There are cases in which one despairs of ever finding a solution, and yet solutions do exist. For years, BASE Company has been calling for the proper authorities to rid the sector of Premium numbers with an all-out attack on the various frauds and swindles that all too often target mobile users.
Here we are specifically focusing on landline numbers: 090X and foreign numbers, especially those with the country prefix +2XX.
In the former case, fraudsters present, for example, the number as 09/023 45 56 to make customers think they are calling an ordinary number in the Ghent area, while in the second scenario the number is presented, for example, as +212/345 67 89, and customers think it is a Belgian number in the Tongres area. Consumers will be swindled every time, and the bill will be steep.
More transparency, more reliability, more responsibility
In the wake of large numbers of frauds and swindles observed and reported in the media in recent months concerning Belgian and foreign landline numbers, BASE Company is keen for progress to be made, and structural solutions to be found.
First and foremost, there must be more transparency. We want more information on these service providers. At the present time, in fact, we do not know for whom we are collecting money from our customers. We are nevertheless compelled to enable these numbers for all our customers (on the “Any-To-Any” principle defined by Belgium’s IBPT Postal and Telecommunications Institute), with no choice whatsoever, even though we have no information at all on those parties hiding behind the numbers. Creating a database – as is the case for SMS Premium services – would at least reveal who is “hiding” behind each Premium number.
Secondly, we would also like some clear criteria to be defined for the information that has to be furnished by any company wishing to obtain access to and operate a pay number (VAT number, registration with a national bank or prudential authority in the country, account numbers etc.). These data are not available at the present time or, if they are, they are often unreliable. This means we frequently have no comeback against the companies in the event of fraud. For example, we recently had to give our customers access to a number issued to one ‘Nadia’ in Tunisia, for whom we only had a very basic e-mail address. The services proved to be bogus…
Thirdly, we are calling for any operator, to whom premium numbers have been allocated to, to be held responsible and to issue a full refund via us to our defrauded customers. As we know nothing about these hoax companies because we have no contractual links with them, we do not see why we should incur losses without the slightest chance of recovering our customers’ money.
A review of the ‘administration criteria’ for all parties in the chain
We continue to demand that premium service administration criteria be updated and made compulsory for all parties forming part of the chain. We categorically demand that all parties in the chain should be included; from telecom operators to service providers, not forgetting the intermediaries and telecom operators that issue these numbers. In fact, we feel that all parties forming part of the chain ought to be involved in discussions and take responsibility for adherence to these criteria at the behest of the IBPT. At the present time, the operators issuing these numbers – here we wish to single out Proximus, Colt and 3Starsnet in particular – do not verify the honesty of the companies that will be providing the services, or fail to identify them properly, or refuse to furnish any information concerning the companies. The new mandatory administration criteria ought to solve these problems.
BASE Company operates a policy of compensation for the victims of fraud or swindles. In the case of SMS fraud, we instigate proceedings against these service providers (or connectivity providers) and block the short codes in case services are not made compliant. We can do this because we provide these SMS numbers to parties with whom we have an agreement with, and therefore we are responsible for recovering the funds from fraudsters.
In the case of Belgian Premium numbers and international numbers, we rely on the Number Owning operators. Without their cooperation, we are largely impotent. We cannot expect any refund on these frauds from a ‘company’ in some exotic country on which we have very little information indeed, or very often no information that can actually be used.
All parties at the table for greater transparency
As part of the review of these ‘code of conduct’, in addition to the identification obligations, we also want also information exchanged amongst operators on the hoax or fraud numbers. This would mean that all Belgian telecom operators wishing to do something about this quagmire could block these numbers or request a block as soon as possible on the basis of information received from another operator. This would increasingly reduce the number of consumers affected. It would also provide the authorities, and specifically the IBPT and the Ethics Commission, with the most accurate and rapid information possible.
BASE Company knows it is not necessary to be successful to persevere. The issue of fraudulent Premium services has been poisoning consumers’ lives for years, and certain stakeholders, for reasons best known to them but which we utterly fail to understand, have no will or wish to take responsibility. We place much hope in the latest IBPT messages with regard to cleaning up the sector once and for all. The IBPT is keen to find a solution before January is out. BASE Company can but applaud its wishes.