/ 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.

Comments
Profile photo of VynorHill
Member

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?

Member

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

Member

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?

Profile photo of Florence Buswell
Member

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.

Member
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

Member

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

Member

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.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

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 !

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

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.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

This news just arrived to me via email and another public welfare fighting organisation John so I will have to check it out . I signed their petition. — The website says -quote- when IDS introduces Universal credit families will be forced to call an 0345 number , incurring charges of up to 45 p a minute so their headline is a bit wrong but the basics are right , they go on its difficult living on disability without being charged 45p/min to call the DWP ( time on hold ) they have nearly 50,000 signatures already . It looks like that price from mobiles but I will try and get verification of the number to be used.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

0345 from a landline [with inclusive tariff] should cost nothing unless engaged for over sixty minutes. I think they need to check their facts to avoid scaring people off from claiming their entitlements.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

John I will try and post on their website and put it to them to see what reaction I get , your right it does seems the headlines are OTT. They are well over 50,000 signatures now.

Member
Ian says:
23 July 2016

DWP changed their premium rate 0845 lines over to inclusive or geographic-rate 0345 numbers on 17 March 2017. There are no plans to introduce premium rate numbers.

The current situation for DWP is:
– 0800 numbers for new claims (except UC) – by special arrangement the DWP 0800 numbers have been free to call from all mobile networks since 2010.
– NO telephone number for new UC claims – all new UC claims must be made online (with one exception… there is an 0800 number for new UC claims made in the Welsh language… this is because there is no Welsh language version of the UC website).
– 0345 numbers for existing claimants (including UC) – these 0345 numbers are direct replacements for the premium rate 0845 numbers previously in use.

Recent petitions and headlines are based on false information and a misunderstanding of call costs for 0345 numbers. Some even suggest (falsely) that 0345 numbers are charged differently to other 03 numbers. This is not the case.

Calls to 03 numbers count towards inclusive allowances on landlines and mobile else are charged at ‘geographic rate’ – the same as calling 01 and 02 numbers. The call cost for calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers is set entirely by the caller’s landline or mobile provider. They all offer a range of deals ranging from all-inclusive call plans for a fixed monthly fee to deals with extortionate per-minute rates.

Most people make all of their calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers as part of an all-inclusive allowance. This applies on landlines, on contract mobiles and on pay-as-you-go mobiles. The SSAC report failed to take this point into account.

Member
Ian says:
23 July 2016

DWP changed their premium rate 0845 lines over to inclusive or geographic-rate 0345 numbers on 17 March 2014. There are no plans to introduce premium rate numbers.

The current situation for DWP is:
– 0800 numbers for new claims (except UC) – by special arrangement the DWP 0800 numbers have been free to call from all mobile networks since 2010.
– NO telephone number for new UC claims – all new UC claims must be made online (with one exception… there is an 0800 number for new UC claims made in the Welsh language… this is because there is no Welsh language version of the UC website).
– 0345 numbers for existing claimants (including UC) – these 0345 numbers are direct replacements for the premium rate 0845 numbers previously in use.

Recent petitions and headlines are based on false information and a misunderstanding of call costs for 0345 numbers. Some even suggest (falsely) that 0345 numbers are charged differently to other 03 numbers. This is not the case.

Calls to 03 numbers count towards inclusive allowances on landlines and mobile else are charged at ‘geographic rate’ – the same as calling 01 and 02 numbers. The call cost for calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers is set entirely by the caller’s landline or mobile provider. They all offer a range of deals ranging from all-inclusive call plans for a fixed monthly fee to deals with extortionate per-minute rates.

Most people make all of their calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers as part of an all-inclusive allowance. This applies on landlines, on contract mobiles and on pay-as-you-go mobiles. The SSAC report failed to take this point into account.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Thank you Ian. That is very clear. I hope Duncan can feed that back to the people who are giving incorrect information.

Member
Ian says:
23 July 2016

They won’t be listening. This has been going on for more than a year. They simply do not understand call tariffs and their misinformation is spreading faster than the corrections.

It is not helped by some of the official sources of call charge information being out of date, incomplete or inaccurate and failing to properly explain the role of deals with inclusive calls – or mention that is now the ‘normal’ way to pay for calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers.

Member
Ian says:
23 July 2016

I have asked for the “11:14” post to be deleted as it has a typo.

The corrected version timed “11:15” follows. Please reply to that one.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

John I seem to be blocked from posting on their website at the moment but will keep trying. They are upping the signatures at a very fast rate .

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

John – Some people only have a PAYG phone and it can be costly to call 01/02/03 numbers, though there are some cheap tariffs these days. Not all service providers provide inclusive calls or these may be restricted to weekends and evenings.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

I do appreciate that Wavechange. That is one of the welfare system’s persistent dilemmas. The withdrawal of counter service provision from most towns means that the most needy people do not have free and easy access to advice and information about their entitlements. The ‘cheapest’ mobile phone services [PAYG] have high call charges not suited to hanging on to a government call centre for ages. CABx could help more but they are probably so inundated by existing demands that they are reluctant to promote their assistance services more widely, and even there the expertise is variable. The notion that an internet facility is the answer is unsustainable not only on cost grounds but for other practical reasons. There is a whole group of dependent people who are effectively excluded from the help they need as a result of access obstacles. I don’t believe that is intentional but it can certainly seem so to those affected.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

In view of what Ian has said above – that all new Universal Credit applications have to be done on-line – I hope there are free facilities available for people who just do not have their own access to the internet.

Member
Ian says:
23 July 2016

All pay-as-you-go providers offer (at least) two choices for calls to:
– geographic numbers starting 01 and 02,
– non-geographic numbers starting 03, and
– mobile numbers starting 071-075 and 077-079.

One will be hundreds of minutes of calls and many hundreds more texts for a £5 or £10 or larger top-up – the more you pay, the greater the allowance.

The other will be an extortionate rate such as 45p per minute for these calls and around 12p to 18p per message for sending text messages. As soon as you use your phone for more than ten minutes per month or send more than five text messages per week, these deals work out very expensive.

Quite why anyone would choose the option where a £10 top-up gives them just 22 minutes of calls or around 60 text messages when they could have 150 to 600 minutes of inclusive calls and 200 to 3000 inclusive text messages for the same money is anyone’s guess?

Member
Richard M says:
31 July 2016

Wavechange said: “Some people only have a PAYG phone and it can be costly to call 01/02/03 numbers”.

If anyone still has the impression that PAYG is expensive, Which? hasn’t done enough to educate people about the current deals.

For as little as £10 per month you can get ten hours of calls and thousands of texts. For a couple of pounds more you can have unlimited calls and texts.

PAYG has become incredibly cheap in the last few years.

Profile photo of DerekP
Member

So, Richard, which are the best “unlimited” PAYG deals?

Member
Richard M says:
5 August 2016

A quick Google search finds plenty of information

Various price comparison websites also have some details, but clearly only a small selection of the totality of what is actually available.

Member
Maria sargeant says:
23 September 2016

Nearly 3yrs since my bogus computer company conned me, and the effects are still ongoing but will any body help me??? A big fat NO!! Super complaints, bet mines bigger than yours let’s say!