Icstis, the UK's premium-rate phone regulator, has issued a record £250,000 (E360,050) fine over fraudulent phone-in competitions on ITV show GMTV that 18 million callers entered but had no chance of winning. Icstis imposed the maximum penalty on phone company Opera Telecom, after it found the revenue generated by callers who could not have won appeared to be more than £20m.
In what it described as the “the worst case which Icstis had come across in terms of the numbers of consumers affected and the amount of money at stake”, the regulator found that over a period of almost four years at least 18 million callers were charged for entering competitions without any chance of winning.
The regulator banned Opera from holding phone competitions for 12 months, though this measure has been suspended subject to the company addressing failures of management. Icstis also ordered the company to pay a full refund to viewers who have lodged complaints, suspending this process for three months while the regulator assesses current refund schemes.
GMTV is also bracing itself for a multimillion-pound fine and is waiting for a separate investigation by media regulator Ofcom to be completed.