Rogue firms that trick Internet users into using premium rate numbers to connect to the Web could be hit with fines of up to £250,000 under new government proposals.
The proposals, unveiled by e-commerce minister Alun Michael and backed by the premium services regulator ICSTIS, come in response to consumers concerned about unwittingly connecting to expensive Internet diallers.
The current fine for such tricks stands at £100,000 but the government is concerned that some rogues can make significantly more money than that.
Michael said: "I'm determined to see that consumers are protected against rogue firms abusing the phone network and bringing misery to millions with nuisance calls."
He added: "We all have the right to use the Internet without the fear of being exploited by firms who prey on consumers. Customers have unwittingly run up hefty phone bills when their automatic dial-ups get locked in to a premium rate number."
ICSTIS director George Kidd said: "Our current fine limit of £100,000 is no longer sufficient to deal with the worst services we see.
"A new fine limit, combined with the other proposals in the Ofcom Review to strengthen consumer protection, should ensure that the relatively small number of rogues out there do not continue to damage trust and confidence in the entire premium rate industry."
The proposed increase is part of the drive to tackle nuisance calls, and Ofcom has announced that it is investigating seven companies who made nuisance calls, usually silent or short duration calls, following a string of complaints from consumers.