An E.U.-wide crackdown on online sellers of mobile-phone ringtones found that 80 percent of 558 Web sites examined are suspicious and require further investigation, European Commissioner for consumer issues Meglana Kuneva said Thursday.
The main problems found during the investigation include poor price transparency, failure to provide contact details of the seller, poorly presented key information on Web sites and offers of "free" ringtones when, in fact, customers have to take out long and costly contracts.
"Far too many people are falling victim to costly surprises from mysterious charges, fees and ringtone subscriptions they learn about for the first time when they see their mobile-phone bill," Kuneva said during a news conference. "There will be Europe-wide enforcement action to track down each of these traders."
Children and young adults are the main purchasers of mobile-phone ringtones. Kuneva described them as the most vulnerable consumers and called for a campaign to educate them about the scams and tricks some unscrupulous traders use.
"We need to get a clear message out, particularly to teenagers and children -- be on your guard. It's all about the small print. There are many reputable traders out there, but to be safe buying these services, check the fine print every time and make sure you are not signing up for more than you bargained for," she said.
The E.U.-wide investigation was conducted simultaneously in all 27 member states between June 2 and 6.
The companies that failed to provide adequate information to consumers will be contacted by the national authorities and asked to correct identified problems. Failure to do so could result in legal action leading to fines or even the closure of Web sites, the Commission said.
Similar surprise sweeps will be conducted in other specific markets in the months to come. Kuneva refused to give details about future investigations.