Pensioner Elizabeth Furlong had the shock of her life when out of the blue she received a phone bill for almost £900.
The 83-year-old was stunned when she found she’d been charged £877.73 for a call to a 0843 number she didn’t recognise.
We were getting nowhere with them until Streetwise got involved. Thank you so much for giving her peace of mind.’
Elizabeth, of Buckland in Portsmouth, mainly uses her phone to keep in touch with her three sons and daughter. Her monthly mobile bills average around £20.
But little did she realise when she answered a voice-recorded call that she’d been stung by PPI fraudsters urging her to call back on a premium rate number and make a claim.
The 0845 and 0843 missed call scam has hit hundreds of mobile phone owners, leading to UK telephone regulator Ofcom launching an investigation.
The seemingly innocuous but sophisticated call fraud uses automated ‘revenue sharing’ numbers to trap victims into returning calls to missed numbers on their phone.
Revenue-sharing numbers are frequently used by legitimate businesses to offset the cost of providing their services to callers.
People who call one of the numbers pay a premium price call charge per minute – anything up to the maximum £1.50 – which is divided between the phone company who connect the call and the call service.
The scam works with crooks deploying an army of automated diallers ringing random mobile phone numbers.
If they get through to a mobile phone, they quickly hang up before hunting out the next victim.
The mobile phone lists the missed call, and when the number is called back to find out who it was, the call is not properly disconnected leaving the line open to racking up huge bills.
Elizabeth said: ‘Last month a call came in on my phone saying I was due a refund for insurance I’d taken out on a loan.
‘I thought it was a bit strange because I’ve only got my old age pension and benefits to live on and couldn’t possibly take out a loan anyway.
‘I had no idea who the firm was that called me so I called them back. As soon I listened to the opening message I knew it wasn’t for me. As far as I was concerned I ended the call in the normal way and put it out of my mind.
‘I can’t begin to tell you what came over me when the bill came in for nearly £900. I was shocked and horrified. I had no idea how I could pay it, so I rang my eldest son David who got on to the phone company and told them they’d made a mistake.
‘They insisted I’d remained connected to the same number for over 50 hours.’
David contacted Streetwise for help. He said: ‘This was shocking and so worrying for my elderly mum, who just couldn’t understand how she’d been on the phone to the same number for the best part of two days without knowing, and running up such a huge bill. It just didn’t make sense.
‘I immediately looked on the internet and soon discovered that hundreds of people had fallen for this con.’
Ofcom told us it was aware that fraudsters were abusing revenue-share phone services.
A spokesperson said: ‘A number of scams have been reported involving the misuse of higher rate phone numbers for financial gain.
‘We are working with the police, the Information Commissioner’s office, Trading Standards and other fraud agencies to ensure consumers are much better protected.’
A spokesperson for the Chartered Trading Standards Institute said: ‘We would urge consumers to err on the side of caution when asked to respond to automated unknown telephone numbers on their mobiles.
‘They should be especially careful not to respond to 070, 076, 084, 087, 090, 091 or 018 numbers.
‘Phone network providers will put a block on calls to premium rate phone numbers if you ask them, including any overseas companies you do not normally call.
‘It’s also a smart move to get in touch with your network phone operator straight away if you think you’ve been scammed. They can help to limit the cost of any calls made to the number and block it.’
TalkTalk, Elizabeth’s mobile phone company, immediately agreed to write off her rogue bill.
David said: ‘This came as a huge relief to mum. We were getting nowhere with them until Streetwise got involved.
‘Thank you so much for giving her peace of mind.’