The Irish Times reports that German telco Yourtel has been fined EUR66,000 (USD77,000) for billing customers in Ireland who had received no services from them. Yourtel pleaded guilty to 88 charges brought under the Irish law that covers telcos charging for services which had not been provided. Judge Flann Brennan said that Yourtel’s behavior amounted to “deceit and fraud”, and levied a penalty of EUR750 for each of the 88 charges.
The court learned that Yourtel made unsolicited sales calls to thousands of elderly people living in rural areas. Each was offered a discounted landline service if they switched to Yourtel from their existing provider, Eir. Yourtel would provide their service as a carrier pre-selection (CPS). As a result, the customers that switched would receive charges for their calls from Yourtel and would only need to pay Eir for their line rental. However, many customers were not switched to Yourtel in practice. This was because Yourtel failed to contact Eir to advise them of the switch, or provided Eir with incorrect information about the customer. Nevertheless, Yourtel still sent bills to these individuals, demanding payment for the calls they had made, even though Eir was also billing their customers for the same calls.
The court proceedings stemmed from an investigation by the Comreg, the Irish regulator. Comreg investigated the actions of Yourtel in response to an avalanche of complaints from customers. The court was told that Comreg had received complaints about Yourtel from 2,400 people, even though the Irish customer base of Yourtel only amounted to 5,000 in total.
On a final note, I want to observe that I sometimes receive queries from readers who wonder why Commsrisk routinely runs stories about the overcharging of telco customers. The implication is that customers can look after themselves, and that we should focus on mistakes that go unidentified and uncorrected, causing telcos to undercharge and lose revenue. I must admit I have no sympathy for this point of view.
Mistakes can cut both ways, and public reports about telco overcharging provide crucial insights into the failings of telcos. Surveys that ask telco professionals to estimate the scale of issues are prone to bias, and are never supported by any objective data, whilst proven cases of overbilling are all solidly grounded in fact. A good professional should want charges to be correct, and should design controls that simultaneously mitigate the risk of both undercharging and overcharging. That means professionals should learn from all the relevant mistakes of others, and not allow themselves to take a selective interest.
The complete Irish Times story about Yourtel’s overcharging can be found here.