Business

Unemployed people tricked by premium rate phone scam

Karl Lever fell foul of the scam
Image caption Karl Lever called the scam "disgusting"

The man behind a phone scam targeting the unemployed has been fined £75,000 by the regulator PhonepayPlus.

Jobseekers were tricked into calling expensive premium rate numbers while applying for non-existent jobs.

In the ruling, the regulator said the numbers were run by sole trader John Francis, from Epsom, and cost callers a least 50p a minute. Some spent more than £80 enquiring about jobs.

The regulator said the trick gave false hope to vulnerable people.

Jobseeker Karl Lever told BBC Radio 4's You & Yours he was charged £40 after he responded to an advert for bar staff in Brighton.

In his hour-long phone call he was asked about his suitability for the role, previous experience and even his medical history.

"In hindsight it did feel like they were trying to keep me on the phone for as long as possible," he said.

In a statement, PhonepayPlus said: "When it received these complaints PhonepayPlus launched an investigation and found that they were linked. It then identified John Francis, registered as a sole trader, as the person responsible for the service."

As well as the £75,000 fine, he has been ordered to refund all those affected.

Paul Whiteing, PhonepayPlus chief executive, told You & Yours: "He has seven days to pay and if he doesn't we will pursue him through the courts.

"They look like conventional mobile phone numbers, therefore many people don't realise what they are - so something should be done about that.

"It's unacceptable."

070 confusion

None of the callers were told about the cost of the calls and most believed they were calling a mobile number. But the 070 numbers cost at least 50p a minute and those running the lines take a cut.

PhonepayPlus acknowledge that it can be confusing and said they were working with Ofcom, which allocates phone numbers, and are reviewing the use of these numbers.

The regulator also found the same numbers used for bogus jobs on adverts for cheap housing and in spam emails sent out offering work.

One complainant told the regulator about spending an hour on the phone trying to arrange an interview. After complaining about the delay, the complainant was told: "You'll be even less happy when you get the bill."

John Francis has seven days to pay the fine, otherwise further action will be taken. He did not respond to the regulator.

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