Tuesday 23 July 2019

Your Money: Phone lines can be a very bad call

Premium Rate Services are a minefield of prices that can drain your finances

Hefty bills: Certain numbers can charge you over and over again
Hefty bills: Certain numbers can charge you over and over again
Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

Someone asked me recently what they should do about a high phone bill they had received.

I had a look and saw a lot of regular calls to the same number, beginning with 15, so immediately knew it was a premium rate call.

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Now for the delicate bit... "Are you checking the weather forecast a lot? What about your horoscope; that can be fun?"

None of the above, but my inkling was that a teenager in the house may have been making the calls (to a, eh, far more personal site.

It turned out the calls were actually to a competition line the person had entered ages ago, but didn't realise that by phoning the number to enter it once, she was actually signing up to entries every single week! Premium Rate Services (PRS) are a money-grabber for lots of companies. There's nothing inherently wrong with them as long as you are aware of what you're paying and/or signing up for.

It's fine to call or text the answer to a competition on 'The Late Late Show', or a comment to your favourite radio programme, for instance, as it's a one-off and you'll always be told how much the entry costs. The issue is when you aren't told, or don't know, and your bill arrives.

PRS are regulated in Ireland by ComReg with strict rules. Here's what you need to know:

LoCall numbers

These typically have a 1890 prefix and make it cheaper for customers to call companies.

Unfortunately, that's not always the case when calling from a mobile, as the phone provider can charge a separate fee (between five and 30c) for the call, and they can keep charging by the minute which makes the 'hold' music very expensive indeed!

Revenue stopped using these last year for this reason and reverted to landlines.

Premium rate numbers

These have a 15-- prefix (a 5 prefix for texts) and are the basis for the 1,000 or so complaints ComReg gets every month from people with unusually high bills.

The majority say they never signed up or subscribed to the services, but in truth they probably did, once, and forgot.

PRS have to be initiated by the caller/texter but there might be (very) small print warning you you're signing up to a regular service which will deduct an amount every week or more.

Prefixes

There are 15 different prefix numbers (1512 to 1580) in operation. They are everything from information, advice to entertainment, sex lines or horoscopes.

Some are charged per call, others per minute (see panel). The most expensive is a whopping €3.50 per minute - just 20 minutes chatting to a 'psychic' or 'tarot card reader' will set you back €105. They'll see it coming, but you won't.

'Free' entries

Typically 'free' calls are an enticement with television competitions. A ridiculously easy question is asked which you're itching to answer, but when you text or call in your answer you could find it being charged over and over.

What you're signing up for is multiple entries and they're little more than money-gathering exercises.

Making a complaint:

1/ ComReg's number checker (www.phonesmart.ie) identifies the 15xx calls or 5xxxx texts origins.

For texts, un-subscribe by texting 'STOP' back to the number, in capitals. Do not add any other words or it may not work.

2/ Follow the advice given on unsubscribing from the number, noting the date you do so.

3/ If unsuccessful, contact ComReg directly who will follow up for you with the operator (www.comreg.ie)

Irish Independent

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