Ireland's telecom regulator is taking "extraordinary" measures to protect Internet users from rogue autodialler programs. The measure, announced by Ireland's Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), will block direct dialling to 13 countries, mainly in the south Pacific, and aims to prevent consumers being hit by huge phone bills.

The move came in response to hundreds of consumer complaints about the scams. ComReg acknowledged that its move was extreme but said that previous efforts to raise awareness of the problem failed to significantly diminish complaints.

The autodialler programs change Internet users' dial-up settings to call an international number without their knowledge. Users are often unaware that they have been targeted until they receive exorbitant phone bills at the end of the month. Broadband users, who have fixed numbers, are not affected.

ComReg's crackdown follows an increase in reports by consumers worldwide about the rising number of Internet scams, putting the onus on regulators to relieve the problem.

Numerous complaints about autodiallers have also been received in the UK, but so far it has not moved to block direct dialling. In July, however, the UK's premium rate services regulator, ICSTIS, began requiring companies that wanted to run Internet dialer services to apply for permission first. Furthermore, the UK's telecom regulator, Ofcom, decided in August to look into strengthening ICSTIS' powers so it could further tackle these types of Internet scams.

A spokesman for Ofcom said it was well aware of the scam and that many UK consumers had been affected. It remains to be seen whether the UK and other countries will adopt the measures of Ireland's regulators.

ComReg gave telecommunications operators until 4 October to suspend direct dial to 13 countries where many of the autodialler calls were routed. The countries being blocked include Norfork Island, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Comoros, as well as Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean that has no indigenous inhabitants, only a joint UK and US military base.

RegCom will keep the block in place for six months, after which it will be reviewed. All direct dial calls will initially be blocked, although the regulator is also compiling a "white list" of legitimate numbers that consumers have requested to call.