The premium dialer, rogue dialer, Internet dumping problem (which I just happened, shameless self-promotion follows, to do a piece on which ran on WSJ.com a few weeks back, and on the BBC World Service last Friday) is a weird problem, not least because it would seem to be an easy one to stop. Surely the sleazeballs who are diverting people’s modems to high-paying international telephone numbers should be easy enough to catch, since the money is drawn by the less-than-sinister means of adding it to your phonebill?
It seems to be more complicated than that, at least according to a company that handles the billing for some of these sleazeball sites. New Hampshire-based Premier Premium Communication has attracted much of the flak over rogue dialers because it is its name that appears on victims’ bills. But while the company remains quite secretive (understandable perhaps; there are a lot of people mad at them out there), it has shed some of that secrecy in a press release issued on Monday in which it seeks to put some distance between itself and its clients:
Premier Premium Communication provides the billing for a number of pay- per-view websites and is not related to “modem hijacking,” or other unscrupulous web practices, company officials said Monday. The company provides only the billing for the UK sites.
PPC’s argument is basically this: Because it handles the billing for a UK company that in turn runs the websites that are causing the problem, it doesn’t directly own or control those websites, ergo it’s not responsible:
Premier Premium Communication is owned by an investor group in New Hampshire that also owns National One Telecom and One Web Direct. The company sends out about 15,000 invoices a week for their client, a UK company that manages a number of pay-per-view websites. Of those, about 4 percent are contested, below the average for the industry. The UK websites, which are neither clients of nor under the control of the N.H. billing company, provide gaming, sports information, entertainment and similar services via the web.
An interesting argument, and PPC must be feeling the pressure to be coming out and saying this. Iit doesn’t, however, go as far as providing an address, contact name, email address or phone number on the press release to allow me to easily follow this up. Which is a shame, because actually their press release merely highlights how complex and messy this whole business is: PPC says that what is upsetting users are the international charges (as separate from the charges for visiting pay-per-visit websites) for which it cannot be responsible: “Consumers who use these websites also incur an international long distance charge from their phone carrier, which is separate from Premier’s billing”.
That said, PPC is offering refunds to those contested charges that prove to be sleazeworthy, and, somewhat charmingly, offers some tips to avoid these scams:
The company is processing each billing dispute to determine which requests are from victims of modem hijacking and will receive a credit or in some cases a refund.
I’m going to look more closely at all this, because I don’t think the phone companies seem to be doing much about it, and I’m guessing that the whole business may be even more complicated than PPC make out. For example, what of the role of the telcos (and even governments) from those remote destinations that victims find themselves calling? PPC, please get in touch if you read this, and I’d be delighted to hear from victims, or, indeed, anyone with light to shed on this scam.