BT scam news reports

As they promised, the BT phone scam report was on BBC Breakfast a few times this morning. I was woken by various texts and emails from people who spotted me, which was fun. The video’s here, and the main article is here1. Hopefully it helped spread the word about these kind of scams.

The only unfortunate part came after the 9:30ish showing, when BBC Breakfast had a consumer advice guy in the studio. He recommended you ask “BT” for your account number, which makes sense, but also that you should ask for your address, as “they won’t have it”. That’s not so sound – the guy who called me knew my address and immediately read it out to me. Still, the overall message was great.

  1. UPDATE: These have since merged, and the three minute report has inexplicably become 30 seconds of just me. Argh. []

Filmed for breakfast news

BBC News filmed me this morning for a piece on phone scammers who pretend to be from BT. A business news producer had found my blog post on the topic, and emailed to ask if I’d be willing to talk about it on-camera. I was happy to, and today I spoke to one of their reporters for about an hour, explaining the details and the trick the scammer had tried to pull on me – apparently it’s doing the rounds at the moment.

Quite exciting, really. There was a reporter, producer and cameraman (plus a couple of inquisitive and adorable dogs), all of whom were very friendly and nice to me. I’d never been filmed like that before, and it was fascinating to see how these segments work, especially with my upcoming uni module on video. After speaking to the reporter they filmed a few general shots of me at a laptop, answering the phone etc., and I’ll be interested to see how it gets cut together.

Apparently it’ll be on BBC Breakfast on Saturday morning, barring monkeys invading Cheltenham or similar. I was not looking my best, though. My hair is bulging over the tops of my ears, I hadn’t shaved in three days, and upon arriving I promptly dropped chocolate down my shirt.  Still, hopefully they won’t use the take where, upon being asked how the phone call made me feel, I decided to say ‘dirty’. Ahem. It got a laugh, anyway.

BT direct debit ‘cancellation’ scam

Some dude just tried to scam me by claiming to be from BT. I answered the phone and he quickly introduced himself, confirmed my name and address, and said my BT direct debit had been cancelled. It was odd, though: there wasn’t the usual call-centre background chatter, and the line was poor quality, so I was a little wary. I was asked if I’d cancelled any direct debits lately; I said no. Which bank did I use? I told him. He then said non direct-debit payments incur an extra charge, and as a result of these being unpaid my line had been suspended. I was obviously a little concerned, and he told me I could check whether this was the case: he’d put the phone down, and I should try to make an outgoing call. If the line were suspended, I wouldn’t be able to. He’d then phone back.

I put the phone down, picked it back up, and there was indeed no dial tone. At which point all my baloney detectors kicked into third gear, because he could engineer that – if he didn’t put the phone down and silenced his end, I’d have a ‘dead line’ no matter what I did. Anyone who’s been accidentally called from a pocket knows the recipient of a call can’t force a disconnect. It also didn’t sound like a dead line, it sounded…roomy – just no noise, rather than a null signal. Plus, if my phone line were suspended, I doubt I’d receive incoming calls. This was all a bit too suspicious and I decided it was a scam, so I pulled the plug out of the wall, just to confuse him (I later checked, and I can indeed make outgoing phone calls). If he calls back, I’ll suggest he send me a letter.

I initially thought he was going to ask for credit card info for the extra payments, but it’s more likely he was after my bank details. I figure it’s worth spreading the word, just in case it’s a big operation.

Update: In mid-September BBC News filmed me talking about this.

Update 2: Just to say that while the BBC report was fine, Breakfast had an advice chap recommending you ask the caller to confirm your address. But the guy who called me did know my address, so that might not work. The other advice about asking for the account number might be a better bet.

Data Protection Agency Services

If you register under the Data Protection Act, you will likely receive one of these letters. One of my clients received one this week. From a company called ‘Data Protection Agency Services – Enforcement Section’, this letter explains how failure to comply with the Data Protection Registrar constitutes a criminal offence, and you need to send them £95.

As you may have guessed from the fact I’m posting it at all, this letter is not what it seems.

It’s not a con, it’s just brazen. This company have nothing to do with the ‘Information Commissioner’, who handles all data protection registrations.

The first bullet point says ‘You are not held on our records as having registered under the Data Protection Act 1998, to comply with the Data Protection Registrar”. This is likely to be true, they probably don’t have any records of these things or they couldn’t send out the letters. It then warns you of the dangers associated with not registering and various gumph about the reasons behind it etc. There’s a little booklet you have to fill in, which is remarkable in its lack of spelling / grammatical errors (which makes me wonder if it’s just taken from something that actually is official). Then we come to the following:

“Once your cheque has reached us we will register you with the Notification Department, and provide you with helpful documentation for developing your codes of practice, under the legislation set within the Data Protection Act 1998″ (bold type theirs)

Whoop tee do.

The official term for registering under the DPA is ‘notification’, so many people assume this is an offical government thing, but it isn’t. The “Notification Department” of this company isn’t an official body, so it won’t matter one jot whether you are registered with them. It will, however, cost you £95.

The “Data Protection Agency Services” do exactly what they say they’ll do, so there’s nothing against the law about this. It’s just that many people will read the letter, assume it is from the government, and send off a cheque. Personally, I would say that’s the whole point, but that’s just my opinion. It’s a bit like me sending you an invoice that says “I thought about your computer last week – you owe me £50”. Most people would see this for what it is, but if I made it look similar to Microsoft documentation and crammed it full of warnings about how failure to comply with the EULA can get you fined, there’d be people who would simply send the money without paying too much attention.

According to the official website, the annual statutory notification fee for official notification is £35. There are no other charges.

I’ve just found this page on the official DPR website, warning about this kind of thing, and listing the addresses of the companies involved.

UPDATE on 18/05/04

Well, this page seems to have helped a fair few people! For a while I was in the top three google results under a ‘data protection agency services’ search, but I appear to have now disappeared from that. I appreciate all the kind words, although, please, if you want to go on an anti-government rant, this isn’t the place (and mentioning cars in the same sentence is a sure fire recipe for an email on road safety 😉 )

I’m updating to add a copy of the letter you’ll receive if you really do have to pay. You can see that the scam attempts to copy as much as possible from the official documentation. The real letter comes from the ‘Notification Department’ at ‘Wycliffe House’ and does, to be honest, look more professional. The official email address of ‘data@notification.demon.co.uk’ doesn’t help in this regard! It is, however, only £35 as opposed to the newly-increased total of £135.

Official DRP Letter - Small Version

The Information Commissioner’s Website (down at the time of writing) apparently maintains a list of the addresses of these scammers. Trading Standards will also take action if informed – you can find your local office from the central Trading Standards website.

UPDATE on 23/11/05:

Somebody has commented that the fraudsters have been prosecuted successfully. Excellent news!