BT Stops Blocking Suspected Dialers

Matt O'Conner
LONDON – British telecom giant BT has abandoned its policy of blocking United Kingdom-based phone numbers suspected of being used to defraud customers by installing dialer programs on their computers.

Last June, BT, the largest phone and Internet service provider in the United Kingdom, began proactively blocking certain numbers in response to more than 45,000 complaints from dial-up Internet customers whose PC connections had been hijacked by malware that diverted their usual connections to premium-rate lines.

Users often only realized the switch had been made after receiving bills totaling hundreds of pounds rather than the expected flat rate the company normally charged.

While the company did not forgive the charges, Gavin Patterson, a BT representative, said, “We need to minimize the number of customers being affected as quickly as we can, and we can’t allow any more of our customers to fall victim while the sometimes lengthy investigation process gets underway.”

At the time, BT’s decision to switch to a block-now-ask-questions-later policy received the backing of Britain’s Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services, the body responsible for regulating U.K.-based premium-rate services.

But BT said it now will block numbers only after it has been given explicit authorization from the ICSTIS, which is likely to happen only after the “lengthy investigation process” Patterson mentioned. No further explanation was given for the sudden change in policy. The company will, however, continue to block international numbers suspected of fraud.