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Watchdog groans as email hoax returns to life

£50 a minute phone scam does not exist

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The premium rate telephone watchdog - ICSTIS - is warning punters not to fall for an email hoax that has been doing the rounds for more than two years.

The email seems genuine enough since it is from PC Paul Toseland, Corby Business Anti-Crime Network Administrator, and warns that that users could get stung for £250 from a woman posing as someone whose car has broken down.

The gist of the apparent scam contained in the email is simple. There's a knock on the door. "My car's broken down, can I use your phone?" says the smartly-dressed woman. She then uses the phone and pretends to ring her husband, but in reality rings a premium rate phone line, set up at £50 per minute. When she's finished, she even offers £1 to cover the cost of the call. The first you know you've been ripped off is when the phone bill comes in.

Of course, this is all nonsense. Yes, cars do break down and people do sometimes knock on doors and ask to use a phone. But there are no £50 a minute phone services in the UK. The most anyone can be charged for premium rate services in £1.50 a minute.

Two years ago when this email first did the rounds Northamptonshire police was forced to issue a statement which read: "We can confirm information circulated electronically to businesses by the Force regarding a telephone fraud, is now believed to be an urban legend."

Now, the email has surfaced once again and has been picked up and reported by various media organisations, including The Scotsman (The story was on its website this morning, but appears now to have been removed.) A spokeswoman for ICSTIS told The Register that the regulator would be writing to all police forces in the UK warning them to be on their guard against such email hoaxes.

She said that such reports were "not very helpful" and "made it harder [for the regulator] to debunk these myths".

Earlier this month ICSTIS was forced to issue yet another caution over another email warning of high phone bills. ICSTIS had received dozens of calls from people concerned that they could be ripped off if they fall for the con.

The emails claimed people could be hit with a bill for £260 if they "press 9" and listen to a recorded message offering them a free all-expenses paid holiday. Another apparent scam relates to people phoning a "missed call" number beginning 0709. Anyone calling the number will be charged £50 a minute, warns the hoax email.

However, ICSTIS says this is all utter tosh. Yes, some people do get these dodgy marketing calls but they cannot be billed £50 a minute. Which is why the regulator has urged anyone who receives one of these emails to bin it and not to pass it on. ®

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