Australia watchdog says Vodafone misled customers over digital purchases

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FILE PHOTO: A man checks his mobile phone next to a Vodafone logo at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez/File Photo

(Reuters) – Australia’s competition watchdog said here on Tuesday Vodafone (HTA.AX) (VOD.L) had admitted that it misled thousands of customers for five years by charging them for digital content they bought unknowingly from the telecom company’s third-party billing service.

Vodafone, Australia’s third-largest telecom operator, has agreed to refund the wronged customers and accepted that it made misleading claims about its third-party direct carrier billing service, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said in a statement.

“Through this service, thousands of Vodafone customers ended up being charged for content that they did not want or need, and were completely unaware that they had purchased,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

The digital content that could be bought with as little as one or two clicks was marketed and provided by third parties who paid Vodafone commissions for sales.

“We accept that some of our customers were provided with Direct Carrier Billing services they did not want and we’ve taken steps to prevent that happening again,” a Vodafone spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

The action against Vodafone follows similar moves against the country’s biggest telecom provider, Telstra Corp (TLS.AX), and Singapore Telecommunications’ (STEL.SI) Optus, both of which were fined A$10 million each.

The ACCC did not impose a fine on Vodafone.

Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu

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