Tech Talk: Number up for 08 rip-off

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Beat premium rate profiteers says David Behrens

THE telephone industry has been quite vocal of late in warning us of the dangers of conmen who call us up on some pretext and then fool us into handing over our bank details, which they then use to hack into our accounts.

Criminal proceeds from this so-called “vishing” scam are said to have increased by £36m in the last year alone, so the advice to never hand over any sensitive information, either on the phone or online, is timely.

But serious as it is, £36m is a drop in the ocean compared to the perfectly legal profiteering that goes on in the telecoms industry itself, from the farming out of premium rate numbers to commercial call centres and public utilities. It can cost up to 50p per minute to call some of these numbers and the different codes means it’s hard to spot the most expensive ones.

Virtually every large organisation now uses these 08 numbers in preference to regular ones, and it’s easy to see why... they’re entitled to a cut of the revenue. The longer they keep you on hold, the more they profit.

In the public sector, HM Revenue and Customs – as if they don’t get enough of your cash already – is among the worst offenders, with the cost to taxpayers of waiting for calls to be answered and being put on hold estimated by the National Audit Office to be £103m.

Worse yet, premium rate calls mostly fall outside any inclusive monthly allowance from your phone company, and even numbers you assume to be free, such as those beginning with 0800, are chargeable if you call from your mobile.

But most premium-rate numbers are just fronts for regular ones. Normal-rate codes begin with 01, 02 and, as of recently, 03 – and you can nearly always find one to replace the 08 number you’ve been given.

Start by checking if the organisation you’re calling advertises a separate number to be used when phoning from abroad. This will begin with the international code for the UK, +44 – but there is nothing to stop you using it from home, substituting the +44 for a zero; it won’t be charged as international.

And make a point of checking the website saynoto0870.com, which lists thousands of standard-rate alternative numbers.