Clampdown on rogue diallers is imminent

ICSTIS is expected to win stronger powers over premium rate services in an attempt to protect Web users from fraud

Agreement has been reached between ICSTIS, which regulates the UK premium rate phone services market, and the government over new powers that will be introduced to try and crack down on the threat posed by rogue diallers, according to people familiar with the matter.

An announcement is expected this Friday detailing new powers that will be granted to ICSTIS (the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services).

Over the past few weeks, thousands of UK consumers have complained to ICSTIS that their phone bills include expensive calls to premium rate numbers that they say they didn't call.

It is thought that many of these people have fallen victim to criminals who have secretly installed diallers -- software that is used by adult Web sites, for example, as a billing method -- on their PCs that have caused them to call premium rate numbers without their knowledge.

As ZDNet UK reported last week, premium rate operators used to have to seek permission from ICSTIS before launching in Britain, but the government took this requirement away two years ago when the EU e-commerce directive came into UK law.

Officials from ICSTIS, the Department of Trade and Industry and Ofcom have been meeting to thrash out this problem. According to those close to the discussions, the government has agreed with ICSTIS's demand for tougher regulation.

"We're going to return to some form of licensing," said an informed source. "The finer details are being finalised as we speak."

Rogue diallers work by secretly terminating a dial-up Internet user's connection, and reconnecting through a premium rate number instead.,

Forcing every premium rate operator to register their services should help stop dialler software that uses UK numbers.

Some complaints, though, have been linked to overseas numbers, ICSTIS believes that UK telcos need to pay more attention to this problem by refusing to hand over call revenue to foreign operators who are likely to be involved with the rogue dialler scam.

BT said last month that it would block premium rate numbers that are suspected of being used by rogue diallers.