Scam Key on Computer Keyboard
Home ScamsPhone Scams BT Unpaid Bill Phone Scam Warning

BT Unpaid Bill Phone Scam Warning

by Brett M. Christensen

This story was first published on September 18, 2009

Outline

Message warns that scammers posing as UK telecommunications company BT staff are tricking people into revealing their bank or credit card details by claiming that their phone service will be disconnected if they do not pay an overdue bill immediately.

Brief Analysis

The information in the warning message is factual. Such scams have been occurring in the UK for several years and a number of UK residents have already lost money to the fraudsters.

Example

Subject: BT phone scamPLEASE PASS ON TO YOUR FRIENDS & FAMILY.The new telephone ‘scam’ has arrived.I received a call from a ‘representative’ of BT, informing me that he was disconnecting me because of an unpaid bill. He demanded payment immediately of £31.00, or it would be £118.00 to re-connect at a later date.

The guy wasn’t even fazed when I told him I was with Virgin Media, allegedly VM have to pay BT a percentage for line rental!

I asked the guy’s name – the very ‘English’ John Peacock with a very ‘African’ accent – & phone number – 0800 0800 152.

Obviously the fella realized I wasn’t believing his story, so offered to demonstrate that he was from BT. I asked how & he told me to hang up & try phoning someone – he would disconnect my phone to prevent this.

AND HE DID!!
My phone was dead – no engaged tone, nothing – until he phoned me again.

Very pleased with himself, he asked if that was enough proof that he was with BT. I asked how the payment was to be made & he said credit card, there & then.

I said that I didn’t know how he’d done it, but I had absolutely no intention of paying him, I didn’t believe his name or that he worked for BT.

He hung up.
Did 1471 & phoned his fictitious 0800 number – not recognised.

I phoned the police to let them know, I wasn’t the first! It’s only just started apparently but it is escalating.

Their advice was to let as many people know by word of mouth of this scam. The fact that the phone does go off would probably convince some people it’s real, so please let as many friends & family aware of this.

This is good but not that clever. He gave the wrong number – it should have been 0800 800152 which takes you through to BT Business. The cutting off of the line is very simple , he stays on the line with the mute button on and you can’t dial out – but he can hear you trying. (This is because the person who initiates a call is the one to terminate it). When you stop trying he cuts off and immediately calls back. You could almost be convinced! The sad thing is that it is so simple that it will certainly fool the elderly and vulnerable. Obviously, if this scam is real, once they have your credit/debit card details, there is nothing to stop them cleaning out your account.

 

Detailed Analysis

This warning, which circulates via email and social media posts, claims that scammers are posing as representatives of UK telecommunications giant BT in order to trick phone users into handing over their financial information.

According to the message, a scammer calls a potential victim and identifies himself as a BT staff member before demanding that a supposed unpaid bill be paid immediately lest the phone be disconnected. If the potential victim seems doubtful, the scammer offers to “prove” he is really from BT by temporarily disconnecting the phone. The scammer then uses a simple trick to make the victim think that the phone has really been cut off before calling back to demand an immediate payment. The scammer ask the victim to hang up and try calling someone else but simply stays on the line which restricts outgoing calls. Because the outgoing call cannot be made, some users may then assume that their phone has really been disconnected and pay up as requested to avoid a hefty reconnection fee.

The information in the warning email is factual. Such scams have indeed occured in the UK in recent years and a number of UK residents have lost money to these fraudsters. BT published the following notice on its website in 2009 warning customers about the scam:

Please be aware of the following:

Fraudsters, pretending to be from various phone companies, have been calling people on the pretence that there is an outstanding bill and threatening to disconnect their line immediately if they do not pay the bill straight away.

The fraudsters have been pretending to “cut off” the customer. Worried about having their line cut off, some people have been persuaded into giving the fraudsters their bank account details.

The police are investigating and BT Security is looking into incidents where the fraudsters have claimed to be from BT.

Whilst BT does have debt handling procedures which may involve calling customers, BT never carries out disconnections during the call by way of proof.

We advise customers never to give out any banking details over the phone unless they are absolutely certain who they are dealing with.

If there is any doubt at all, a BT employee will be able to give the customer their employee ID number and an 0800 number to call, where the customer can check that they are who they say they are. The customer can also check their identity by calling 0800 800 150.

Beware of similar phone numbers. Fraudsters may for example offer a number which has an extra zero – 0800 0800 xxx has been used by fraudsters – it is not the same as 0800 800 xxx.

UK communications regulator OfCom has also posted a warning to consumers about the scam:

Fraudsters are currently phoning consumers claiming to be from BT or Ofcom. They claim that the consumer’s telephone line needs digital upgrade work. This, they say, will cost £6 and if it isn’t paid within 10 days the consumer’s phone line will be cut off.

In some cases, the fraudster will claim that the line needs testing and they will temporarily disconnect it. When the consumer tries to make an outgoing call they are unable to do so. This is simply because the fraudster is still on the line meaning no outbound calls can be made.

This is a scam. Ofcom and BT have alerted the relevant authorities for investigation.

Phone scammers often pose as staff of companies, government departments or financial institutions as a means of fooling people into handing over their personal details. While this particular instance of the scam targets UK residents, criminals may use similar tactics to steal information from phone consumers in other parts of the world. While telecommunications companies may well call their customers to query an unpaid account, they are unlikely to attempt to prove the legitimacy of the call by disconnecting the line. If you do receive a suspect call, do not provide the caller with any personal or financial details. If you are unsure about a call, the safest course of action is to:

  1. Ask for the caller’s name and department details and then terminate the call.
  2. Find a legitimate contact number for the company either in a bill or other official documentation or a telephone directory. (Don’t use a contact number provided by the caller).
  3. Call the company and ask to speak to the original caller by name.

This strategy should effectively derail any scam attempts and also allow you to deal with the issue in the event that the call was actually legitimate.


Importance Notice

After considerable thought and with an ache in my heart, I have decided that the time has come to close down the Hoax-Slayer website.

These days, the site does not generate enough revenue to cover expenses, and I do not have the financial resources to sustain it going forward.

Moreover, I now work long hours in a full-time and physically taxing job, so maintaining and managing the website and publishing new material has become difficult for me.

And finally, after 18 years of writing about scams and hoaxes, I feel that it is time for me to take my fingers off the keyboard and focus on other projects and pastimes.

When I first started Hoax-Slayer, I never dreamed that I would still be working on the project all these years later or that it would become such an important part of my life. It's been a fantastic and engaging experience and one that I will always treasure.

I hope that my work over the years has helped to make the Internet a little safer and thwarted the activities of at least a few scammers and malicious pranksters.

A Big Thank You

I would also like to thank all of those wonderful people who have supported the project by sharing information from the site, contributing examples of scams and hoaxes, offering suggestions, donating funds, or helping behind the scenes.

I would especially like to thank David White for his tireless contribution to the Hoax-Slayer Facebook Page over many years. David's support has been invaluable, and I can not thank him enough.

Closing Date

Hoax-Slayer will still be around for a few weeks while I wind things down. The site will go offline on May 31, 2021. While I will not be publishing any new posts, you can still access existing material on the site until the date of closure.

Thank you, one and all!

Brett Christensen,
Hoax-Slayer