Beware of premium rate phone scams

WANT TO sell a story to the Daily Express? They want you to call a premium rate 0871 line to phone in stories, or another 0871 number for photographers who have pictures they want to sell to the paper. Ringing the old standard rate number gets you a "number unobtainable" message.  

One contributor was given a business card with a direct line to an Express editor - also an 0871 number. The Express freephone number is given only to established freelances. Someone even persuaded the Express to give them an affordable number for phoning in sick.

So how much does Express proprietor Richard Desmond's company Northern and Shell make from this? Confusion reigns - at least until you get your phone bill. The website of telephone regulator Ofcom's seems to suggest that 0870 and 0871 numbers operated by British Telecom could cost from 3p a minute (the standard rate for long-distance calls) to 8p per minute. This is due to change soon, probably with lower rates, a compulsory warning with higher charges, and a cap on the cut he takes.

Meanwhile, freelances can fight back, thanks to the www.saynoto0870.co.uk website. All 0870 and 0871 numbers are virtual - calls are "forwarded" to physically existing numbers. Free 0800 numbers work the same way. And it seems that 0800 376 800 gets you through to Northern and Shell.

Meanwhile Independent News and Media Ltd, who own The Independent, wrote to contributors in October advising them that it had "decided to centralise certain finance functions across the UK and Ireland... the contribution payments function will be located in Ireland". They soon gave up an attempt to impose a national-rate 08701 number for inquiries; but invoices still have to be posted to Clonakilty, County Cork with a 44p stamp. (The Freelance somehow doubts that tax breaks for authors in Ireland apply.) If you have any information on media groups' telephone scams, contact the Freelance in confidence.

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