If you are in the habit of returning calls or missed calls received on mobile, beware; you may end up making an ISD call that costs Rs50-Rs100 per minute. In this case, the Vodafone subscriber received and dialled an ISD number without using any prefix like '00' or '+' or country code and yet was billed in thousands
As if receiving unsolicited commercial communications (marketing calls, SMS) was not enough, here is a stunning case of a Vodafone subscriber who is billed exorbitantly for returning a call to a 'missed call' number. The number (2699108063) did not have any prefix to denote whether it is a local, STD or international number. Technically, the call should have been rejected by the mobile service provider, as direct dialling to numbers starting with '2' is not allowed in India. Mobile number within the same circle can be dialled directly (without any prefix), for call to any landline number one needs to add the STD code and for ISD, you will have to use either '00' or '+' and then the country code, as per the norms. And yet, Vodafone billed the subscriber at Rs50 per minute calling the number as an international (ISD) call.
Here is the first person account from the post-paid subscriber of Vodafone...
"I work as an accountant and my job includes dealing with various banks, financial firms, government bodies, etc. as well as speaking to a vast cross-section of people on a daily basis. I am on the phone most of the time and I regularly call back people who are on call waiting or if there is a missed call on my mobile.
In June, I received a missed call from 2699108063, an unknown number that did not have any prefix. As, usual I did not check any prefix before the number and called back. There was a girl on the other end who was speaking in fluent Hindi. She was speaking softly and slowly and hence I could not hear her voice very clearly. (In a way she was dragging the call, I realised later). Since, I could not hear her clearly, I called her again. Again her voice was not very clear and the call went on for a long time due to this. What little I could make from the call was that she was from Lokhandwala in Andheri and was seeking my personal information.
Later, when I saw the bill from Vodafone, I was shocked to find the calls to this number added up to Rs2,050. When I contacted Vodafone, they said this call was made to an international number and was charged at Rs50 per minute. I wonder how that number can be an international one as the girl said she was speaking from Lokhandwala in fluent Hindi."
The subscriber is a high-value customer of Vodafone with a dynamic credit limit of over Rs75,000. When the subscriber complained to Vodafone, he received an advice of being careful while calling back on unknown missed call number. As expected the mobile operator refused to reverse the charges.
Moneylife sent an email to Vodafone about this missed call scam where the subscriber was billed for calling a missed call number. We too received the standard reply from the PR agency of Vodafone. It says, "The scenario you have described in your mail about fraudulent international missed calls is one that is affecting the entire industry. People who are committing this fraud call from international SIMs, give one or two rings and then stop. This induces the receiver to call back."
The PR Agency also quoted the standard disclaimer from Vodafone's site, which says, "Please do not call any unidentified international number as it may result in higher call charges".
Unfortunately, the standard disclaimer does not resolve the issue. Especially, how a customer should identify an ISD number if the caller ID service from the mobile operator does not show the clear markings? And this may not be just a single occurrence.
Claiming that this type of incidents is not limited to Vodafone, the PR agency promised to get back to us with a complete and detailed answer. However, we never heard from them again.
Instead, on 23rd July, we received a call from Suresh Rangarajan, associate vice president for public relations at Vodafone India. He said, his team is finding out the details from its switches and would get back to us soon. (The switch is a computer-controlled component of a telephone network that connects two lines to complete a telephone call) Till writing the article, there was no response from Vodafone. We will incorporate their reply as and when we receive it.
In the meantime, Amin Shaikh, one of the customer service executives of Vodafone, contacted the subscriber offering to waive off 30% of the amount from his bill. When the subscriber refused, the Vodafone executive increased it to 50%. However, the subscriber out rightly, rejected this offer as well.
After searching on Vodafone site, we found that the number 2699108063 dialled by the subscriber, was from Comoros, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean. For calls made from India to this small African nation, Vodafone charges Rs50 per minute. However, we are amazed how the subscriber can make a direct ISD call without any prefix to the Comoros Island. Is there something more than what meets the eye?
There is a possibility that the 'missed call' may be from a charge-back number. But even in this case, Vodafone should have informed this to its subscriber, which it didn't. In the absence of any such mechanism, how the subscriber is supposed to know if the call he is making would cost him a bomb?
The only thing, a subscriber, especially a mobile user, can do is not to call back on any unknown and missed call numbers or install some application like TrueCaller that provide the information of the caller.