Protect yourself from mobile mis-selling

16 September 2009

New rules to protect consumers from dishonest mobile phone retailers come into play today, following a huge rise in complaints against mis-selling and cashback schemes. 

The new rules mean mobile providers and retailers could be fined up to 10% of their turnover if they are found to use dishonest sales techniques. They will also ensure people signing up to mobile contracts will get all the information they need at the point of sale and fully understand the terms and conditions.

Incidences of mis-selling were so severe in this sector that, in July 2007, the regulator Ofcom introduced a voluntary code of conduct. However, this failed to reduce the number of complaints – a shocking 600 a month – so mandatory rules are now being brought into play.

Under the new rules, providers must:
Not mis-sell mobile phone services
Make sure the customer intends and is authorised to enter into a contract
Make sure consumers get the information they need at the point of sale
Make sure that the terms and conditions of cash back deals offered by their retailers are not unduly restrictive
Carry out certain due diligence checks in respect of their retailers

Examples of mis-selling include consumers seeing their monthly payment increase suddenly without warning. Others have been forced into extending or upgrading their contract, or switched over to a new provider without their consent.

Jason Glynn, communications expert at, says the new rules should offer mobile phone users more protection at a time when contacts are getting longer.

“The industry witnessed an 18% rise in the number of complaints about mobile service agreements last year, while consumers have seen the availability of 12-month contracts fall sharply in favour of 18 and 24-month tie-ins – a long time to be trapped in an agreement that you are not happy with,” he explains.

Are you a victim of mis-selling?

Mobile phone mis-selling can vary dramatically. But, according to Ofcom, the most common causes of complaint are:

The retailer or provider withholding relevant information or providing misleading information about tariffs or the details of your contract. Equally, they may make promising offers that do not materialise.

The retailer or provider puts an unacceptable amount of pressure on you to change providers or sign up to a new contract. Pressurised selling techniques include intimidating behaviour or refusing to leave until you sign.

Slamming is an extreme form of mis-selling where customers are switched to a new service from a new company without their knowledge or consent. In many cases the salesperson claims to be from a different company or tells consumers they are signing up for information rather than entering into a new contract. In more serious cases, customers’ signatures are forged.

What can you do about mobile mis-selling?

The new rules mean the onus is on mobile network providers to ensure their chosen retailers do not engage in mis-selling practices. However, when it comes to taking out a new contract, you should still be on your guard.

If you think you may have been mis-sold a contract or mobile contract directly from a provider (this includes retail arms) then your first port of call is to complain to the provider in question. It should have a complaints procedure in place and you should follow this to ensure a smooth resolution. You should also try and provide as much information as you can about the purchase.

However, if the provider fails to deal with your complaint in a satisfactory way – or you think it has unfairly rejected it – then you can refer the matter to the Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme the provider is a member of. This will either be Otelo or CISAS

If you bought the contract through an independent retailer then your first port of call should be the retailer. Again, you should follow their complaints procedure and provide as much information as you can.

If your dispute is not settled then you should contact the provider. If you still have no luck, then you can pass the matter onto Ofcom, which might be able to investigate the matter.

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