BT faces huge refund claim over dialling scams

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The Independent Online

BT is facing a county court judgment in favour of a customer who is disputing the phone giant's refusal to pay refunds to thousands of people who have lost out in "rogue dialler" scams.

BT is facing a county court judgment in favour of a customer who is disputing the phone giant's refusal to pay refunds to thousands of people who have lost out in "rogue dialler" scams.

The Cambridgeshire-based customer is now trying to enforce the judgment against BT, which has been told to refund more than £300 in phone charges and to pay costs.

The case follows a fraud last year in which computers were hijacked by rogue software. Every time customers then dialled into the internet, their calls were routed through a premium-rate number.

The frauds only came to light when customers received their phone bills, but BT has insisted the charges must be paid. Some people are now facing charges of several thousand pounds.

If the judgment is upheld, could force the company to change its policy and pay refunds to customers who have already settled their bills.

BT is investigating 80,000 complaints from customers who think they have been caught out by the scams, although it expects only 30 per cent of cases to turn out to be genuine frauds.

But BT spokesman Mike Jarvis insisted that the Cambridgeshire judgment would not set a precedent. "We didn't contest this case because we didn't receive the papers from the court. We will now need to go back to the courts in order to have the judgment set aside."

He added: "Our general policy is that people have to pay these bills - we sympathise with their situation and are as angry that it has happened as they are, but we don't retain most of this money and have a legal contract requiring us to pass it on."

The company typically takes around 3p of the £1.50-a-minute charge on premium-rate numbers, though it has agreed to pay this cash to charity in cases of fraud, with a further 23p paid in VAT. BT then has to pass the remaining money on to the premium-rate number operators.

Kathryn Bell, of premium-rate telephone line regulator Icstis, said the watchdog was powerless to intervene in disputes over bills. "We can only suggest people try to negotiate with their phone companies."

Since last year, all premium-rate telephone operators have been required to register with Icstis before offering internet connection services. The watchdog has closed down several unregulated firms in an attempt to put a stop to the rogue dialler scams.

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