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A couple of weeks ago, my wife was told to watch out for a female stranger conducting an ingenious phone scam.

The modus operandi was simple: a knock on the door, my car's broken down, can I use your phone. Woman uses phone, pretends to ring husband but in reality rings premium rate phone line, set up at £50 per minute. (currency converter) The first you know you've been ripped off is when the phone bill comes in.

No it hadn't happened in our village, but there had been four or five cases in the area, the friendly Neighbourhood Watch rep told her.

It's nonsense, I replied. Dredging up an old memory, I told her that the maximum anyone was allowed to charge for a premium rate call in the UK was £1.30 a minute (actually, it's £1.50 - told you it was an old memory). Besides, the regulator would shut down the dodgy premium chat line in a matter of minutes. And BT (or Telewest, or NTL etc.) would refund the money too.

This is what the UK premium rate regulator ICSTIS says on its website about "investigations and sanctions".

When a service appears to be causing serious consumer harm, the Secretariat begins an immediate investigation which may result in the instant barring of access to the service. The case is presented to the Committee for formal adjudication within 14 days.

Does anyone seriously think that no-one would have complained?

And yet I am hearing the same story again and again, with emails piling up over the last few weeks in my inbox. So who is to blame for this urban legend viral blizzard?

Step forward, PC Paul Toseland, of the Northamptonshire police force. In his capacity as Corby Business Anti-Crime Network Administrator, PC Toseland sent an email to a group of Corby, Northants businesses, warning them to watch out for the "scam".

He ends: "Would anyone reading this please pass it on to friends and colleagues etc.

otherwise it could cost someone a lot of money."

Thanks, Paul, unwitting architect of the Great Scam Spam. Clearly, it's generated a great deal of interest, as Northants police have issued the following press release.

Scam Email Information

In relation to the email from PC Paul Toseland about a number of telephone scams, which appears to have been forwarded to hundreds of individuals and organisations across the country, there have been no reported incidents of this nature in Northamptonshire, however there are believed to have been a number in other parts of the country.

PC Toseland initially issued this email to a group of businesses in Corby to alert them to this problem. The email has since been forwarded on to other areas. To the best of our knowledge it is not an urban legend as some people have been suggesting.

This is all the information we have on this matter, so we would ask that you kindly refrain from emailing us on this subject.

Kindly refrain from emailing us!!! Cheeky monkeys. Not an urban legend ???!!!

Why didn't you ask people not to forward the email. Full stop. You deserve all the spam that you get.

(Update This afternoon, Northamptonshire police issued a new statement:

“We can confirm information circulated electronically to businesses by the Force regarding a telephone fraud, is now believed to be an urban legend.")

So where does this story come from? Reader Paul Robinson helps us on the latter count with this pointer to the Urban Legends archive, and the 809 phone scam, operating for several years in the US.

The site comments: "Even though this is a very rare example of a forwarded email warning that turns out to be true, in general, it probably isn't a very good idea to pass along warnings circulating via email."

And Reg readers, beware false authority syndrome, explained by Rob Rosenberger, at his excellent site,vMyths.com. ®



PC Toseland's email in full
Police Report !


The reason this is working so well is it plays on your good will! Picture the scene:-

You are sitting at home and there is a knock at the door. On answering it you are confronted by a respectable looking woman in a suit, who is slightly distressed. She explains that her car has broken down further down the road and she needs to contact her husband to come to her aid. Is it at all possible to use your phone to call him?

You allow her to use the phone, but being the suspicious type you stand with her as she makes the call. She dials the number, and asks to be put through to Mr Smith / Brown / Stevens (Whatever). She holds the line for about thirty seconds. She continues, "In that case can you ask him to leave the meeting for a minute I need to speak to him quite urgently." She apologies again and explains they are getting him out of a meeting.

A couple of minutes goes by and she starts to speak to her husband. She explains the situation to him, tells him what has happened to the car, is annoyed because she now can't get to her meeting, and asks what she should do now. She listens for a few seconds and then says, "Well as soon as the meeting finishes can you come to Cardiff Road / Leicester Road / Surrey Street (Whatever), where the car has broken down. Another few seconds go by, "OK, I'll see you in about twenty minutes then."

She put the phone down, and thanks you ever so much for your kind assistance, even offering you a pound for your trouble, but of course you decline, it's no trouble.

She leaves and everything is fine.

Or is it? The day or week before knocking on your door she set up her own premium rate line with a telephone company at the cost of about £150, and she has dictated that calls to that number should be charged at £50 per minute. She has dialled that number. The conversation she has had with her "husband" is entirely fictitious, there is a pre-recorded voice message on the other end to give you the impression she is talking to someone. She has been on the phone for about five minutes, that call just cost you £250, the majority of which goes into her pocket, and the first you know about it is when you get your bill a month later.

To rub a bit of salt into the wound,she hasn't even committed a criminal offence. You've given her permission to use your phone.

5 occasions in Luton where this has been reported in the last couple of weeks.

Would anyone reading this please pass it on to friends and colleagues etc. otherwise it could cost someone a lot of money.

PC Paul Toseland
Corby Business Anti-Crime Network Administrator



Copy of ICSTIS circular posted on police and Trading Standards intranets (supplied by ICSTIS)


The following story has been circulated by e-mail in recent weeks.

If you receive any enquiries about this story, please note that it is not true. It is an urban myth:

* A £50 per minute premium rate tariff does not exist - the highest tariff available is £1.50 per minute.

* Service providers must choose a charging rate from the range offered by their network operator - they simply can't 'dictate' their own charging
rates.

* ICSTIS has received hundreds of enquiries about this so-called deception but not one person has been able to produce a phone bill to support the story.

Please pass this information on to all enquirers.

Rob Dwight
Media & PR Officer
ICSTIS - The Premium Rate Services Regulator

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