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BT Cut-Off Scam

Scam: Con artist pretending to be telephone company representative makes it appear he can shut off your phone service.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, September 2009]

I received a call from a 'representative' of BT, informing me that he was dis-connecting 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 you 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 dis-connect 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.
 

Origins: This e-mailed alert about a scam running in the U.K. began appearing in inboxes in September 2009. In February 2009 police in Tenby, Wales, were cautioning area residents about the same fraud being run there by scammers who demanded the immediate payment of £10 in order to clear arrears on the phone accounts of the unsuspecting phone customers they called. "People are told that if they don't pay straight away, they will be cut off, and the caller is then asked for their bank or credit card details," explained a police spokesman. "Sometimes, the scammer terminates the call mid-way to demonstrate that they are able to cut off the phone line."

As the BBC reported in mid-September 2009, "[T]his type of phone scam has been happening all over the country. Last weekend a number of elderly people in Suffolk fell victim to the scam; there have also been cases in the past year all over England and Wales."

The Suffolk Constabulary cited instances of, and issued a warning about, this type of fraud in September 2009:
Police are urging residents never to give out personal information, particularly bank details, after at least three older people fell victim to a scam phone call from a man claiming to work for a telephone company.

Officers received three calls on Sunday 13 September [2009]. Each reported contact by a man who claimed to work for BT who had managed to get card details out of the person he had called.

Among them was a woman in her 70s from Stowupland who received a call at 8am from a man who said she had an outstanding phone bill and that she would be cut off if she didn't pay immediately.

She gave credit card details but then became suspicious and asked him to call a relative. The man called the relative and became very persistent trying to get further card details.

The relative was not fooled and contacted BT direct who said they would not contact people in this manner.

The other calls followed a similar pattern and in one case several withdrawals had been made on a card before it was cancelled.

In each case the caller had asked for key personal information including date of birth as well as card details.
In 2006 the Brighouse Echo reported on the same scam (minus the detail of the scammer's making it appear he could terminate the target's phone service) being run in that U.K. community. In that incident, the victim was told she had a £14.31 outstanding British Telecom bill and was threatened with having her line disconnected if she didn't pay up.

The warning's underlying message about not giving in to pressure from unknown persons who claim to be representatives of various business entities that are about to cut off service unless payment of an "overdue" amount is immediately forked over is valid. Scam artists make their living by convincing the unwary to part with cash, and to that end they tell a variety of lies. As with many other cons, the impetus that gets potential pigeons to open their wallets to the ill-intentioned is a fear of the consequences of non-compliance, in this case the sudden cessation of a needed
service — with the fear compounded by a threat that there will be a hefty charge to reinstate the service if the matter is not acted upon immediately.

Those who receive such calls should both refuse to be bullied into acting on the spur of the moment and attempt to glean as much information as possible from the caller, then terminate the conversation and place a phone call to the actual business entity supposedly threatening termination of service. By placing the call yourself (to a number you actually look up, as opposed to one provided by the caller), you can be sure you are talking to the right people. If there is a valid matter of dispute over your account, you will quickly find out about it during that exchange.

As to how a scammer (pretending to be a British Telecom worker or otherwise) could make it appear he had terminated phone service to a land line, that might have been effected by his staying on the line after his putative victim had hung up. By muting the phone at his end, the scammer could make his victim hear nothing but dead line after lifting the receiver in an attempt to place an outgoing call. The scammer, however, would hear his victim quite clearly and thus would know when he finally gave up trying to dial out, at which point the scammer would hang up and call again, seemingly having proven his bona fides.

Barbara "trick answer" Mikkelson

Last updated:   14 October 2009

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Sources:

    Moshiri, Maryam.   "BT Warns Customers of Phone Scams."
    BBC News.   18 September 2009.

    Trotter, Jean.   "Warning Over Phone Scam."
    Brighouse Echo.   15 December 2006.

    Western Telegraph.   "Police Warn of Fake 'BT' Phone Scam."
    23 February 2009.