Phone customers targeted by "slammers"

25 February 2008

Rogue phone companies are still “slamming” thousands of consumers despite treats of fines from the industry watchdog.

Slamming is an extreme form of mis-selling where customers are switched from one company to another without their knowledge or consent. It is particularly widespread in the telecommunications industry because phone companies don’t need a customer’s signature to switch their tariff.

In some cases, companies will cold-call consumers posing as a representative of a different company before changing their provider. In other instances, customers may sign up to receive information but later find their phone tariffs have been changed without their permission.

The industry regulator Ofcom says it receives around 600 complaints a month from victims of slamming and have pledged a further crackdown on this particular type of scam.

Firms that mis-sell phone contracts in this way could be fined as much as 10% of their turnover. Previously, Tesco and the Post Office have been investigated by Ofcom.

If found that some Post Office customers who signed up to receive information were in fact being transferred onto the company’s phone service.

Both Tesco and the Post Office say they have now taken measures to ensure customers are no longer “slammed” in this way.

Ofcom is currently investigating Economy Calls, which it says transfers customers onto new contracts without their knowledge or consent.

Avoid falling victim

Slammers from landline and mobile phone companies continue to target consumers but there are some things you can do to avoid becoming their next victim.

Most slammers cold-call their targets, so if you do receive an unexpected call from a phone company then it is a good idea to ask for their name and number to call them back. Some slammers pose as representatives of a different company to one they actually work for so they may be reluctant to give you any information that traces back to them.

Many sales pitches are very convincing, but avoid giving the caller your name and address, current phone company details or your bank details.

Companies cannot switch consumers over to their services before sending them the full details of their new account. They also have to give them the option to cancel their new contract without incurring any penalty. You should read through all the paperwork sent to you before signing up for anything.

However, because slamming is not a legitimate sales practice some firms won’t bother following these rules. If you have been duped into switching provider then you should first of all complain to the company in question. If this does not deliver the desired results then you should contact the Office of the Telecommunications Ombudsman or the Internet Services Adjudication Scheme.

Finally, if you receive a bill from a telephone contact that you were not aware you were on, then you can withhold payment until the firm proves you signed up for it.

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