The scam

A letter, email, phone call or text message promises you an exciting prize or reward. To claim it, all you have to do is phone a premium-rate number (beginning 090).

However, the automated message you hear when you call tricks you into staying on the line for a long time. The longer you stay on the line, the more money the scammers make from you. And of course your prize or reward is unlikely ever to turn up. Or you end up with a cheap item worth much less than the cost of the call.

There are many variations on this scam. Some messages you receive will say you’ve missed an important delivery, and ask you to call a number to rearrange it. Others entice you with holiday or credit card promotions. All of them require you to call an expensive premium-rate number. You could even be directed to a second premium-rate number for more information or to claim a prize or order your product.

While many legitimate companies use premium-rate telephone numbers, they make it clear in their advertising, paperwork or during the call how much the call costs per minute. They may also provide alternative methods of contacting them.

Protect yourself

  • Don’t dial premium-rate numbers (beginning 090) unless you know how much you’ll be charged and you’re sure you’re willing to pay for it.
  • Beware if, after dialling one of these numbers, a message tells you to dial a second number.
  • If in doubt, hang up.
  • Consider asking your phone company to bar outgoing calls from your phone to premium rate services and/or international rate numbers. Some phone companies charge for this call-barring service.
  • Do some research into the organisation if you have never heard of them before.
  •  Always read the small print of any promotion so you know any hidden catches and costs and exactly what you are likely to get.
  • Report suspicious calls to PhonepayPlus, the regulator of premium-rate telephone services. You can use itsonline complaints form or call 0800 500212. PhonepayPlus can investigate complaints and has the power to fine companies and stop them offering premium-rate numbers.

If you think you’ve been a victim of this scam, call Consumer Direct for advice on 08454 04 05 06.

Example scams

You’ve won a top prize

You receive a letter or text or phone message telling you that you have won a major prize such as cash, a car, a luxury holiday, or a ‘ystery prize worth at least £1,000’. You are told to urgently ring an 090 number to find out what you have won.

Often there isn’t really a prize, or the prize you receive turns out to be a near-worthless book of discount vouchers, or a holiday voucher with stringent restrictions. You will often have to pay more money to use the ‘prize’ on top of the cost of the phone call.

Parcel delivery

You receive an authentic-looking ‘delivery card’ asking you to call a premium-rate number to rearrange delivery of a parcel waiting for you. You are tricked into thinking you have ordered something or have been sent something by someone you know. What you actually receive is likely to be worth less than the cost of the call.

Premium-rate internet diallers

A rogue premium-rate internet dialler is secretly installed on your computer – usually when you open a spam email or visit a website where the software is hidden. It transfers your dial-up internet connection from a low-cost or freephone number to an expensive 090 premium-rate number.

Without realising it, you can run up vast bills – often several hundred pounds per month.

Someone fancies you

You receive an unexpected text saying someone fancies you. To find out who it is, you have to respond to a premium-rate number. But it’s just a way to get you to spend money.

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