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Beware of premium-rate diallers

A software application called a dialler or rogue dialler can install itself on your computer at the click of a mouse. Then, when you go online, your PC will dial up a premium-rate number which can be billed at up to £10 a minute. This can lead to the shock of receiving unexpectedly large telephone bills.

How does a premium-rate dialler work?
It changes your internet settings to dial a premium-rate telephone number for Internet access instead of the AOL access number. Broadband members who have disconnected their 56K modem will not be susceptible to diallers.

The numbers are either 090 or international numbers, and you can contact BT to have either or both these categories blocked free by default. BT's selective bar costs only £1.75 a month. If you use another provider, contact them to find out what they offer.

It is, unfortunately, very easy to accept a dialler by accident, by unknowingly clicking on a link on a web site or pop-up, and 'accepting' terms and conditions.

You won't necessarily realise that you have a dialler installed and, unfortunately, you will be liable for all charges that appear on your telephone bill.

Beware: If you choose to view content or play games that you might reasonably be expected to pay for, read the terms and conditions carefully before accepting. These could easily include your permission to dial up to a premium-rate number. In addition, some sites might charge you twice - by premium-rate number, and also through your credit card.

Double-check terms and conditions before clicking on any link - if you are in any doubt, don't click!

What do I do if I get a dialler on my PC?
It is difficult to detect a dialler once is it installed on your PC. Check your settings every time you connect to the internet to make sure that you are connecting via an AOL access number. If you are concerned about the numbers, please contact AOL Member Services immediately at AOL Keyword: Live Help or on 0870 3 20 20 20.

Where can I complain about my phone bill?
If you have a complaint about premium-rate charges that have already appeared on your telephone bill, please contact the industry regulator, the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS) on freephone 0800 500212 (9am-4pm, Monday to Friday). More information is available on its web site at www.icstis.org.uk. ICSTIS investigates complaints about any promotion or service involving the use of a telephone connection (including the internet) to make a premium-rate call.

Phone companies do not have the power to block numbers, but ICSTIS does, and can shut down 090 numbers, which are easily traced. It has to rely on cooperation from phone companies to trace international premium-rate service providers.

Other Precautions:

  • Use Spyware Protection frequently to detect and remove spyware from your PC - the tool should remove all known diallers
  • Purchase and install an anti-virus program, and make sure it is updated regularly. AOL automatically scans all email and attachments for viruses, but you should use additional protection for your whole PC
  • Install a firewall program
  • Enable pop-up controls for AOL 8.0 and 9.0. To do this sign on to AOL and go to AOL Keyword: Pop-up controls.
  • Regularly check your phone bill and compare anything suspicious with the list of diallers at www.icstis.org.uk
  • Sign-on to AOL and run Computer Check-Up at AOL Keyword: Computer Check-Up, or go to AOL Keyword: Messenger Pop-Ups, to remove grey Messenger pop-ups, which often link to suspect sites
  • Contact your phone service provider to get a premium-rate bar put on your phone line. This is particularly useful for parents, as it will stop premium-rate telephone calls as well. You may be charged extra for this service, depending on your provider