In November a call centre agent phoned my wife's cell phone and offered her services called "Look4Me" and "Look4Help". We don't like marketing calls and she did not agree to anything. Even so, we started getting billed for this service, in spite of the fact that no permission was obtained from the account holder, i.e. me, violating AutoPage's own policy on customer accounts.
So I called AutoPage (0860 23 2424) and they promised to cancel the service. I also asked for a refund. Judging by the complaints on HelloPeter, I am not the only one to be billed in this way. As far as I can tell this is a case of fraud.
Then I called the Look4Help call centre for on 086 010 5774, and was told that Vodacom had supplied them with my wife's number. Later I received an email from Carla Leggatt who claimed that AutoPage had supplied them with the number. Since AutoPage has done this before, I am not surprised, but now CellFind have added an ECT Act violation to their billing fraud. By phoning a number that is already marked as a Do Not Call (both by Autopage and the Direct Marketing Association), they violated the ECT Act, and the penalty for this is 1 year in jail, with no option of a fine.
What also gets me is that at no point was I, as the account holder, notified, either by mail, email or SMS, that we had been signed up for this service, and it was only because I checked my cell phone bill that I noticed the problem. Scumbags like this should rot in jail, and I am considering charges against them for both fraud and privacy violations, unless they make a public apology, preferably in the national newspapers, and request anyone else billed in this way to contact them for a refund.
Update Friday 10am: Niel Barnard from CellFind confirmed that the details were obtained from AutoPage, and admitted that they did not check the data against the DMA's list. He has promised to send me a copy of the recording of the original call. I spoke to the secretary for the MD for AutoPage, who put me through to customer services without really listening to my enquiry. I spoke to Andre Geboers at Digicall, the call centre company in Cape Town (021-405-1425), and he explained that they only get cell numbers from AutoPage, not ID numbers, so they can't really do any checks against the DMA list. It seems to me like a deliberate loophole to avoid prosecution, and the call verification process sounds a little vague. I have asked for a copy of the "script" used by the call centre agents, to see how well it complies with the DMA's Code of Conduct.
Update Friday 12noon: Neil Barnard informs me that
The person who spoke to your wife has in actual fact been fired a few months ago. I have an agreement with Digicall that any transgression of the script, etc will lead to an immediate dismissal of the offending agent on their side.How convenient. Employ a temp worker for a few months (say November and December), sign up as many people as possible, legally or not, and then when anyone complains tell them that the person was fired. But they cannot tell me who this person was, or whether any of the people he/she called have been contacted to confirm that they did, in fact, agree to the service. So the firing does not absolve the company of the ECT Act violations or the billing fraud, for which the company as a whole is responsible.
Then there is the question of the SMS "confirmation" messages. They sent 4, all at 2007-11-30 11:50:50, shortly after calling my wife:
- Look4help is designed to help you when you need it most. Please reply to this sms with the way you would like to setup eg. WWW, WAP, SMS or call 0860105774
- Welcome to Look4help, a panic button on your cellphone & costs only R12.08 per month, easy setup details to follow. To unsubscribe sms STOP to 31888
- Look4me is designed to help keep your loved ones safe. Please reply to this sms with the way you would like to setup eg. WWW, WAP, SMS or call 0822360919
- Welcome to Look4me, a service which allows you 2 track cellphones & costs only R11.13 per month, easy setup details to follow -sms unsubscribe to 31888 to stop
Update Monday 14 th April: Autopage company policy is that they don't give out lists of numbers to anyone.