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EU cracks down on shady cell phone services

The European Union's head of consumer affairs is cracking down on Web sites that sell cell phone services, such as ringtones.

The European Union's consumer chief is taking action against dodgy Web sites selling mobile phone ringtones and wallpapers with unscrupulous practices, according to a story by Reuters.

On Thursday, EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva launched an investigation into 500 Web sites that sell ringtones, wallpapers, news feeds and video games to consumers. Kuneva believes these Web sites are misleading consumers, notably teenagers, and getting people to spend hundreds of millions of euros on services.

"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 told a news conference, according to the Reuters story.

The EU investigation found that some Web sites had unclear pricing information posted. Others didn't provide required contact about the vendor offering the services. And some had "hidden charges" in fine print on parts of the Web site that were hard to read. Many of these sites advertised their service as free, and coaxed customers into long-term contracts.

Consumers in the United States have also complained about similar practices. And last month, AT&T settled a class action lawsuit with wireless subscribers who claimed they had been hoodwinked into signing up for recurring charges for ringtones and other content. The consumers in that case will be given refunds as part of the class action settlement.

The AT&T settlement was the first nationwide settlement that refunds customers' money from charges for third-party content, according to a story published by the Associated Press. Similar lawsuits have been filed against Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile USA.