Questions of Cash: France Telecom calls were billed by mystery company


Q. Early this year while in the south of France I used a France Telecom kiosk to make an emergency call to the UK. I inserted a credit card and followed instructions. Nothing happened. Then a man asked me to provide details of my credit card for the call to be connected. I complied and after a period of silence, he told me the call had not been connected. He asked if I wanted to try a different number and I gave him one. He then said that my credit card had been blocked and could I provide him with another. Since the call was important, I did so and was connected. The call lasted two minutes, which resolved the emergency.

My next credit card statements showed that the first call, which had not been connected, cost me £27, and the second, which was very brief, cost £40. The statements merely listed the charges as "telephone call from France". After repeated requests for further information, one of the card issuers told me the payments had been made to a company called BBG London. I have written six times to France Telecom, without reply, including one letter by special delivery, costing £6.

I received an email from "customer services", but not stating at which company, asking for my credit card details for the sender to investigate. The sender refused to explain which company this was from or why my card details were needed, despite repeated requests.

Nothing in the France Telecom kiosk suggested that you would deal with anyone other than France Telecom.

LJ, by email

A. As a result of our enquiries you have now received a full refund. We contacted Orange, which is France Telecom's subsidiary in the UK which now operates as part of EE. A spokeswoman for Orange said: "Operator-assisted calls from Orange payphones in France are subcontracted to BBG Global and we do not set the prices for their services. However, customers should be informed of call charges when they make such a call.

"Through our investigation, BBG's reports showed that [the reader] made four attempts to make a call and was charged for one of the calls. Orange has since been able to help this customer get a full refund from BBG for that call, and BBG has recently credited [the reader] for the amount in question. As part of our investigation, [the reader] informed us that it was not made clear that these calls are handled by BBG and we are therefore addressing this with BBG as it is important customers receive the proper information before they use this service."

BBG is a large international operation with bases in the US, Switzerland and the UK. It provides international phone calls for a number of major clients, including operator-assisted services and pay phones at many hotels and airports. We tried several times, unsuccessfully, to contact the company to request that it investigate your complaint and provide an explanation.

We believe that as a result of your complaint BBG is under pressure to reduce its charges – which seem to us, on the basis of your experience, to be excessive and unreasonable.

Q. About three and a half years ago we put our house on the market with Allen & Harris estate agents of Bath. At the time the HIPS [Home Information Pack] scheme was in place and we signed an agreement for this to be provided at a cost of £485, including VAT. While the agency was taking the photos, our very expensive patio furniture was damaged, the parasol was snapped in half and we were not informed. I called the agents, to be told it would be sorted at the end when the property was sold. But the number of viewings dwindled and so we took the house off the market.

We have now had a letter from a debt collecting agency seeking the £485 and threatening court proceedings. After so long we had assumed the agency had decided not to charge us, given the damage to our property, but the people who worked at the agency at the time are no longer there. The agency has agreed to reduce the fee by £115, but that fails to take into the account the damage.

SC, Somerset

A. We contacted Allen & Harris, which has agreed to write off the debt. A spokeswoman said: "We would like to apologise to [the reader] for any inconvenience and are glad this matter has now been resolved."

Long-distance problems with Santander

Q. I have lived and worked in Thailand for the past five years. I have had persistent problems with accessing my Santander bank account and I am fed up with spending lots of money on international phone calls to them, so I have tried to arrange to issue instructions to the bank by secure email. I visited my Northampton Market Street branch, which assured me that my file had been noted accordingly and this would be enabled. But I have again had problems and I was "told off" over the phone for not telling them I was abroad. My complaints have led to a "goodwill payment" of £25, but I want the matter sorted out.

ML, Thailand

A. Santander accepts that you were mis-informed at your branch and apologises for this and for the poor service you received from its UK security centre. "Please be assured that feedback has been provided to both areas," says a spokeswoman. The bank has now provided you with a direct email address to prevent repetition of the problems and has requested a phone number for you in Thailand to verify transactions. Santander stresses that it asks all customers to notify it when travelling abroad to reduce the risk of fraud.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we'll do our best to help. Please email us at: