/ Technology

Have you paid for ‘speaking clock’ calls you didn’t make?

Man looking at mobile phone bill

Do you check your monthly phone bill? It might seem like a bit of a chore, but you might miss something – like a ‘speaking clock’ call you were charged for but never made…

For most of us, looking through the list of calls and charges on our monthly phone bill is one of those mundane tasks we don’t always get round to. But maybe we should. Why? There are heaps of eagle-eyed landline owners who’ve spotted that they’ve been mysteriously charged 30-50p for a call to Timeline 123 (the speaking clock) that they didn’t make.

Engineers checking lines in your local area could be the cause. That’s what one Which? member was told after contacting Plusnet about a charge for a speaking call on their landline – placed when no-one was at home. After some back and forth Plusnet provided a refund, attributing such calls to BT Openreach engineers checking lines, despite having asked them to use a free number.

Others report ‘phantom’ call charges

A quick Google search reveals similar reports of being charged for Timeline 123 speaking clock calls, many on forums belonging to BT, Plusnet, Sky and TalkTalk.

Many of the posters are able to rule out themselves, children or elderly relatives from having made the calls. For some it’s a one-off, while others report up to seven calls over a couple of days. Some also managed to get a refund from their phone provider after persistence.

Are engineers calling ‘123’ to test lines?

We notified Openreach about the phantom calls – a spokesperson told us:

‘This is not an issue as far as we know. Openreach engineers have a special number to call to test a line that doesn’t result in a charge.’

Openreach offered to investigate any further examples we have, so we want to hear from you. How many of you are paying for calls you didn’t make? We may only have just scratched the surface, as not all of us religiously check our phone bills, nor do those who have bother to report odd calls we can’t explain. With 25m landlines in the UK, there could be millions of pounds going to these phantom calls.

Do you check your phone bill and have you spotted a rogue 123 call that you know wasn’t made by you or someone in your household?

Comments
MR Simon HODGINS says:
14 December 2019

I have 3 calls to the speaking clock in a row on a Sunday afternoon in November 2019. I did not make these calls and was charged 50p for each one.

I have just received notification from BT (via viewing an online PDF-format BT landline bill) of a surcharge on my February 2020 BT landline bill for two ‘out-of-plan calls’ which BT allege – in ‘print’ – were made from my landline in the early hours of Monday the 10.02.20. One of these was to an unrecognised ‘0161’ Manchester telephone number and the other was for a ONE SECOND IN DURATION call to the speaking clock number ‘123’ for which one second call a fifty pence surcharge charge was added to my February 2020 BT landline bill!

These ‘early on Monday morning’ phantom phone calls were definitely not made by anyone at my home address! I know this to be a fact because on Sunday / Monday, the 10th/11th. February 2020, we were somewhat foolishly (but that was our ‘previously arranged’ pre-storm schedule) driving back from Oxfordshire to Manchester through the worst Storm Ciara had to offer and so could not possibly have made any calls from the Manchester landline number BT have stated on my current telephone bill we did do!

It looks, therefore, as if BT Openreach were talking through their hats when denying to ‘Which?’ the suggestion that they could possibly be the reason, via BT Openreach ‘engineering works’ to the infrastructure, why phantom ‘123’ calls (and some other sorts of phantom phone calls) were being increasingly billed to phone customers whose providers, including BT themselves of course, use the Openreach network, because on Sunday / Monday, the 10th/11th. February 2020 there is no question that BT Openreach must have been busily engaged in a great deal of ‘engineering works’ to their telephonic infrastructure due to the damage Storm Ciara had undoubtedly caused at that time to the Outreach network, works which were clearly well underway at the time my BT bill alleges we were making one-second-in-duration ‘123’, etc. – calls at six o’clock in the morning – when Storm Ciara was still raging as it travelled from the north to the south of the country!

This is not the first time BT have billed me for phantom calls which I was previously able to demonstrate were absolutely not made by anyone at the customer end of the line but were, in fact, the entire fault of ‘Outreach works at the – faulty! – ‘exchange end of the line’!

I received no compensation from BT on those previous ‘phantom call’ billing occasions which means that BT has actually, upon several occasions in modern times, stolen money with impunity from this long-term (fifty-five years) BT customer!

Hi David,

Is 0161 your local area code? If so what was the actual number that you were billed for?

Here’s a related thread that shows evidence for line faults calling 123 and other local 0161 numbers, see:-https://community.plus.net/t5/My-Account-Billing/Mystery-calls-to-local-numbers-and-123-numbers-but-I-have-no/td-p/1332391

Kay Poole says:
15 December 2019

I was checking my first bill with virgin mobile and there were 2 calls to 123
1 on the 19/11/19 for 10p at 15.02 and the other on the same date at 13.57 for 10p
Virgin have refunded
When I asked who they were to the Virgin advisor did not know who the 123 number was.

I’ve just checked my BT phone bill and found that I was charged 50p for a call to 123 made whilst I was away from the property. I immediately contacted BT and they have refunded me £3 as a gesture of goodwill. No admission of how such a charge appeared on my bill though!

Arthur Oakley says:
28 January 2020

I have just received a bill from Sky mobile showing 2 calls to 123 within 5 minutes of each other. I know that nobody made these calls.

jim mclaren says:
6 February 2020

i got my bt bill today and the only phone call ive made this year is to a 123 number,i rarely use the phone and i definately wouldnt dial the speaking clock for 1 second,i have clocks,a watch,mobile phone and a pc all giving me the correct time

M y says:
27 March 2020

I haven’t even got a phone installed and had 10 calls made some apparently to ‘time line’ all one second long, by charged £10.30 which was refunded after much dispute and insinuation my kids (aged 5, 8 and 10) didn’t have a secret phone they were plugging in during the night to ring ‘time line’ for one second

I’ve seen claims that these “calls” can be caused by line faults. if you are on an older exchange that still supports pulse dialing.

Bob Ding says:
11 March 2020

Just been in contact with BT after being charged 50p for a 1 second phone call to 123. Coincidentally, the day before, I reported a fault which wasn’t cleared until after the 123 call.
BT are going to refund me £1 so all sorted.

I would like BT and other service providers to explain why it costs more to call the speaking clock than to call 01/02/03 numbers, which are included in many tariffs. Maybe Which? could find out.

I think the speaking clock is completely redundant now. I would rather ring a friend and ask what the time is in their house and we can have a free chat on all sorts of subjects.

Can one disable or opt out of the 123 facility thus neutralising any attempts to charge for rogue calls? There’s probably a charge for that.

I’ve tried to find an answer to your question, John, and you are not the only one to ask online. BT provides no information on their website.

Looking back, the arrival of Ceefax was a useful way of finding the time. That has gone but looking around I see various easy options including the computer, TV and a weather station with a radio-controlled clock, landline handset display and mobile phone.

We have three radio-controlled clocks in the house as well as all the other sources of correct time plus, of course, the Greenwich time signal or Big Ben’s bongs on the wireless at certain hours. I cannot imagine who needs to dial 123.

If necessary when out and about I can reset my wristwatch by reference to a shop’s till receipt. The clock in the car seems to be accurate too.

I am a Post Office customer and have just had a 123 call which was never made on our bill, the cost being 26p. The duration of the supposed call was 3 seconds! A couple of years ago, there were two of these calls on our PO bill, neither of which we made, and the Post Office took them off the bill. However, this time, the bloke asked me to dial 17070, saying that, if it gives us our correct phone number when I call, then we are responsible for the 123 call, and if it’s a different number, then we aren’t. It gave the correct number. I am not happy. Nobody here ever rings the speaking clock.

I think we should have a campaign to get rid of the speaking clock. It is no longer necessary and is just being used improperly to make money in what the perpetrators believe is a victimless way. While it doesn’t lead to great financial difficulty, it is an irritant and worries people. Perhaps as a first step we need an opt-out facility or a code that can be entered on the phone to prevent any 123 call being charged on a phone bill.

Just a postscript to my last post…I rang the Post Office again today and the man-reluctantly-told me he’d credit 26p onto the next bill, but still suggested it might be the phone ringing 123 itself due to the clocks changing-I don’t think so because it would happen twice a year. The last time the two 123 calls appeared on my bill, they were only 2 seconds long. He said they couldn’t keep removing calls, but there’s no way anyone here made the calls. I’ve been with this provider for years and this is only the second time I’ve ever disputed a call, the last time being the other two 123 calls. Everybody who is complaining about this can’t be dialling by mistake or just forgetting that they rang. It needs proper investigation.

Judith De Witt says:
17 April 2020

I have EIGHT of these 123 calls on my bill. Not only have I never called 123 in my life, they allegedly took place during a period when my line was out of order and there was no phone plugged into the socket.