The EU has closed 54 websites selling mobile phone ringtones and wallpapers, saying they were in "serious breaches of EU consumer law".

The closures came as a result of an 18-month investigation that in total identified 301 websites that were breaking consumer law.

"All of this work has been about tackling hidden charges and nasty surprises in the small print of websites that rip off and cheat consumers," said Meglena Kuneva, the European Commission member in charge of consumer protection.

A further 159 sites have been corrected following the investigation, while the remainder were cleared.

The investigation, called 2008 Ringtone Sweep, found three main problems: unclear pricing where consumers wouldn't find out about the cost of a ringtone or wallpaper until they received their montly invoice; failure to provide complete trader contact information; and misleading advertising that promoted ringtones as free when in fact they were tied to a contract. More than half of the websites specifically targeted children by using cartoon characters.

"These days, people want to be careful about their spending and for that they need transparent prices. They need to be able to compare offers, shop around and find the best deal. For these mobile products, younger consumers are particularly at risk," Kuneva said.

According to the Commission, Europeans own more that 495 million mobile phones. Ringtones made up an estimated 29 percent of the mobile content market in Europe in 2007 amounting to about €691m (£616m) in sales.

The Commission will work to conclude outstanding cases and plans to conduct several other sweeps and joint actions in 2010.

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See also: Crackdown on ringtone cheats