The Italian Antitrust Authority has imposed a fine of €1.500.000 on the company Estesa Limited, owner of the site www.italia-programmi.net, for misleading and aggressive commercial practices.
This heavy fine is the result of the investigation by the Italian Antitrust Authority in collaboration with the Postal Police which was launched last July after the Authority had received reports from thousands of people who had fallen victim to a scam business which used the italia programmi.net website. as its platform.
This site appeared to users as the first search result on Google when looking for free software downloads and they were invited to register and provide personal information in order to download the software they were looking for. Through the registration process they were in fact subscribing, basically without their knowledge, to a two-year contract with the company Estesa Limited based in the Seychelles, for the provision of software at an annual cost of €96 to be paid in advance once a year.
According to the Antitrust Authority, the registration page did not set out the terms of the subscription in a sufficiently prominent place for them to be immediately seen and understood. Basically “the consumer was led to believe that it was a free service.”
The Authority has also identified undue psychological pressure on citizens in the practices of Estesa Limited. In fact after registration and having failed to communicate to users any confirmation whatsoever of the completion of the contracts, the company began sending them ordinary and registered mail demanding payment and threatening them with legal action and consequent considerable additional costs in the case of default. Many letters received by citizens even referred to possible legal implications under the criminal code which are non-existent in Italy.
According to the Authority’s estimate, the fraud involved more than 25 thousand consumers. Our blog also warned of the scale of the deception. The various posts that we have devoted to the investigation have in fact aroused the interest of nearly a hundred readers, who have sent us their comments pointing out that they had been victims of the unfair business practices of Estesa Limited.
From what we learn from the Authority’s press release Estesa Limited does not to date appear to have ever threatened any legal action against consumers who refuse to meet its demands for payment.
Finding that Estesa’s illegal conduct is in violation of the Consumer Code, the Authority’s decision will be released on the international circuit of the Authorities for consumer protection since it is a practice likely to be “replicated” with similar characteristics in other countries .
A copy of the Authority’s decision was also sent to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Rome, which had already opened a file on the case in November, following reports from people who had applied directly to the office itself.
The company has as yet offered no response to the Italian Authority’s resolution.