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Watchdog hits 070 swindlers with big fine

'Hello, hello, can you hear me? Give me £200,000'

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Regulators today signalled a crackdown on scammers who use 070 numbers to con people into calling premium lines in the belief they will be charged at the normal mobile rate.

PhonepayPlus said that its first adjudication on an 070 operator had resulted in a £200,000 fine for Jack Barnard Telecom Services Limited, based in Essex. The maximum fine the premium rate watchdog, formerly known as Icstis, can levy is £250,000.

Victims of the sting would answer a seemingly legit call from a number beginning 070365 that would play a recorded message saying "Hello, hello, can you hear me?" and then hang up. Many would then return the call unaware that 070 numbers can be charged at up to 50p per minute from a landline and more from mobile networks.

The tribunal found that Jack Bernard Telecom Services had breached the PhonepayPlus code of practice on legality, fairness, and failure to provide contact details. Because the consumer harm was "serious and required urgent remedy", the tribunal was convened under emergency procedures. The investigation was initiated in July, when a bar was placed on all the numbers being used for the scam.

Ofcom, which has ultimate responsibility for regulation of phone numbers, is reviewing 070 lines. Current rules say they are only for personal use, such as allowing mobile workers to give out a single contact line for several locations. The strong association of the "07" prefix with mobile phones has left the system easily exploitable by premium rate fraudsters, however.

In July 2006 Ofcom said it would end use of 070 redirects within three years to clamp down on abuse. Personal users will be offered a non-07 number range to make it easier for consumers to spot when they might be redirected to a premium rate line. ®

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