Fans of the television show were directed to dial a 900-number.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal regulators settled a case Thursday with companies that took advantage of thousands of “American Idol” fans trying to vote for their favorite contestants on the TV show.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, three Utah-based companies bought dozens of phone numbers very similar to the toll-free numbers that “Idol” fans call to place their votes. Viewers who misdialed and got one of the numbers were directed to dial a 900-number to place their vote. A message on the 900-number then gave the correct toll-free number to call.

The FTC said about 25,000 consumers were charged up to $3 per call during the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

The three companies have agreed to pay a civil penalty of $40,000 for engaging in deceptive conduct and violating federal law, the commission said.

“These defendants tried to mislead fans of ‘American Idol,’ but found they got harsh reviews from the FTC,” Howard Beales, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said in a statement. “If you find suspicious pay-per-call charges on your phone bill, report it to the FTC. We are not fans of deceptive behavior.”

The complaint names: Telemarketing Inc., which also does business as Univoxx; Apex Investments LLC, also known as Operator Directory Service and Northwestern Atlantic; and Universal Innovations LLC.

Apex and Universal have no phone listings, and could not be reached for comment.

Phone lines for Telemarketing Inc. were busy for several hours.

Federal Trade Commission:

AP-ES-03-18-04 1518EST

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