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New campaign slams the slammers

29th September 2009 Print
BT has launched a campaign, supported by Trading Standards Institute, calling on Ofcom to take action now to put an end to the mis-selling misery caused by telecoms companies, who hijack consumers' phone lines.

The campaign is pushing for a new process to prevent customers becoming victims of fixed-line phone mis-selling scams as well as providing advice on how consumers can protect themselves from the scammers.

According to Ofcom, one in forty UK households, that is half a million families, fall victim to the mis-sellers every year. The watchdog estimates the cost to consumers was a massive £40 million last year. BT says that more than 800,000 of their customers, enough to fill Wembley Stadium nine times over, have complained that they have been scammed by another telecoms company.

The dodgy sales techniques used by some agents to switch consumers to their company against the customer's wishes include "slamming" where the customer is switched to the company without their knowledge, as well as more subtle tactics, such as getting the customer's signature or agreement by falsely claiming to be "part of BT" or getting them to agree to sign their name for "more information".

Marian Rashid, a 25-year-old married mum with two small children from the West Midlands, is a recent victim of mis-selling. Following a call from a salesman offering broadband services for an attractively low price, she agreed to move suppliers for broadband only.

However without her permission, her landline phone services were also transferred. It took several weeks and several phone calls to resolve the situation, and the broadband supplier has since advised her that she is no longer eligible for the offer. Marian said: "The whole experience has been very stressful and frustrating - and has taken hours to put right, which is tricky for me as a mum of young children."

The campaign proposes a new system to protect people from being scammed, based around a simple consumer pin code. If you wanted to switch phone companies, you would ask your existing supplier for a pin code, which you would then give to your new supplier. The new supplier can only give you service if they have the code. This will provide certainty that the consumer has clearly chosen and consented to change companies.

Ron Gainsford, chief executive of Trading Standards Institute (TSI), said: "We're very much in favour of the telecoms industry adopting the consumer protection pin code system. We believe that it will stamp out at source the sort of rogue trading practice that has been plaguing telecoms consumers for more than five years."

BT believes the new process would actually make it easier for consumers to switch suppliers while safeguarding them against being mis-sold. It could also be adopted as the standard switching process for all communications services, including packages or "bundled" services, stopping customers being transferred by mistake or without their consent. Consumers would get the short and simple pin code quickly and be able to move to a new supplier much faster than current processes allow.

John Petter, managing director of BT's Consumer division, said: "We need to slam the slammers. The process we're proposing will put an end to mis-selling misery for good, protect consumers and safeguard fair competition. Ofcom's own data shows that a consumer protection pin code would eliminate mis-selling.

"It's criminal that this has been going on at this level for more than five years. I can't think of any other industry where this would be considered acceptable. It really is time that this was stamped out."

John Robertson, MP, chair of the All-Party Group on Communications, said: "I have been concerned about mis-selling and the lack of protection for consumers for some time. I welcome this new initiative, which I believe will help to address a serious issue in the communications market."

TSI and BT have produced "Talk to the Hand" a free, straightforward guide for consumers, featuring five simple steps they can take to protect themselves from landline mis-selling. It is available to download at: BT will also be reproducing the guide in its Update magazine, which is sent to all customers.

Five Simple Steps you can take to protect yourself from mis-selling

1 Identify
Always ask for the caller's full name and company details and write them down, and if approached at the door, ask to see their identification badge. Do not be afraid to ask again if they are vague or unclear.

2 Record
Note the time and date of any calls or visits you receive, and keep a written record of conversations. Also ask for the name of the person you are dealing with (check their ID if a visit), the organisation they represent and a contact number the organisation can be phoned back on and make a note of this too.

3 Withhold
Never give out your bank details to verify your identity.

4 Ask Questions
Always ask for precise information about the price you will be paying. If you're not sure, or need more time to think, then ask the caller to post the information to
you first.

5 Be Clear
Make it very clear if you are accepting or refusing the offer, or simply waiting to receive more information. It is your decision and you can take as long as you want to decide if you want to move.