The customer service premium rate rip off

This afternoon I was locked out of the online account for my credit card (a very well-known name) and saw a message asking me to call.

It’s an 0844 number which costs at least 8p per minute from a BT landline. Recently the card company introduced a new voice system that takes even longer than ever. It begins with a ponderous promo message for the website before you can actually get anywhere.

This is all voiced by a ‘blokey’ type with a regional accent. He’s so eager and enthusiastic that it’s almost embarrassing. As if he’s desperate to be your ‘mate’. Maybe some people like it, but I find it patronising and unprofessional.

So, finally, after some classical music, I get through to the call centre in India. They ask several security questions. All the while the clock is ticking and the card company is getting a cut from the cost of this 0844 call.

There have been some ‘suspicious transactions’ on my account supposedly. The man goes through my activity item by item…

There are the charges for web hosting that go out of the account every month. There’s a charge for domain name renewal with a company that I use regularly. A charge for a shop that I use my card at almost every week. I have paid two BT phone bills and I have done some shopping at ASDA. In fact ASDA is the only place where I don’t use the card normally. A quick glance at my past statements would show that there was nothing suspicious or unusual at all.

In the end I’ve been on the phone for 10-15 minutes and it has cost me 80p-£1.20 for the call. If it was a normal number I could have used my 18185 service which would have cost 5p.

The average wage for a worker in an Indian call centre is $2,300.00 per annum, which is about £1,400. Assuming a 40 hour week, that means they are paid around 67p per hour.

Even adding in the other overheads, and allowing for the fact that BT will take a cut (anyone know how much?), there is no doubt that the card company is making a nice little profit from this.

Are companies like this deliberately engineering things so that customers are made to call expensive numbers needlessly? Maybe that sounds far-fetched?

On the card website, one of the ways to contact the company is by sending a secure email. Except that the mail form doesn’t work. It gives an error that some information has been missed out, no matter what you do.

When I raised this issue with the man at the call centre he admits that the mail form isn’t working ‘at the moment’. But in fact it wasn’t working when I tried it weeks ago. How convenient and lucrative…

When I complain that the call has cost me quite bit and for no apparent good reason he offers to credit my account with £3.

Before you call any premium rate number check out this website to see if there is a free alternative. Many companies have a free 0800 or local rate number that goes to exactly the same service.


  • mark says:

    Calls to 0844xx numbers cost between 0.5 and 5p per minute from a BT landline, depending on the next two digits in the number range. BT’s and VAT share will be about a third of this, followed by your banks telecoms company who will take their share other providers will most likely take much more %age and charge the caller more. Your bank will get between 1 and 1.5p per minute

  • G says: replies:

    I just checked my BT bill for that call and it cost 50p including VAT for 8 mins 11 secs. So that would seem to be 6p per minute. Another call to a different 0844 number cost 27p including VAT for 3 mins 52 secs.

    As I said above, if they were normal long distance numbers I could use my 18185 service instead with a flat rate of 5p for a call of any length.

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