Once again, my mundane routine of daily atrocities (housework) was interrupted by the landline telephone. A pleasant female voice began to speak.
“BT here, Mrs Graham. I am phoning you to say we have noticed you made two telephone calls last Wednesday to HMRC.” (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs)
“Yes, I was trying to complete my self-assessment tax form and couldn’t get the answer from their web site.”
“Did you realise you were calling an ‘09’ number?”
“What is wrong with that?”
“Numbers beginning with 09 are premium call numbers and you are charged for them. The first call you made came to £57.32 and the second £44.40.”
“What?!! How can that be?”
I then recalled, how, in that state of anxiety, inexorably induced by filling in tax forms, I had Googled HMRC to obtain their telephone number. The first number I saw on the Google list was 0903727XXXX. I did not think to check the number or question the validity of it – it said it was HMRC for goodness sake!
The lady calmly explained that ‘these people’ pay Google thousands of pounds to list their chosen number first if anyone is looking for a particular contact for a service. They then proceed to actually put you through to the service but, they CHARGE. I do remember them telling me they were going to charge £3.60 per minute which I found strange as most government numbers are free but I was in such a state of combobulation about filling in my tax form for the first time online, I thought it must be something I had to accept. I wanted desperately to get that form done and dusted.
“But, but, but!” I expostulated, “This is wrong! This is unfair.”
“You can call the UK Regulator and demand a refund and I will give you the number.”
“Am I likely to get a refund?”
“They should give you one.” She didn’t sound too sure and didn’t say, “It will take you hours and days of wrangling with sharp talking people.” But I heard it all the same. I took down the number of the ‘Regulator’ whoever he, she or it may be.
I duly phoned and a gentleman with a smooth, modulated voice heard my plea and without venturing advice or sympathy told me to Google [email protected] which I duly did. It turned out to be the very company that issues these numbers. Premium Rate Specialists with a web site extolling the virtues of new tariffs at £6 a call and how to take advantage of them among other things.
I was now frightened and feeling very stupid. I began to wonder was the initial call from BT also fraudulent. I phoned BT Help on a number I know is what it says it is and was quite quickly put through to a most helpful man who explained the whole thing to me. Well, not quite the whole thing, but enough.
He assured me that the initial call was genuine and in fact BT had reduced the fees so now all I owed was £80.00 rather than £101.72. Not a lot but better than nothing. This is done by BT to show goodwill as they are helpless to control this practice. As it was explained, the law would say I made the call of my own free will – so, tough, lady, tough. Having reached my allotted span of three score years and ten plus a few – it is!
The kind man from BT Help also told me other numbers NOT to use. These are all given on web site: https://psauthority.org.uk which does explain it all and I exhort one and all to go there and read it.
Nobody has ever told me any of this and upon enquiring with a few friends it is news to them too. What is there to trust? Unscrupulous people take advantage of the wonderful advances in technology which should be giving our lives more ease and comfort. Instead they are filling us with anxiety and fearfulness. We (us oldies) are constantly aware of our lack of technological skills and would love to learn more but I, for one, have had enough. Smoke signals, semaphore and homing pigeons beckon.
Editors note: You can set up call barring on your phone to prevent this happening. I also recommend you do this for any vulnerable family members or friends. BT instructions, Virgin Media instructions. The Telecom companies should ban these numbers by default. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a good solution to those annoying scam calls, I ended up just stopping our landline with Virgin as we never used it and the only calls we ever got were scams. Consider getting your relatives a Video calling device, see my guide here. Brian
Felicity was born in Cheshire in England in 1941. At the age of five she was dragged, kicking and screaming, to Northern Ireland where she (later) married, had a family and has been living ever since. Among other things, she has been a secretary, a BBC Radio reporter, a veterinary assistant, director of a local Saleroom (Temple Auctions), obtained a degree in Fine and Applied Art at the University of Ulster and has recently published her debut novel, “Days of Wine and Wardrobes”.
She now lives near Lisburn with her cat, Wudi.