Scam victims get phone bills for hundreds of pounds

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Three of the neighbours

A group of neighbours on the same street in north-east London were stunned to receive phone bills with anything up to £250 of international calls listed. None of the households had made any of the calls - which were all made in the middle of the same night.

Some spent hours on the phone to their telephone provider, trying to explain that they hadn't made any of the calls in question.

The scam

The Guardian reported that seven houses on Pelham Road in South Woodford had received bills for overseas calls they never made. The calls were all in the dead of night on 19 April. The local newspaper reported that one customer had a cap on his line, so Sky closed it down when the cap was breached and alerted him via a text to the excessive charges. Others discovered the issue when they received their bills.

They had been the victim of a phone scam known as teeing or teeing-in. In this scam, criminals access lines - usually at the green box at the end of the street or at the junction box directly outside a property. They will then physically connect a handset to the victim's line in the box and make calls. These are often to premium rate overseas numbers - which appear on UK bills as standard overseas numbers but make income for the owners of the lines.

Many of the victims called BT's call centres to dispute the bills - only to be told that they must have made the calls because they were made on their line. Meanwhile, Sky customers called and were told they were the victim of a scam.

The Guardian contacted BT, which said the police and BT had investigated and three people were arrested and released on police bail pending further inquiries. They added: "We try to prevent customers being billed for fraudulent calls, but we may not be able to do this when the billing process is already underway. Where fraud is identified we try to prevent calls to the numbers concerned. We have credited the accounts of the customers affected. We apologise to customers who have had difficulties in resolving the issue with our advisers."

Nothing new

It's strange that this scam wasn't more well-known within every phone company, because it has been around for years. In 2011 Dariusz Ganski of Glenburn Road, Kingswood, Bristol, was jailed for a year for a scam that involved plugging a phone into other people's home phone lines.

In this instance he had been calling premium rate phone numbers in order to get codes for online gaming credit. He then sold this credit onto other users. The police were alerted when a homeowner called them to report that a man had been sitting in his car in a lay-by by a green box for an unusual length of time.

There is no way to prevent this crime, but there are three steps you can take to protect yourself. The first is to set up a cap on call charges with your phone provider, so that if you are a victim of this fraud you will be alerted immediately.

The second is to always check your bill carefully. If you opt for online billing this can seem troublesome, but it's the only way to check exactly what you are being charged for. And finally, it pays to be a nosy neighbour. Get to know where your junction box is - and the green box in the street. If you see anyone hanging around suspiciously nearby, then report your concerns to the police.