Watch out for this phone scam!
Half a million households a year fall victim to landline mis-selling - make sure you aren't one of them!
It's said that a recession brings out the worst in people. That certainly seems to be the case with scammers and crooks.
Only a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the sharp rise in mobile phone identity theft seen this year in Don't get caught out by this new fraud. And now a new type of scam has been exposed, once again involving communications. This time it's landline mis-selling.
BT has launched a new campaign, alongside the Trading Standards Institute, to raise awareness of the scam and call on Ofcom to show some teeth and fight against the scammers.
How does it work?
Landline mis-selling is essentially switching which phone company a customer is registered with, against their wishes.
There are various subtle techniques employed to do this, such as getting the customer's signature or agreement by posing as a different provider, or convincing the customer to sign their name in order to 'get more information'.
However, even more cynical techniques are also rife, particularly 'slamming', where consumers are switched completely against their wishes. Indeed, on occasion this happens without the customer even being aware of it - they only realise what has happened when they receive their bill.
How big a problem?
Now, I had never heard of landline mis-selling, but it is clearly a pretty significant problem. Half a million Brits - that's one in every 40 households - fall victim to the scam each year, according to Ofcom itself.
Indeed, for BT alone, more than 800,000 of their customers have complained of being duped in this way.
The proposed answer - pin codes
The campaign from BT and Trading Standards has suggested that the best way to prevent customers being scammed would be to give customers their own pin code.
Whenever you want to switch provider, you call your existing company for the code, and then pass it onto the new supplier. Only once they have the code can they take you on a customer.
However, there are some pretty serious flaws with this idea in my view.
First of all, it's not as if your existing company will hand over your pin code without a fight. Chances are you will be put under all sorts of pressure to stay. Also, even if they do eventually get your code out of them, inevitably it will not be a straightforward process - it never is when trying to leave a service provider.
And it's not exactly convenient is it?
My final problem is that, in some cases, customers agree to sign up only to, say, broadband services, but then find out once they get their bill that they have also been signed up to calls as well. How would having the pin code prevent this from happening?
I'm not sure it would.
How to protect yourself
Until the authorities come up with a more feasible way of preventing firms from getting away with this, there are a number of things you can do to guard against falling victim to unscrupulous sales people from phone firms.
- If you do get a call or visit from a sales person, always insist on getting their full name and company details, or to see their identification badge. If they are vague or evasive, be sure to keep asking until you are satisfied with what they have provided.
- Keep a written record of the time, date and content of any calls or visits. Also be sure to ask for a contact number for their organisation.
- Never give out your bank details to verify your identity.
- Always ask as many questions as necessary about the price you will be paying. If you are unsure, or need more time to think, get the salesman to post details to you.
Make it very clear if you are accepting or refusing an offer, or whether you are simply waiting to receive more information. It is your decision and you can take as long as you want to decide if you want to move.
If you have already been scammed
If you have already been caught out by these sneaky firms, there are a number of things you should do.
If you receive a letter from the new company notifying you that you are being switched over to their services, call both your previous company and the new firm to explain what has happened. If you do this within 10 days you should be able to put a stop to the changeover.
You should also contact Ofcom immediately to register a complaint.
Ofcom has form for acting against firms that are found to have 'slammed' customers, with enforcement action carried out against a number of firms including the Post Office, Axis Telecom, Economy Calls, Lo-Rate Telecom and Unicom.