Belfast Telegraph

Province's computers hit by scam

By Ben Lowry
02 September 2004

An Internet scam that is often operated by gangs in West Africa has led to huge bills for some computer users in Northern Ireland.

The problem was raised with BT officials yesterday by a delegation of DUP MLAs, who urged the telecoms giant to stop paying the fraudsters.

British Telecom admits there is a problem with the scam, which is triggered by a pop-up window which appears on an Internet user's computer screen. When trying to close the box down, the user may inadvertently activate a premium rate telephone call.

A BT spokeswoman said: "We have been bringing this to people's attention, offering free premium rate call barring. We are advising people to install firewalls and virus protection software to prevent this happening.

"Once we find out that a site is illegal or fraudulent, it is shut down immediately."

She said that broadband users were less likely to be affected.

South Down MLA Jim Wells, who led the delegation that included his party colleagues Peter Weir and Edwin Poots, said more than 1,200 people in Northern Ireland had received inflated phone bills as a result of the scam, after being connected to lines costing up to £1.50 a minute.

Mr Wells said: "BT were very open and honest about the problem. They have said they close down any premium rate number that is found to be fraudulent but they will still pay over all the money taken from its customers up until that point.

"They must stop paying these gangsters, not merely close their sites down. They must stop paying funds that have already been accumulated."

Mr Wells said that some of his constituents were facing bills of over £200 for Internet premium rate calls they never intended to make.

He said that some of the fraudsters were abandoning premium rate numbers and adopting international numbers, which can be just as expensive but are more difficult to monitor.

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