Own-initiative investigation into the possible misuse of 087 numbers

26 July 2007

Complainant: Ofcom own-initiative following consumer complaints
Complaint against: Person or persons misusing 087 numbers
Case opened: 22 March 2007
Case closed: 17 July 2007
Issue: The possible persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service
Relevant instrument: Section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (‘the Act’), which relates to the persistent misuse of networks or services.

During the course of its investigation, Ofcom analysed the complaints received from consumers to consider whether to take action under section 128 of the Act (relating to persistent misuse of networks or services) for alleged scams that were being carried out on 087 numbers.

Following investigation, Ofcom identified that a significant number of the complaints related to numbers that were being used by The Information Team, a company based in the USA. Ofcom therefore wrote to The Information Team setting out its concerns and requesting details of its services. On 29 June 2007, The Information Team wrote to Ofcom advising that it was ceasing its UK trading activities and that it would be imminently withdrawing from the UK market.

Following the decision by Ofcom to open its investigation in March 2007, overall complaints to Ofcom about suspected scams operating on 087 numbers have fallen significantly. None of the five related complaints received by Ofcom in June 2007 were about suspected scams. On the basis that complaints about scams on 087 numbers appear to have ceased, and The Information Team’s withdrawal from the UK market, Ofcom has decided to close its investigation into these matters.

Text published when the case was opened

Ofcom has received over 400 complaints about possible scams on the 087 number range, including scams involving:

  1. messages left on consumers’ phones, urging them to call an 087 number to collect a parcel, message or prize which is waiting for them. Consumers advise that upon calling the number, they receive a recorded message which they are charged for until they hang up or are cut off. Several different organisations and 087 numbers have been mentioned by consumers.
  2. rogue advertising of 087 numbers as contact numbers for public service organisations, without the knowledge or approval of the organisation affected.  Using the 087 number, calls are still routed to the advertised destination, but a share of the revenue is generated for the rogue advertiser of the 087 number. This is of particular concern to organisations which have identified rogue 087 numbers being wrongly conveyed as legitimate contact numbers, when in fact they have nothing to do with the organisation concerned.

Ofcom has therefore opened an investigation to consider whether to take action under section 128 of the Act (relating to persistent misuse of networks or services). A person misuses a network or service if the effect or likely effect of his use of the network or service is to cause another person unnecessarily to suffer annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety, or he uses the network or service to engage in conduct the effect or likely effect of which is to cause another person unnecessarily to suffer annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety. Misuse becomes persistent when the behaviour in question is repeated often enough to represent a pattern of behaviour or practice or it is clear that the misuse is reckless.

As part of its investigation, Ofcom will seek to identify those responsible for the misuse outlined above and, where appropriate, take action to bring an end to the misuse and, if appropriate, impose penalties to punish previous persistent misuse. The maximum penalty for persistent misuse is currently £50,000.

Case Leader: Matthew Peake ( e-mail: matthew.peake@ofcom.org.uk)
Case Reference: CW/00945/02/07