they couldn't even tell me it was Jamster that was making the calls. Something does need to be done.
Robin, Leigh on Sea, England

When I first retrieved my mobile phone, I had texted to a few sites wishing to retrieve a ringtone or a few graphics, I was only able to retrieve one ringtone, but my credit from 10 plus the credit I got the phone with went down to 11p. Anyway, I have better ways to get ringtones, and ones that are actually good.
Unknown, Middlesex

I ordered a ringtone in good faith thinking I was ordering just the tune I wanted. After receiving reverse charge texts I complained to Ofcom. Ofcom said that they could not do anything. If that is the case what on Earth are they there for? To cancel it I had to pay to ring Vodafone Customer Services and called the company who issued the ring tone. I found it impossible to speak to a person once I got through. This is no doubt deliberate as they would receive no end of complaints from the public. It is a disgrace and should be made illegal. The law needs to be changed to protect consumers, especially children who are unaware of what is going on.
Martin Molloy, Oldham, UK

My son has always had a pay-as-you-go sim card so we knew immediately when he used up his load within a few hours. After that we sent a stop text and didn't re-load his sim for a week, by that time the evil frog had given up!
Tony Gillingham, Basingstoke

I had the same problem, my daughter subscribed with Jamster (aged 9). I kept stressing at her for wasting her credit. After many pounds and attempts to unsubscribe (unsuccessfully) Orange advised me to buy a new sim card as it was a third party that was charging for the texts. After stressing one last time my daughter won't subscribe to anything for a while. What upsets me is my daughter used her birthday money (and spends) to top up. All went to Jamster.
Colin Hughes, Emsworth

The same thing happened to me: my 9-year-old saw the advert - there is small print about the cost at the end of the advert - very difficult to catch - I had to watch the advert several times to catch it. He told me it was 3 and I said he could text for the ringtone - he never got the ringtone at all (it has to be downloaded via a computer) and had lost 9 before I realised what had happened. I feel very angry about it too. It is exploiting children.
Juliet Dagnall, Birmingham, UK

My self and my children top our mobiles up each week with 5 and to find out it all goes on the Jamster ringtones I think its a rip-off. My kids phone when it rings does not have it on - it's like throwing your money away I think it stinks.
L Henderson, Penrith Cumbria

My daughter was sent a ringtone by one of her friends, almost immediately the credit on her phone was being eaten up on a daily basis. My daughter, even though only 9 at the time, was never even contacted to see if she wanted future ringtones, it was just taken for granted. It took many phone calls to cancel the subscription, and luckily we were refunded the money, many people can't get refunds.
Dave Stanway, Hayling Island, Hampshire

I also text for the Axel Crazy Frog ring tone, I was not made aware that by doing so you sign up for reverse charge texts. I have been billed approx an extra 15, they sent one per week. I too think it is a rip off, plus the real tone I sent for sound nothing like what they play on their advertisement.
Amanda Wheldrick, Oldham, England

Sounds to me like a valuable lesson, and cheap at half the price. You should never give away your details online without knowing exactly what you're getting yourself into. An overlarge phone bill is nasty (and the company may indeed be behaving unethically), but compared to what you can get yourself into if you're careless, it's not a huge deal.
David Morgan, London

I've been frisked by the frog! I thought I had downloaded a free ringtone. After talking to Vodafone, there's no choice but change my number. I deleted all the texts before realising there was a problem.
Sue, Peterborough

My godson got charged a huge amount for this too. What annoys me the most is that the potential fine to be imposed will only be a tiny proportion of the profits made. Shouldn't there be powers to enforce them to pay back the money if it can be proven that the subscriber was under-16? I sincerely doubt such an obvious solution would ever be enforced.
Marcus, Brighton

I topped up my daughter's phone in March. Immediately a text message arrived that debited 3 from her credit. She assures me that she has not subscribed for any ringtones or similar material. I believe her and so I contacted Vodafone asking for the stolen credit to be refunded. They have been completely unhelpful. I consider that the man who drives the getaway car is as guilty as the one who robs the bank. The mobile phone companies seem to be able to aid and abet these acts with impunity. Taking money by text message should not be permitted. The mobile phone companies should be forced to block all such activities.
Ed Doyle, Birmingham, England



SEE ALSO:
Crazy Frog clings on to top spot
05 Jun 05 |  Entertainment
Tough rules for ringtone sellers
28 Feb 05 |  Technology


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