ICSS: this premium rate number rip-off will cost you a fortune

Tony Levene
by Lovemoney Staff Tony Levene on 23 February 2013  |  Comments 6 comments

Information Connection Signposting Services (ICSS) charge a small fortune for calls that should be free. Don't let them dupe you into using them!

ICSS: this premium rate number rip-off will cost you a fortune

I needed to contact The Guardian earlier this week. I did not have a direct line and I could not recall the switchboad main number.  So, being lazy, I hit the search engine with “ Guardian telephone number”.

The first entry “need the number for The Guardian ?” pointed to a website which started with “guardian”. But opening the page, I did not recognise either the website or the number. It started with 09, had nothing to do with The Guardian, and was a painful £1.53 a minute premium rate line.

Welcome to the strange world of Information Connection Signposting Services (ICSS). It means that a ten-minute call to an organisation that would normally be free (thanks to either a freephone number or the number being covered by my phone package) will actually cost me a whopping £15.30.

Had I used the 09 number, I would have been connected automatically to my real target, but at a hugely higher cost – plus possible expensive delaying tactics to spin out the call.

Cracking down on the premium rate hijackers

It is true that the premium number website does indicate (in small print) that it has nothing to do with the paper and that there are other ways of accessing its number at no charge. But I'm not surprised that premium rate regulator PhonepayPlus has received “a significant number of complaints about these services”, offered by around ten sites.

The regulator expects to announce tougher rules in the next few weeks.

PhonepayPlus told me it was concerned about the potential for these services to cause significant harm, misleading people into thinking that the premium rate number they are being offered is the actual number of the organisation, which in turn risks undermining consumer confidence in the public or commercial organisations with which the ICSS associate themselves.

It added: “Vulnerable consumers seeking information or helplines may be especially susceptible to misleading promotions, and may suffer particular detriment in terms of cost. Consumers may also be subject to delays – either through being put on hold or by being asked to provide irrelevant details. They may in some cases be asked for personal and/or confidential data such as account details or passwords.”

It stops short of demanding a complete ban but it wants search engines to clearly indicate that the link leads to a premium rate number, and it intends stopping delaying tactics to pad out the time – and the cost – of the call. Above all, it wants a “prior-permissions” regime where users have to agree to the use of these high-cost numbers beforehand.

It's not alone

PhonepayPlus is not the only organisation that wants to see changes made. Citizens Advice is also calling for a prior-permissions regime, describing the "misleading practices" of ICSS providers as "indefensible". It's also concerned that two new public policy changes - Ofcom’s intention to make 080 numbers free to call from mobiles and the effect of the Consumer Rights Directive in requiring companies not to charge premium rates for customer service phone lines - will be undermined by ICSS.

PayPal has also spoken up, demanding that ICSS are not allowed to ask people for personal and/or confidential log in details (such as online account numbers or passwords) which relate to the company or organisation that the consumer is ultimately trying to reach, as has happened with PayPal users.

How the ICSS justify their practices

The providers justify what they do as “finding hard numbers”.

One told PhonepayPlus: “The majority of services exist to assist consumers in finding difficult contact numbers buried within services or websites or simply unavailable and are offered and used as a time saving measure and as a chargeable service. The Premium Number use covers the cost of advertising and offers a valuable service.

"It is clear that if the consumer took the time and effort that they may be able to find the number required and it should be assumed that for most cases they are using the service because they are unable to navigate the relevant corporate website and are looking for a quick and simple solution.  We agree that the general public should not be misled and the website should be clear in its purpose and offering. ”

More on scams and rip-offs:

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Criminals target doorstep charity bag collections

Warning: PayPal child pornography scam email

How to protect your PINs and passwords

Don't be a victim of ID fraud

The five most common types of fraud

The scams that target the elderly

How credit card cloning works

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Comments (6)

  • Ted
    Love rating 8
    Ted said

    I am more concerned about the 0844 numbers like you need to ring the likes of Sky even though you are paying them a substantial subscription.

    I never ring 09 numbers unless I know it is a one off payment of 25p or less to vote for something like SPOTY.


    Report on 23 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • MartinW
    Love rating 1
    MartinW said

    I nearly got caught by this trying to find a number to report a fraudulent transaction out of hours (it was a Sunday evening) to NatWest bank. I thought it was odd that a bank would use an 09 number, and then spotted the £1.53/min, so looked elsewhere.

    Report on 23 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • EllenMac
    Love rating 0
    EllenMac said

    I thought I'd test this out and found the Guardian site/number at the top of my search but then decided to try BT: Top of the list is a site with an 09 number and it did clearly state £1.53/min but no doubt if you're in a hurry and having a problem it's all too likely you might dial without checking further. In fact trying to find a phone number for BT seems virtually impossible on their actual site.

    Report on 23 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Latent
    Love rating 23
    Latent said

    Is there no end to this scum? Mind you, those that are supposed to be policing these ripoffs are just as much scum for allowing them in the first place.

    Report on 23 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • garfsuncle
    Love rating 4
    garfsuncle said

    I tried using the internet to get a number for DHL this morning and got an 09 number. I tried looking for an alternative on saynoto0870.com and they hadn't got it on their system. So I ignored it and I'll wait until Monday and get an alternative for DHL's advertised 0844 number.

    Incidentally, since 0845 numbers became free to call on some telephone providers' systems (I can call them free on Virgin Media) I notice there's been a mad rush into 0844 which still charges high rates.


    Report on 23 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • sodit
    Love rating 137
    sodit said

    It's quite simple... outlaw all premium rate numbers. If someone wants you to pay extra, then they can ask you for your credit card details and you can purchase whatever service it is that they are providing.

    We had no trouble with phone calls in the days before premium rate numbers, so let's simply revert to that regime.

    Report on 24 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  1 love

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