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And even if there was a binding contract, she said, a legal defence could be the poor disclosure of the cost of the service, which contravened the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act and the fact that it could be considered to be “unconscionable conduct in terms of the Consumer Protection Act”.

As for whether the boy could be charged with fraud for lying about his age, legal sources told Consumer Watch that it was very unlikely that the court would decide to prosecute a minor for fraud, given the circumstances. Social Network, which trades as Hot Live Girls, is based in Uvongo, and owned by Keith and Martie Lewis.

Asked how many times the company had actually proceeded to charge minors with fraud for lying about their age, they responded: “Nil”.

On the question of the lack of disclosure of the costs involved, they said they’d seek legal advice and would amend their process if necessary.

They claimed that about 30 percent of callers manage to pay that special price of R100 within 72 hours.

A person over the age of 12 who commits a crime can be held liable for the offence, they said; they threatened to play the call recording in court and seek judgment against the father for the unpaid debt, and have his salary garnished.

Nerisha Besesar, an associate in Durban-based law firm Shepstone & Wylie’s litigation department, said someone under 18 had no legal capacity to enter into a contract, and in this case it was clear the boy did not understand and appreciate the terms of the contract.

THE ADVICE Under-age boys aren’t the only ones to call these chat lines. It will be recorded, and your parents will probably hear it, or at least read the transcript.

If you’re over 18 and you feel the need to call one of these lines, and you don’t want to pay around R1.65 a second, make sure you call back and get the banking details and pay immediately. If you’re a parent faced with such threats regarding the call your minor son made, know that the company’s threats, if you don’t pay up, are unlikely to be acted on.

And then comes the harassment to pay up, followed by threats to charge the boy with fraud – for lying about being over-18 at the start of the call – and to play the recording of the conversation in court, and to seek a civil judgment against the parent for non-payment of the debt.

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