Stop misleading people with false ‘free phone’ ads; ASA tells Carphone Warehouse

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Carphone Warehouse has been warned by the country’s advertising regulator, The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), for misleading people with false ads.

The matter started when Carphone Warehouse advertised the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini phone as free on Vodafone and T-Mobile 24-month tariffs. However, in print it showed the phone will cost £27 per month on T-Mobile and £25 per month on Vodafone.

On reading the advertisement, one of the readers who believed that the cost of the handset was included in the monthly contract price, and that equivalent SIM-only plans were cheaper, found the ‘free’ claim was misleading and registered a complaint with the ASA.

The accused company responded saying that it was “mindful of their duty not to mislead consumers by labelling a handset as free when it was in fact taken into account in the pricing of the tariff” – or inclusive.

It said that the two types of contracts which the complainant is referring to as being equivalent included different elements and therefore could not be compared.

The ASA said “We considered that the cheaper, similar SIM-only tariffs, and the fact the direct equivalent SIM-only tariff was not available on the same SIM-type as the ‘free’ phone, demonstrated that the £25 per month cost in the ad included the cost of the phone”.

“Therefore, £25 was not a genuine stand-alone price for the tariff. We also noted we had not seen evidence that the 24-month SIM-only tariff was actually purchased by consumers”.

“We concluded that the claims the phone was ‘free’ were misleading.”

The watchdog has warned the phone flogger and has asked the company not to use the ad again in its current form saying “We told the Carphone Warehouse to ensure that where the cost of a phone was included in the package price it was described as ‘inclusive’ rather than ‘free’.”