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Internet and phone scams: Scots being 'ripped off in their own homes'

Citizens Advice Scotland have shown today that many Scots are being ‘ripped-off in their own homes’ by telephone and internet providers.

CAS Chief Executive Lucy McTernan said,

“The telecommunications network has changed massively over the last few years. 15 years ago most households used a simple landline telephone, and were billed for that straightforward service. Today, mobile and internet services have revolutionised the industry, and consumers have a much wider choice then ever before.

“That in itself is a good thing. Unfortunately, our evidence shows that the pace of change and the way the industry works has left many people vulnerable to exploitation. Most people don’t have a clear understanding of the technical details of how these new telecommunication services work, and this has left the door open to irresponsible providers who would seek to take advantage.

“As a result, CAB advisers across Scotland are reporting significant numbers of complaints from customers who have been ripped off in various ways.”

Today’s CAS report, which can be downloaded from the bottom of this page, details the main areas of concern as follows:-

Mobile Phones: We’ve seen many cases of ‘mis-selling,’ e.g. terms and conditions which are unclear and confusing, leading customers to enter into contracts which force them to pay more than they expect, and for longer.

Landlines: CAB advisers have reported a significant number of cases of incorrect billing, and the transfer of contracts from one supplier to another without the client’s consent (and often directly against their instructions)

Internet Services: Many customers sign up for a basic package but are then connected to expensive additional services they have not asked for and do not use. High prices and poor services are also leading to concerns (this is backed up by a report by uSwitch only last Friday, showing a dramatic fall in customer satisfaction with broadband providers).

Lucy McTernan continues,

“The issue here is transparency. In most of the cases we see, no law has actually been broken. What is happening is that the providers are exploiting the fact that most customers don’t know much about the way these services work, so they are hoodwinking them by making the contracts as bewildering as possible.

“Anyone who has bought a mobile phone contract or internet service recently will identify with this. The terms and conditions often seem deliberately designed to confuse and mislead, and to conceal additional costs. Unfortunately, once the customer has signed the contract, there’s little they can do - even when they find that they are paying over the odds for a service that they don’t need and which they don’t think they asked for.

“So we are calling today for the industry to get its house in order. Terms and conditions should be made transparent at the point of sale. The regulations that exist at the moment are too vague, and should be toughened up and made more specific, with penalties keenly enforced where necessary to punish those providers who seek to take advantage of people unfairly.

“Sadly many of the people who are caught out by these sort of scams are those who are most vulnerable and least able to afford it. e.g. pensioners and those on low incomes, or those who rely on their phone service as a lifeline to communicate with family and friends, and the outside world in general.

“So many people are really struggling to cope with the continuing impact of the recession. The last thing they need is to be ripped off in their own homes.”