Regulator demands more powers to fight rogue diallers

E-commerce legislation brought in by the government in 2002 has been blamed for the dramatic rise in premium rate fraud hitting dial-up Web users

ICSTIS, the organisation that regulates the premium rate telephone services, is demanding that the government gives it the powers it needs to fight the growing menace of rogue diallers.

In recent weeks ICSTIS (the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services) has been contacted by thousands of UK consumers complaining that their phone bills include expensive calls to premium rate numbers that 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.

ICSTIS says that the government is partly to blame for this situation.

"Premium rate operators used to have to seek permission from us before launching, but when the EU e-commerce directive came into UK law two years ago it took this requirement for prior permission away," said ICSTIS spokesman Rob Dwight on Thursday.

"We want to go back to some form of licensing agreement, where no premium rate services will be allowed to operate in the UK without our permission," Dwight added.

Officials from ICSTIS, Ofcom, and the Department of Trade and Industry have all been in discussions over recent weeks to try and find a way of clamping down on the problem of rogue diallers. ICSTIS is demanding that the DTI moves fast.

"We have told the DTI what we want to do. They are hamstrung by the e-commerce regulations they have brought in, but we would like a positive approach tomorrow or on Monday at the latest," said Dwight.

Ofcom sets the regulatory framework in which ICSTIS operates. A spokesman said that 'live discussions' were ongoing over how to fight the dialler menace.

"There will be a solution to this," said Matt Peacock, Ofcom's director of communications. "There are definite roads we can do down, and courses of action we can take."

Peacock declined to disclose further details of possible measures being considered by Ofcom.

The DTI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last week BT moved to protect customers, saying it would block premium rate numbers that it believes are used by rogue diallers.