Possible consumer fraud at South Africa teleco

Some unscrupulous employees are defrauding companies by bypassing switchboard restrictions through Telkom SA Ltd.’s 1023 AutoComplete service, according to Communications Users Association of SA (CUASA) spokesman, Ray Webber.

“Telkom has offered a directory enquiries (1023) service at the cost of a local call for many years,” says Webber. “Towards the end of 2001, it introduced the AutoComplete option, which offers callers to 1023 the option of choosing to be put through to the number required (any Telkom number nationally, but not cell phone or international numbers). This comes at a premium of an additional 86 cents for the service, plus the cost of the ‘new’ call, which could be long-distance, at a cost of 99 cents per minute,” he says.

“This means that Telkom’s introduction of 1023 AutoComplete provides a service where the cost of the call varies, depending on what the caller chooses to do, even though it appears to be a local call.

“The offering of this service has led to a number of people making bogus calls to 1023, only to be put through to long-distance number. Their goal is either to bypass long-distance call barring on their extension, or to prevent these calls from being detected easily.”

Webber notes that from an individual’s perspective, these amounts do not appear to be substantial. However, if taken over a broad user base, medium and large businesses are picking up unnecessarily large telephone accounts that are likely inflated due to the abuse of this AutoComplete service.

He says: “Telephone Management Systems (TMS) have no way of accurately calculating the cost of these calls, which effectively leads to the abuse of some corporate telephone systems. A number of companies have analyzed their detailed billing records from Telkom, and have found excessively long call durations to Telkom’s 1023 service number — generally an indicator that such abuse has occurred.”

According to Webber, individual CUASA members raised this matter with Telkom soon after the service was launched. In addition, CUASA has directly contacted Telkom in this regard. However, he says, more than two years later no solution has been forthcoming.

“We feel strongly that Telkom has yet again moved the goalposts without any consultation or discussions with their customers. Furthermore, CUASA believes that if Telkom is not prepared to do anything about the matter, then the regulator (ICASA) should be able to force them to do so.

“On behalf of our members, all CUASA has asked for is a practical and workable solution which enables companies to be able to offer their employees the ability to make directory enquiry calls, but which do not have the option to be routed to the number concerned. It’s unfortunate that the only solution currently available to companies seeking to avoid excessive Telkom bills in this regard is to block the 1023 number entirely,” says Webber.

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