/ Money, Technology

Watch out for the premium rate numbers scam

Red telephone with blue flashing light

You may have heard of copycat websites or the ‘Microsoft’ phone scam, but how about the premium rate phone numbers scam? Don’t be fooled into paying over the odds to call a government service.

Fraudsters are often thinking of increasingly sophisticated ways to bamboozle you. Most of you know not to reply to an email purporting to be from your bank, but unfortunately this isn’t the only way scammers are trying to target people.

We’ve teamed up with the National Trading Standards eCrime team to keep you abreast of the scams that they’re hearing more and more about. Read on to avoid falling for this latest scam…

Hang up on premium rate scams

Have you heard of the premium rate numbers scam? Fall for it and you could be paying as much as £20 or £30 to call a government helpline that’s normally free or cheap to call.

This scam works by displaying an advert when you search for telephone government services online. Searches for car tax discs, renewing your driving licence and completing your tax return are just some of the areas currently prone to this dastardly scam. Although the listed number diverts you to the right department, it then charges you through the roof for the privilege.

I know some of you have spotted these fake phone numbers in response to our debates on our Costly Calls campaign. Although you might see a government service using a high-rate number, like 0845, the Cabinet Office has advised departments to switch to basic rate 03 numbers as soon as possible. However, no official government service would ever use a premium rate 09 number to deliver a legitimate government service.

So, to avoid losing money due to this scam, look out for 09 numbers. You should also search for legitimate numbers for government services using the official gov.uk website.

Have you or someone you know been fooled by the premium rate numbers scam? And if you have any other scams you’d like to alert us to, we’d love to hear them.


What puzzles me is the reason these calls are possible. Presumably, somewhere along the line, B.T. -or who ever these days – decides that a particular number has a particular value for charging purposes. The owner of that line then charges the correct rate for those that call him. If this were the case, there should be regulation in place to avoid excess charging. Obviously this does not happen and it seems that the unscrupulous can ask what they like for a phone call, and, maybe, B.T. (or who ever) gets a percentage cut from this.
This does seem to be a weak link in the system. Why is it possible for businesses to extract a charge for their service from a simple telephone call? Surely that is levied from an invoice after the service has been delivered and has nothing to do with the phone call?
I admit I am floundering somewhat, since I don’t know how all this is cobbled together, but I would like to know why it is that premium rate phone calls have been allowed to spiral out of control.
I get frequent calls on my answer phone asking me to press five to contact someone and nine to opt out. I expect either of those options would cost me an arm and a leg. Why is this possible? Who rules the phone lines these days?


You can’t be charged for incoming calls unless you yourself are abroad or the call is itself a reverse charge call.


Speaking of scams, Florence, does Which ever make ASA complaints against them, or do you go to a different agency?

And if someone wants Which to start or take part in a campaign about a particular scam, who do we write to at Which?


Hi sw, thanks for your question. We do sometimes make ASA complaints, such as about an ad from O2 that we felt was misleading. We’ve also been instrumental in alerting Google and the Government to copycat websites, so action is being taken in this area too.

In the case above, we were alerted by the National Trading Standards eCrime team, who work directly to protect people from internet crime and online fraud. It’s also something that has been talked about here on Which? Convo..

So in regards to alerting us of scams, tell us about them here or alternatively via this contact us form: https://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us/

If you have a scam you would like to report yourself, there are different methods depending on the type of scam – I’d suggest taking a look at our page – http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/action/how-to-report-a-scam.

PhonepayPlus says:
30 September 2014

PhonepayPlus, the UK’s independent regulator of premium rate services can also help with premium rate number scams.

On our website we have a free to use Number checker that can give you information about the name and contact details for the company running the service. http://www.phonepayplus.org.uk/Number-Checker/Check-a-Number-Results.aspx

You can also call our free helpline on 0800 500 212 (open 9am-5pm Monday to Friday, excluding bank holidays) to speak directly to an advisor.

For more information on advice on premium rate numbers or on how we can help, please visit this page http://www.phonepayplus.org.uk/For-the-Public.aspx


Many of these scams have recently moved from 09 and 087 numbers over to 084 numbers where they can escape PhonepayPlus sanctions.


Numbers starting 084, 087, 09 and 118 are used for chargeable services paid for as the call is being made. Calls incur an additional Service Charge paid to the benefit of the called party and their telecoms provider. Services provided include recorded information lines, entertainment services, voting on a TV show, competition lines, chat lines, subscription-free conference calling, international dialling gateways, directory enquiries and so on.

If an 084, 087 or 09 number is being advertised by a third-party website and is claimed to be a customer helpline for a retailer, trader, or passenger transport company, for a bank, for a government department or agency, or for a healthcare organisation, then the number is probably out of date or is fake. In the last year, the vast majority of those types of businesses and organisations have moved their 084 and 087 lines over to the matching 034 or 037 number or to a new 01, 02, 030, 033 or 080 number.


I realise this is an old Convo but this is very relevant to this Convo as in this case it isnt scammers on websites but HMG . New government Minister Damian Green , just started in job is forcing struggling families needing welfare support to call a Premium number -45p /min . His excuse , well they can always go online – ah yes ! that is if they have computers and cell net phones . How humanitarian !


What number is he giving Duncan?

All government services are, since December 2013, supposed to be using 01, 02, 03 or 080 numbers, which are at the basic [not a premium] rate and are usually inclusive within a landline tariff so no additional payment is required.