Avoiding unexpected phone charges during the coronavirus pandemic

30 April 2020, Katie King, Senior Communications Executive

Finding unexpected charges on your phone bill is frustrating at the best of times, but it’s the last thing you want to be worrying about during this period of increased stress and uncertainty. We are open as normal, so please keep contacting us and reporting issues to us.

Here are our top tips for avoiding common pitfalls during this challenging period.

Signing up for a subscription you didn’t want

Now that we’re all spending more time at home, you may be investing in subscription services that you weren’t using previously, for example fitness plans, games and music streaming services.  

Many of these services provide useful content that people use and enjoy, and phone payment is a secure and convenient way to pay. However, it’s important to be careful to ensure you don’t sign up for something you didn’t want or that you didn’t realise would charge you more than once. 

Our advice is watch what you click on when you’re browsing the internet. Our rules make clear that services need to be explicit about the price they’re charging and the frequency of this charge, so look out for this information before you sign up for something. 

It’s also very important to check your phone bill regularly, to see if you’ve been charged for anything unexpected. If you have, check it with your mobile network (for example, Vodafone, or O2) and also the service provider (the company that’s charged you) – you can also call us or report an issue to us online. 

Our new rules require receipts after every purchase, so if you are getting SMS or other messages telling you you’ve paid for a service, don’t just assume these are spam. Text STOP ALL to the number they give you, and you can stop unwanted subscriptions. 

Inadvertently calling a (potentially very pricey) call-connection service 

More people may be trying to call government departments – for example DWP or HMRC – and other customer phone lines in high demand, such as delivery services, at this time of increased financial uncertainty. Since the lockdown began, we’ve seen call-connection services, also known as ICSS, become prevalent. These services charge money to connect people to organisations and can be expensive.  

Our advice to you is to take your time when you search for a customer phone number online. The very first result that comes up isn’t necessarily the phone number of the organisation you want to call, because some companies pay search engines to appear first in the results, as this screenshot shows.  

When you ring a phone number, it’s worth checking what it starts with. Official helplines usually begin 01, 02, 03 and 080, which are billed at low or standard rates. Numbers starting 09, 087, 084 and 118 are billed at premium rates.  

‘Freebies’ and competitions 

As the saying goes, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. 

If you see ads, emails, text messages or pop-ups directing you to free vouchers or other prizes, these may lead you directly to a premium-rate service or surveys that contain premium-rate services. You should be particularly vigilant about entering your mobile number online, as this may lead to you being charged via your phone bill. Look out for the terms and conditions, to understand the cost implications of the offer and whether you think it is worth it. 

And be careful when entering competitions that ask you to text to enter, for example some radio competitions. Make sure you understand the terms and conditions, such as how much you’re going to be charged for the text and whether it’s a one-off or a recurring charge. 

Children spending money on your mobile phone  

Given the current restrictions on schools, some children are spending more time at home playing games online, often on their parents’ phones or their own phones.  

Many smartphone games from Sony, Microsoft, Google and Apple provide a phone bill payment option, which means children can inadvertently charge content to a phone bill by, for example, buying gaming currency or extra lives. 

If you’re a parent or guardian of a child who plays games on a phone, it’s important to be aware that this can happen. We recommend that you look into parental control measures on your phone, which you can read more about online or discuss with your phone provider. And remember to check your phone bill regularly to ensure you don’t miss unexpected charges. 

Contact us if you have any questions or concerns 

Our contact centre is open as usual during the Covid-19 pandemic. You can report an issue to us online here or give us a call from 9.30am – 12.30pm, Monday to Friday on 0300 30 300 20. If you’ve found a charge on your phone bill and want to check who it’s from, you can use our free service checker at any time.