BT announced on Tuesday that it is taking action to try and stop customers running up huge bills caused by illicit dialling software commandeering PCs.
Diallers are software applications that are downloaded onto Web users' computers to allow access to pay-per-view sites, such as porn sites, but some are being installed without users' knowledge in order to run up large bills in connection with premium-rate telephone lines.
As reported last week, diallers are a growing menace to UK dial-up Web users. The percentage of Internet-related complaints about premium-rate services has risen from 43 percent in 2002 to 70 percent in 2003, as a proportion of customers making complaints about high telephone bills, according to the industry's regulator, the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS).
According to a BT spokesperson, the company's customer service investigation team will compile a database of premium rate numbers used by rogue dialling software. The BT Wholesale team will then be able to instruct the exchange to block the number for retail customers.
The move will only protect people who use BT as their telephone provider.
"Cable customers have a different network, and carrier pre-select operators will have to make their own decisions," said a BT spokesperson.
BT says it will give up any revenue generated from customers defrauded in this way, although the sums involved are small. The lion's share of the charges associated with such services go to the service operator rather than carriers such as BT. The company says that when a £100 bill is run up by a dialler, BT’s share is £1.85. The unfortunate victims of dialling scams will still have to try and recover the bulk of their lost funds from the service provider.
The company hopes its new approach will shut down corrupt services quickly, given the delays associated with trying to prosecute the people running corrupt premium rate lines, who are frequently based offshore, hard to locate, and very difficult to prosecute.
"We need to minimise the number of customers being affected as quickly as we can and we can't allow any more of our customers to fall victim while the sometimes-lengthy investigative process gets underway," said Gavin Patterson, BT's group managing director for Consumer and Ventures, in a statement.
The company is also offering a free premium-rate call block on all customer lines to prevent those who sign up from falling victim.