December 17th, 2006, 01:59 PM
That wouldn't happen these days. We have Ofcom and ICSTIS as regulatory bodies and the Communications Act 2003.
Telcos have also to be careful that they don't get prosecuted under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Naturally, surreptitiously installing a dialler would be considered a criminal activity
ICSTIS will start regulating the "business numbers" in 2008.
December 18th, 2006, 12:12 AM
Well, I'm only going back to 2003. While BT would make allowances and arrange payment over time, I don't know of any instances where they allowed people to not pay the inflated bill. You can see their point in a way - it's not their fault if people are careless enough to get diallers on their computers, especially if they've ended up doing so due to their own dubious activities (downloading p2p software and visiting pr0n sites etc).
December 18th, 2006, 09:13 AM
Well Moira, I know of several such instances. Since the 2003 Act, as amended.................
1. If you surreptitiously load a dialler onto someone's machine you break the law.
2. If you wish to use a premium service you have to advise the user that it is such, and how much it is likely to cost. Check out ICSTIS for that one.
3. If you make available a service to someone who uses it for fraudulent purposes and you profit from this, you are liable under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
The Metropolitan Police have made this quite clear to the UK Telcos. They can no longer play Pontius Pilate and the "it wasn't me it was the cat wot done it" excuse is unacceptable.
It is a bit like the credit card companies, they just take the loss and get on with it.
December 18th, 2006, 07:37 PM
I'm not disagreeing that the perpetrator is guilty of a crime - but it's not BT's fault! If they can't find out who was reponsible for putting malware onto a PC, does the telephone service provider have to pay the costs? What happens if it's a third party service renting BT lines?
Maybe BT do have to accept the non payment of such charges, but how do you tell whether someone has been a victim or whether they've purposely signed up for a pr0n service where their PC dials a premium number? It begins to get a bit blurred around the edges.
It sounds from what you're saying that this more or less came into being around the time I stopped working for BT anyway, from what I remember people more or less had to make some arrangement to pay the inflated bill and just make sure they stopped the calls happening.
Last edited by Moira; December 18th, 2006 at 07:40 PM.
December 18th, 2006, 08:44 PM
Hah! it is BT's fault, and the rest of the Telco industry. Laziness, incompetence and sheer depraved indifference. They had found a way of making a fast buck at virtually no marginal cost to themselves. It was high time that they were made accountable, and now they are, to some extent.
If it is a third party then they are in a contractual position of "agents"........BT, as principals in the contract, should be more careful who they do business with. That is commercial law
How do you tell?...........well there are a number of ways:
1. Telephone usage patterns. We get itemised bills, they have those data, trust me.
2. "Failed modem connection".............a bit of a give away?
3. Complaints patterns...........rotten premium numbers will show up like dodgy IP addresses.
4. Just dial the number and see what it connects to......... if it is a genuine pr0n site then there may be some doubt, but if there is no website with the legally required warnings then that is absolute evidence that it is a dialler.
Sure there are legitimate "diallers", but they are user activated. How long do you think someone would spend looking at a pr0n site over a 56.6 connection? Multiple connections in a short space of time or very short connections periodically are a dead give away. Remember, you get charged the full whack each time.
Yes, I guess that the law and regulators came in around the time that you left.
The bottom line is that the industry could easily shut all this down by enforcing a 10 week moratorium on payments. So if you don't get paid by the customer then nothing goes up the food chain. The Telcos are certainly in a position to do that.
Also they should change their contractual terms so that their premium number customers are responsible for all bad debts.
December 18th, 2006, 09:54 PM
I suppose you're right. How do you charge someone you can't catch though?
December 18th, 2006, 10:56 PM
I was sort of looking at it from a somewhat different angle. ICSTIS is an industry self-regulatory body that reports to Ofcom.
I think that there are good grounds for changing the terms under which these sorts of services are provided.
The scam is very similar in structure to the VAT fraud that is rife in this country. It only works due to poor timing.
The scammers collect their "cut" from BT or another Telco on the basis that someone using that Telco (or chain) has called their premium number. The caller's Telco collects this money via their monthy billing, and passes the money to the "food chain" or direct to the scammer, if they subscribed directly.
So, the solution would seem to be to:
1. Charge the user of the premium numbers a refundable "bond" or "deposit" that will be forfeit in case of abuse. It would need to be fairly substantial.
2. The ultimate callers' Telcos should introduce a delay of say 10 weeks before making payments............that is pretty much how big corporations handle small suppliers anyway, and is consistent with other internet activity such as "per click advertising". It would allow time for complaints to be filed and investigated?
3. Telcos need to take a more proactive approach to monitoring the services that they are providing and profiting from. This should include blocking those types of call to entire Telco ranges if they do not support the scheme................or just don't pay them...........That is how to deal with overseas Telcos who won't play nice.
It is hardly rocket science to monitor the numbers than diallers call and shut them down? same for other spammers come to that?
Whilst broadband has reduced the effectiveness of diallers they still represent a threat. My view is that the control of these very tempting revenue generating telephone numbers needs to be improved. If they are not I can see them being made illegal.
December 18th, 2006, 11:29 PM
I suppose now you've explained it, the companies who've bought the premium numbers in the first place should be made more responsible for the people using them ... but then if they work like 0870 or even 0845 then it's hard to control who's calling your special number, as they're not exactly kept secret.
I don't think I ever really thought about how diallers worked. So the premium rate companies pass money on to - who? Someone who hires out their number?
I can see that a built in delay would help - however BT themselves are really due the money, if not from the consumer then the premium rate organisation who allowed it to be abused, surely?
December 19th, 2006, 12:36 AM
There are two basic types of number, although the rates can vary:
1. "Business numbers" (that are currently unregulated) These are 0870 and 0871. The other common one is the so-called "National Number" of 0845 (you pay a flat rate no matter where you are in the UK). If I rent an 0871 number from BT then people who call it get charged at £0.10 a minute. BT collect this money and pay me £0.06, keeping the £0.04 for themselves.
That is a very simple example. Where other Telcos are involved, they pay BT an amount and keep some for themselves. This is how we had "free" ISPs in the UK. Where the ISP wasn't the Telco, the Telco would pay the ISP a part of the call charge. The alternative was to pay a fee direct to the Telco, and they would give you a "freephone number". In this situation, you didn't pay any call charges, and the ISP paid the Telco.
2. "Premium numbers" (these are regulated by ICSTIS). These can cost the caller up to £1.50 per minute. If I rent one of these then I guess I would get about £1.0 per minute for every call I received.
I don't know how BT handle third party resellers but at the end of the day the caller pays £1.50 and the renter of the number gets maybe £1.0. That is what makes them so attractive to scammers.
Now, a major part of the problem is the way the billing works. If I dial one of these numbers and it "connects" then drops the connection (failed modem connection) I still get hit with the minimum £1.50 charge, because the phone call has been answered..............this is just the same as a normal land line call in the way that it is handled.
I called a modem and it answered, but did not connect me to the computer. Just like I phone somebody and the phone is answered but the person I want to speak to isn't in? I still have to pay for the call.
Perhaps there should be some more controls or duties imposed on the vendors of these numbers?
1. A duty to verify the authenticity of the person(s) renting the number(s). Hey, just try opening a banking account these days? No anonymous corporations.............you have to have to be a real person, and prove it.
2. No charge for calls to premium numbers of less than 120 seconds in duration (my "tarpit" theory) We all know that they are never intended to be that short?
I honestly feel that as an industry we should be looking at this sort of thing, and expressing our opinions. If we don't I fear that we will have politicians imposing their knee jerk reactions upon us in the form of ill conceived legislation?
December 19th, 2006, 05:52 PM
So the scammers stand a good chance of being the people who rented the premium number in the first place?
I suppose BT hasn't got much motivation to stamp it out really, as they do (or did) very well out of people neglecting computer security.
All I know about premium numbers was working for another "branch of BT" (broadband) where premium rate callers would ring us and they'd come through as Ealing on the phones - that being the hop off between the national and premium rate networks. You were never allowed to put an Ealing customer on hold, which could be quite challenging!