/ 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
Jack says:
31 January 2016

I don’t even have a landline phone plugged in, I just get my package for the internet. I have also been charged for this. Albeit was only 45p but still, who knows how many times this has occured in the past without me noticing.

I have just received my Talk Talk bill and have a Speaking Clock charge. This is not a call I have made so clearly the issue has still not been sorted 3rd Feb 2016

Hi,
Another Plus net customer that wishes he wasn’t. Just found two 123 numbers on my bill, costing a total of £1. It’s not the cost but the principle. Just been on the phone, waited for just over half an hour (normal for plus net support) and spoke to a lady who put me on hold twice before finally refunding the amount. Stating that she could guarantee any future calls would be refunded, this being AFTER I told her it was impossible for anyone to make them at the time they were made, as no one is home at that time of day!
The customer service for plus net is frustratingly slow to connect. Whenever I phone I ALWAYS have to wait AT LEAST 30 minutes before they answer.
I shall NOT be renewing my contract in August.
I must thank Elisa Roberts for taking the time to make this CON public, without people like you I for one would of struggled to confront plus net.
Keep up the great work Elisa.
Many thanks to all you guys n gals who have commented.

These situation’s should be reported to OFCOMM. This organisation governs the people we’re all having problems with. Here: http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/phone/
Don’t give up your rights, fight for them, please.

Plusnet have just confirmed to me in writing, that they charge us for calls from our landline to a mobile phone, despite the call not being connected. (When our kids are home and want to contact my wife, we told them to ring our mobile, let it ring once or twice and hang up, so we will call them back). The amounts they charged for those “calls” over the years run into about £20 each month. Anybody else had this experience? Any advice on how to get my money back?

Sue Harrison says:
16 March 2016

I have just checked my mum’s phone bill and there are five calls to 123, one of them made when she was out at her day care centre. I’ve rung SSE who are adamant that she must have made the calls as the phone bills are 100% accurate and accepted in court, but are prepared this time (only) to refund the money. SSE had apparently not heard of this problem so I suggested that they did a search on the internet – I am sure they will find it interesting to see how many sites come up.

William Stewart says:
30 March 2016

Yep just had a call for £0.42 that we didn’t make. Got a refund but no explanation as to how this happened.

Roland Fugh says:
25 April 2016

My virgin media bill showed a 24 in call to a German mobile number costing £17 followed by a 12 in call to a UK mobile number costing £2.50, neither of which I made or recognised. I was home at the time and virgin said it was the first time either number had been called but as it wasn’t a crossed line and other numbers within an hour of the calls being made were made by me it could not have been a fault. They refused to credit me for the calls but gave me the option of a £30 loyalty credit providing I renewed my contract for 12 months (only offered after I threatened to leave).

smith says:
21 May 2016

I am very concerned to find my bill higher then normal this month

due to a 123 call and a call to a mobile were done at the EXACT same time together, for exactly 4 seconds long. costing me 89p each time.

it may only be 89p but im concerned why this is happening when I dont use the landline at all

(I hate that I have to pay line rental just for broadband when I dont use/refuse to use a landline as I have unlimited mobile contract. landlines are so pointless

Isn’t the landline carrying your broadband service, which is by far the heaviest load on the network? The telephone service is effectively free of charge. If you make no phone calls it will cost you nothing extra and you can receive any number of incoming calls for nothing. You have to pay the broadband service fee but that covers far more than the line service.

It’s worth pursuing the rogue 123 and mobile calls with your service provider if only to stop it happening again.

Geoff Senior says:
22 July 2016

Just spent last 45 minutes talking to Post Office about 2 calls to 123 (Timeline) costing 52p plus VAT. All I was getting was usual line that the computer says the calls were from your number so it must be correct. The calls were NEVER made. We did not even know of this Timeline service and we have clocks around the house.
It is clear that something dodgy is happening with this issue.
Eventually PO agreed to give us a £1.00 credit but they will not investigate the issue further unless it gets worse.
Surely all the service providers have a duty of care to their customers to protect them from fraud.

jean says:
16 August 2016

Only joined BT on the 3rd of August and found 5 calls on my statement to a 123 line . After much arguing with a call centre manager they said that they will refund just this once but if it happens again they will not refund. Surely this is Fraud.

John says:
24 August 2016

Checked my August phone bill with EE. Nine calls to 123 billed in one day between 05.30am and 06.30am at 45p each. Calls not made by me, in bed, did not know number 123 existed until checking on Internet. No calls to 123 logged in the phone memory. Have mailed EE, waiting for reply.

John its possible that Openreach have been working in the area at your street cabinet and have used your line as a test . Have you noticed any activity where you live ?

At five-thirty in the morning? This must be a systemic problem, not a technician failing to use one of the authorised test lines and preferring to tap a subscriber’s line instead [and why ring a chargeable number? – to test the line is functional in both directions the technician could just as easily ring their own home answer phone which would be within the subscriber’s free calls allowance!]. I hope John gets a satisfactory response from EE and the money back.

John are you saying Openreach dont work overtime or unsociable hours ? Using -123 was practically universal for most BT engineers , even when I worked for BT and now private contractors work for Openreach, and when I took my van home part of the small print was that I would be available to be called out at all hours. I have watched underground engineers working 24/7 on cut cable , Sundays included .

No, Duncan – Obviously emergency repairs go on round the clock [123 ! ] but in my experience it is exceedingly rare to see staff working on customer lines in a residential street cabinet outside the normal working day, but it does happen occasionally. John said his bill showed there were nine speaking clock calls between 05:30 and 06:30. I just don’t believe that was due to fault repairs in a street cabinet or overhead line at that hour and was more likely a programming fault or a technical malfunction in the exchange that effectively set up a reverse-charge to John’s home line. I know 123 was in practically universal use as the test number for line faults but I never understood why because there are several dedicated test lines and ring-back lines available for such purposes. It didn’t matter much in the days of the GPO and British Telecom because 123 calls were free of charge and they weren’t identified on phone bills. I can’t see any justification for it today.

It was stated in a previous Conversation relating to this problem that BT Openreach had reminded all its staff not to use 123 for line testing; I hope disciplinary action will therefore follow if it proves to be the case that this practice is still occurring. The same applies to the staff of other telecom service providers and contractors.

This is an ongoing problem. I’m a Plusnet customer and currently disputing a 1 second call to 123 supposedly made from my telephone at 7:29 a.m. when I know I was in bed asleep. I have been provided with the raw data that Plusnet have from BT so in due course it will presumably be a matter of trying to find out if an engineer was working on my cabinet at the time.

Plusnet have been quick to resolve this by way of refund. I recognise that they are ‘piggy in the middle’ but the fact that BT continue to make £20 million plus per year from calls to 123 (some of which may even be genuine) is a scandal in itself.

I’ve just found a charge on our bill for a call to 123 in the middle of the night plus 3 more local calls that I didn’t make. There was no-one in the house when one of the calls was made and no-one else has a key.
We have had an intermittent fault on our line for a while but we’re afraid to get an engineer out in case BT charges us £130 for the privilege. We need the landline though as my husband is registered disabled and he is on the transplant list.
I’ve found it difficult to deal with BT and have had one or two rude people who are trying to work under too much pressure and have reduced me to tears without solving the problem.

Dont put up with this Jilly , as you sound nice and reasonable there is no need whatsoever to put up with rudeness from BT employees . When I worked for BT ,it was a serious offence in my day to be offensive to the public , if they swore at you , you just left and reported it. Put in an official complaint naming who/what department were rude to you. If this was just a case of a premium call (123 ) then there could be various causes but as local numbers are also being used coupled to the fact you have an intermittent fault I would strongly suspect somebody is tapping into your line. Go to your Master socket ( the first one that comes into your home ) disconnect everything , if you have extension wiring unscrew the faceplate and pull it out , behind it is another socket plug your phone into that and see how it works over 24 hours . I have personally come across neighbours tapping into customers lines illegally . NOBODY , and I mean NOBODY in BT should reduce a customer to tears , especially in a case like yours —- BT are you LISTENING ?????

Jilly I am still angry on your behalf- for you and others , I have posted this before but will post again . Log into MY BT > go to >contact BT >email > fill in ALL the boxes including >please tell us the details of your complaint . Then click>submit–you might be asked if you wish to carry on >click >yes/ or any other clickable box relating to it. You will then be given a reference number and an automatic email will be sent to you , BT must answer you in three or four days either by phone or email –Choose PHONE as you can talk person to person. Hope this helps ?

Diane Edwards says:
17 September 2016

I have just received my bill from bt for September and have found 72 local numbers some when we were away.. we don’t have working landline phone only use the line for broadband. I have also noticed that my bill for October already has 15 calls on it some local numbers and 5 timeline no 123. Can wait to hear there exclamation for this tomorrow

Jaclyn says:
19 September 2016

I found a £0.45p charge for one call to 123 which lasted 1 second. Got on to BT live chat who initially said I made the call. I said absolutely not and they cancelled the charge straight away.

Unauthorised calls to Timeline: this has been going on for long enough and it’s giving people the pip.

Isn’t it time to raise it as a serious issue with Ofcom?

Could we please have an update from Which? on what is being done to stop this misuse of subscribers’ lines. As has been said, many people do not check every detail of their telecom bills so the telecom service providers are raking in a small fortune as the minutes tick up. According to the Intro, BT Openreach have said this is not due to their technicians testing lines – so what is then?

At the third stroke . . . it will be time for some action. PIP! PIP! PIP!

I am sure I addressed this before but taking a cold,hard ,down to earth engineering approach it can only be -A= an external contact by tapping into the line physically be it BT or a neighbour – B= hacking of BT,s exchange equipment – C = automatic dialing built into the firmware of the phone ( which I had ) . Now if you take BT,s statement-” it ain,t our engineers” as genuine and not a lot of neighbours are able to tap into the line that would rule out -A. hacking of BT,s equipment NOT easily done , even GCHQ had to get leeway to do it(backdoors ) although all fibre goes through them to foreign parts so rule out -B . Then we have -C yes it can be done and has been done for profit to not only telecommunications but other media as well , but then could it be done not from a profit angle but to degrade BT,s reputation by others ?? I would concentrate on C

I recall you explained this all before Duncan but no notice has been taken. We need Which? to get some official answers via Ofcom or for the Timeline to revert to being a free service.

I hurst says:
27 September 2016

my elderly mother who has dementia has been charged for 2 timeline calls which she obviously hasn’t made, they only amount to 52p but nevertheless it isn’t right that people are being charged for these calls

Trudy giles says:
29 September 2016

Have just found an 09number costing 45pounds that I know nothing about am just trying to find who that number belongs to without to much luck I was not here the afternoon it was sent

Nedbod says:
13 October 2016

These past two months (Sep/Oct 2016), I have been charged by TalkTalk for five speaking clock / Timeline 123 calls, when I dialled numbers with 123 in them somewhere, but not 123 itself. They all starting with a zero (e.g. 01263 ****** to Norfolk ; 002610663 ****** to the USA and 01234 ****** to Kempston in Bedfordshire). One call in two, two calls in three and randomly three calls in 5 were not cancelling the dial tone, when I knew I had dialled the first zero and the TalkTalk exchange system only recognised 1 2 3 on my telephone keypad (i.e the system was ignoring numbers 4 5 6 7 8 9 and 0 on quite a large number of calls). Any number I dialled that had the numbers 1 2 3 in them somewhere in sequence was getting put through randomly to the speaking clock. Even if it was on speed dial or dialled by hand ? Every call that connected to 123 was charged at 50p per call. I complained strongly to TalkTalk and they eventually reimbursed me 50p for the first 4 calls and they agreed to do the same for the 5th of these calls. I stress the importance of checking your itemised bill to make sure you have not been charged for any calls to the speaking clock. If you want to know the time just listen to BBC Radio 4 FM / LW on the hour most hours apart from 11am Sunday when The Archers Omnibus is on and at 6pm & midnight when it’s BIG BEN. Don’t use DAB or digital TV or online Radio 4 which is 3 to 10 seconds behind FM & LW. TalkTalk admitted that they have been having problems in the exchange after first blaming BT Openreach. The problem after a 12 day break occurred again today (13th October 2016).

Ned- there are only a few circumstances that can happen -#1- your ISP has hacked the firmware and is making money out of you -#2- the exchange equipment of TT is doing it -#3- your phone if a type of digital phone has been hacked . I had a problem with BT where my new BT callbocker was dialing it , it turned out to be in the firmware , I sent it back and got a private call-blocker . In your case this is a deliberate action , no if., buts,maybe,s , in your case the tones are being blocked – your FIRMWARE has been tampered with . Now try another phone , if possible an old dial phone and see what happens as they run on pulse not tone this will narrow it down , also try another type of phone on your line ,please get back with the results, this could be fraud !

Nedbod says:
3 November 2016

Duncan : Having complained to TalkTalk after trying another phone with exactly the same problem, the fault miraculously cleared up and I have had no problems since ? I asked TT to tell me what they had done to fix the problem but they wouldn’t tell me ?

Ned – thanks for replying -many dont – You have to ask yourself – would a hacker dial it – no money in it for them unless they had an agreement with Timeline (not at all likely ) that leaves the obvious answer other than –it was engineers working outside on the line but,– the fact it was cleared up so quick ? I will let you say it.