Phone slammers sink to a new low – a warning to all

What Mobile
April 28, 2009

Imagine a call at 10.55pm from someone claiming to work in the ‘internal technical’ department of your phone network. Well that’s what happened to my wife this very evening. In this case, the network was 3. Supposedly based in Glasgow, despite the caller sounding Welsh, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to take things seriously.

The number was 01792 401181, which is actually a Swansea number, not Glasgow. A Google search suggests this, and more similar numbers, being used for telemarketing.

But calling at almost 11pm? What’s the story?

The caller started with an apology for phoning so late, stating that it was an emergency and important questions needed to be answered. Apparently lots of people in the area were reporting problems with their 3 handset, so it needed to be ascertained whether it was the handset, SIM or the network.

Almost immediately after, the caller proceeded to ask about where the handset was purchased, and how much time was left on the contract. The wife wisely refused to answer, which prompted the allegation that refusing to answer questions would result in termination of the contract. It was suggested that it is clearly stated in the ‘Hutchison 3G terms and conditions that all questions must be answered’, and the caller was now starting to get rather angry.

It was at this point that I took over and started to ask some questions of my own. I asked what handset was currently showing as being used on the network, as he should obviously see that on his screen. Any technical support department would have access to both the IMEI (Equipment Identity/Serial number) and IMSI (SIM serial) – both essential tools for identifying network or handset related issues.

He said I was down as having a Sony Ericsson – which was correct (more on that further on). However, he couldn’t identify the model or the serial number. He told me that I could check the serial by entering *#06# – somewhat missing the point of why I was asking him for that information!

I asked again why 3 would call at 11pm for something that didn’t sound important at all. He asked if the phone was working, which was stupid; he called it and was speaking to me on it. I asked what post code or cell ID he had me down as using, as obviously any network problem would need to be localised. He said he didn’t have that information, and ‘with all due respect, I don’t understand what you mean’ in reference to my mention of ‘cell ID’. Very odd for someone in a technical department not to understand.

I said he should have all that information to hand, or how else could he do anything, so he asked if I’d worked in their offices and knew how things worked. Funnily enough I haven’t, but nor has he I suspect. What he may not have realised is that, in my job, I’ve visited many network operation centres – so I probably do know rather a lot more than he thought.

Surprised by the fact that he was continuing the pretence and not just dropping the call, I started to probe for more information and, again, asked how they could call so late. Again, ‘it’s in the contract’ and ‘all subscribers must comply for security related problems’.

A possible network fault is now a serious security threat now is it? And 11pm? How many people need to be called then instead of during the day? I pointed out that they shouldn’t call after 9pm, to which he corrected me by saying ‘that only applies to unsolicited sales calls’. Firstly, what is this then? Secondly, why would someone supposedly working in tech support know the rules on telesales calls? Thirdly, why is he breaking the rules if he clearly knows what they are and is telling me?

At this point, I offered my direct line to follow up the call tomorrow – and the call ended. Whether anyone calls will remain to be seen. I suspect it will be somewhat unlikely.

Having done the obligatory Google search after, it seems we’re not alone in getting these calls. It’s certainly a very worrying twist to the traditional call where you’re simply asked if you want a new phone, which most people are probably wise to now.

These calls attempt to gain personal information which could potentially be used for more than just signing you up to a new contract. What is also worrying is how he knew what make of handset my wife was using. A lucky guess (had I said no, he may have then said ‘Sorry, I meant Nokia’ or ‘Oh, so what phone do you have then?’), or a sign that someone within 3 has been passing on personal information? If the latter, this is an even bigger problem.

But either way, it’s a new problem for the whole industry. If people are going to resort to such tactics to get a sale, we need to work together to stamp this practice out immediately – and that starts by getting the information out to a wider audience.

Calling late at night is a clever way of scaring people into giving information because many will think ‘why else would they be calling at this hour?’. The fact is, if you get a phone call from anyone – at any time of the day – asking these types of question; remember, if they’ve called you and are genuine they’ll already have the information they need.

Imagine it was someone claiming to be from your bank – would you give them your date of birth, sort code, account number and personal banking login and password? Of course not!

We were lucky to get this call and can now pass the warning on – but the scammers will always try to keep one step ahead. Let’s make sure we don’t let them succeed.

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