Telekom-Control GmbH warns Internet users: Dialer programmes may cause excessive phone bills

Press release dated 20 April 2000

Since the turn of the year more and more customers have been complaining to the dispute settling body of Telekom-Control GmbH about excessive phone bills in connection with using the Internet. A review of the call data in these cases has shown that, perhaps unnoticed by the Internet user, so-called dialer programmes are downloaded when specific icons (mostly offering high-speed access or other goodies) are clicked. In addition, the user is requested to run these programmes instantly. Subsequently, pre-programmed value-added numbers or subscriber numbers in long-distance zones are dialled, which in turn may cause extremely high telephone bills.

Costly call set-up via dialer programmes

Dialer programmes which are difficult to remove by non-experts cause the disconnection of the current and mostly cost-efficient browser connection and set-up of a considerably more expensive connection to cost-intensive domestic value-added numbers or numbers abroad. Surfing in the Internet is then done via these expensive numbers.

Such access options are currently used mainly by sex and eroticism providers but similar programmes are also offered on other home pages. To be able to use such access the interested user is first requested to download and run a small programme. The point of that is that often the customer is not, or only insufficiently, aware of the tariffs.

More transparency with regard to costs is offered by dialer programmes which correctly inform the user of the applicable tariffs.

Extreme caution is recommended

Internet users should be aware that every programme downloaded from the Internet may conceal a dialer programme. Great caution is called for when icons are already marked as dialer programmes. The information provided on the costs that arise from using dialer programmes is mostly insufficient. Furthermore, it needs to be explicitly stated that virus scanners are unsuitable for the identification and removal of dialer programmes, as they have not been designed for that.

Telecom network operators are not liable for the excessive bills of their customers. Suppliers of such programmes who perhaps might be liable are difficult to identify. Thus, although in theory the consumer may have recourse against the respective initiator of dialer programmes (if it is used abusively), in practice, however, there is no chance of success.

The most effective protection against such traps may be provided by tariff zone inhibitions. Users are advised to ask the respective network operator if such services are offered. A list with the service phone numbers of the network operators can be retrieved from the home page of Telekom-Control as arbitration body.