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Goodness me I'm shocked by what I'm about to narrate to you: It's a tale of woe, desperation and sleight of hand and it involves:

a) A relative of mine b) One of those 'independent phone specialist' agencies who cold call you regularly c) And the great company of Vodafone

I should point out now that whilst this post involves Vodafone as the operator, it could easily apply to any other mobile operator. Indeed I've had similar experiences at the hands of an agency (apparently) working on behalf of Three.

However I've never experienced anything that involved such blatant trickery and manipulation.

Are you ready?

I'll use the relative's first name, Julia.

Across the past weeks she's been getting annoying phone calls from Vodafone. At least, she thought they were from Vodafone. You know the ones, I'm sure you've had similar: Someone phones you and explains they can get you a better deal, yada yada. They usually say they're "calling on behalf of Vodafone" or similar; They're only interested in adding NEW lines, not dealing with your existing contracts; And they're persistent.

A few times Julia answered the phone and said she was too busy to talk. Then last week she eventually relented.

"I felt sorry for them," she said, "These poor people calling me all the time."

So she listened.

The chap on the other end of the line explained that he was her Vodafone Account Manager.

I'm horrified.

He's nothing of the sort.

Absolutely ridiculous. I do wonder if Vodafone actually know that this kind of thing is going on.

So having introduced himself as her Vodafone Account Manager, the chap proceeded to "confirm her details" including date of birth and address. Julia can't quite recall this part, but I wonder if he only had her phone number and was therefore asking for her account details. I think this is what he must have done.

The chap went on to explain that he could save Julia money on her account by making some changes to her price plan.

She's been accustomed to this sort of call over the years so she carried on listening.

The chap explained that if Julia liked, he "Could send her a cheque for £90."

Julia was confused.

"Why can't you just credit my account, I pay by direct debit," she told him.

He obviously made some good excuses -- but couldn't hide any further, so pointed out that his firm wasn't actually Vodafone but worked closely with them. Ouch.

Julia was rather confused by the whole call but she does recall saying words to the effect of, "Oh very well then," regarding the chap sending the cheque.

Her viewpoint? If he was able to save

Now here's the science bit: According to Julia's recollection, at no point was an upgrade discussed. At no point was an additional line discussed. At no point was a new BlackBerry handset discussed.

Julia uses a Doro handset that she's delighted with -- she has absolutely no use for a BlackBerry -- "And I'd have said that at the time, if I'd been given the opportunity," she points out.

Fast forward a few days and a cheque arrived as the chap had promised. The cheque was drawn on the account of this independent agency, not Vodafone. Julia was worried that she'd been conned.

So she phoned Vodafone.

When she got through she was astonished to find that she's got a new line on her account (reportedly for a BlackBerry!)

Further, she's even more astonished to discover that she's already out of her 14 day cooling off period.

She concludes that the chap must have used one of the previous times when he'd got through to her (but she declined to talk) as the commencement date for the 'transaction'.

Now she has to unravel the mess. As you might expect, that's not easily done when you call up Vodafone's call centre, especially when you've got an enquiry like this. Customer service agents are not, I hope, used to dealing with this kind of nonsense.

What an appalling situation. Absolutely appalling.

It's a sad indictment of the British mobile industry when this is how these weasel agencies conduct themselves.

I have to say I'm particularly alarmed by the "I'm your account manager" bit. Indeed, that's the most concerning part of the whole transaction for me. This was a total out-and-out lie intended to win the trust of Julia.

How was the chap able to add a new line in her account without her understanding that this is what he was doing? If you talk to Vodafone directly, they're always ultra clear about what you're buying. They repeat everything. They use carefully authored language to make sure you understand. They insist their sales people read out all the terms and conditions.

But when it's a third-party agency, I presume it's game on.

The chap must have been able to use her date of birth and address that he "confirmed" by explaining he was her account manager. That must be how he was able to get the whole thing processed without Julia's express agreement or any signatures.

Highly dodgy. Highly suspect. Truly disappointing.

Julia finally got through to Vodafone and explained the problem. They are, I understand, in the process of dealing with it. I hope that means they'll reverse everything.

Further, I trust that Vodafone's senior management will burn the sales agency involved. To the ground.

Other mobile operators should also be careful about how they handle these types of sales agencies. To have third party sales folk impersonating mobile operator account management staff in order to make a sale is simply inexcusable.
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5 comments
 
I've had a few of these people ring me. I've had one call me back to call me an a**hole because I was so rude to him! They damn well deserve any appalling treatment they get, the dirty scam artists.
 
Terrible. Enough there to get the police involved? Has deception/impersonation occurred? Quite likely That would likely "enable" additional conversation with vodafone

On divulging personal information -- too many legitimate companies still do this on outbound call (I've had fraud depts do this before. duh!). There needs to be some kind of 2 way authentication scheme. If I have a "cold call" I always ask for name/dept (*not* number) and call back. It's something...
 
I always say I'm really interested but would like to have the offer in writing... and disconnect the call when they ask for my address.
 
My last few contracts/upgrades have been done with the vodafone twitter/eforum team and they always really helpful send an email immediately summarizing the deal. Very useful.
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