Billed £91k from chat lines: are you at risk?

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Kevin Waldrum (45) has hit the headlines, after running up an incredible £91,184 phone bill - calling adult chat lines after his girlfriend of two years left him.

So how could he spend so much, and are there any risks for you?
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Waldrum

There are some ways in which Waldrum's situation is pretty rare. According to the Daily Mail, he spent an unusual amount of time on these telephone chat lines after seeing them advertised on daytime TV.

He says he had no idea they were costing him so much, but he must have known he was getting into trouble when he had a bill for £19,333.63 and had his SIM barred. At that point instead of cutting his use of the chat lines he got a new SIM and carried on.

According to The Metro, Vodafone has cut the bill to £29,083. It says that by the time the calls had registered on its system the bill was £29,083 - and that it could have warned him at that point about the costs of his calls - so as a gesture of goodwill it will cap the cost of calls there.

Waldrum, from Gladstone Avenue in Loughborough, told the Mail he still refused to pay - claiming that he ought to have been cut off instead.

The risks

Clearly this is an extreme example. However, it goes to show how much trouble you can get into when phoning premium rate numbers. These aren't just adult chat lines and rip-off competitions, but all sorts of services - including the helpline from the taxman.

If you're not sure if something is charged at premium rate, then you should start by checking either on the Phonepayplus website (which regulates these sites), or by texting the number to 76787 and PayphonePlus will text you back with details on the costs.

If the number charges a premium rate, look into whether there's an alternative approach to secure the same service. Think very carefully about how long the call may take, and how much value you will get from it.

If you really do need to call the service, as a general rule of thumb it is far more expensive to call a premium rate number from a mobile than a landline, so ideally you should never call them from your mobile. If you have no alternative, the only way to get a true understanding of the cost is to call your provider, and ask them their per-minute cost for this specific number before you start.

You should also keep a close eye on how long you are on the phone. If you feel you are being made to wait around, don't hesitate to hang up.

If you feel you have been ripped off, you can get information on making a complaint from the PhonepayPlus website.

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Billed £91k from chat lines: are you at risk?

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.

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