Ben Oliver

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I (maybe?) got slammed off my phone line

Miss an email and you could be without internet
26 April 2014

I’m keeping this up, despite recent developments. Having discused it with people on Reddit and Twitter, this is a very real problem, even if it turns out that’s not what happened to me. Read the updates at the bottom for the full story.

On the 24th April at 1600 my internet stopped working. The router was still up, and was reporting an error on the outside conncection. Happens fairly frequently for anything from a few seconds to two/three minutes. Most of the time I don’t even notice since I’m at work.

By that same evening, the connection was still down so I started to check around online for any outages, there was no sign of any. The next morning I decided to make the call to my ISP, Plusnet, to see what was going on. After 90 minutes on the phone, they told me I’d been ‘slammed’.

What is ‘slamming’?

Put simply, it’s when someone tries to change your phone service provider without your consent. Here’s how it normally plays out:

  1. They call you and ask you if you’d like more information about a phone/broadband plan. You say yes.
  2. Sneakily, they place a request with your current provider to start the switch.
  3. It’s now up to you to respond to your current provider when they notify you of this, otherwise your internet gets switched.

So what happened to me?

My case was slightly unusual but I’ve found people in the same situation as myself.

  1. Someone makes an order for phone + internet using my number.
  2. I get sent an email, with the subject ‘Update on moving your home phone from Plusnet’.
  3. I miss the email from plusnet because I don’t have a home phone, and had in fact cancelled a contract on another property the day before. I just assumed it was to do with that.
  4. Seven days later my internet gets cut off.

Apparently in the above scenario I consented to a switch. The email was vague and had ambiguous wording. I read the subject as ‘an update from plusnet about…’. Today of course I understand that they meant ‘an update about moving away from the plusnet service’. Both interpretations are correct, I went for the first one because I wasn’t moving away from Plusnet, why would they send me that? In fact, I’d just signed on for an extra two years with them the day before.

Why would someone try to switch my line?

No idea! Plusnet said it could have been an typo but that seems unlikely. They won’t tell me who attempted the switch so I’m in the dark there…

The phone call

As mentioned, I spent 1 1/2 hours on the phone to Plusnet before they finally told me what had happened. I was livid. I couldn’t make sense of the fact that someone could just steal your phone line, and all you get is one email as notice. My rage started to annoy the person on the phone and they said the following:

It’s called slamming. It happens all the time!

Happens all the time. And they send a crappy email out that barely explains what’s happening.

I got nowhere with the guy on the phone in the end. All I got was that I was going to have to wait until the 7th May, and that because it’s a reconnection it counts as a house move and my price will be going up, nearly doubling in fact.

I feel you brother1.

The outcome

What can you do?

If you’re in my situation, not much. You will also likely miss the correspondence, and it will also be too late. If you’re lucky you’ll get a letter in the post or a phone call and you’ll stop it. If you’re with Plusnet you’ll get a vague email and you won’t know what’s going on.

However, it doesn’t hurt to be prudent. OfCom recommends the following to avoid being slammed:2

That page also gives advice about what to do if you’ve been slammed or you think you have.

More info from Reddit

Reddit user sparkle_fell3 gives some great insight into how these things work4:

The way BT Openreach systems work is you don’t actually use a telephone number to place an order, you use addresses. Each address is graded. Gold is the best and means they know exactly where the house is. Silver and bronze usually mean you’ll need a surveyor to go out and confirm the address location. When you place an order, you put the postcode in (which may not always match what the Royal Mail and you use for post but that’s a whole other ball of crap) and a huge list of addresses will appear that are vaguely like the home address someone is giving. Flats are always listed in an odd way, and Scottish addresses are an entire world of pain, so it’s easy to select the wrong one. If the system detects that a line is present, no actual engineer will go out and see that the address is wrong so your line is taken over without you wanting it to go anywhere.

The “fun” part is, even if you had seen that email saying you’re leaving, it might not have made any difference. OFCOM regulations state you can only stop a transfer request twice. On the 3rd time, the losing provider has to allow the transfer to go through.

Another way that lines can be slammed is through the engineer cutting the wrong one in the exchange. Your provider gets an unsolicited cease (basically any cease they haven’t initiated), but don’t get the chance to tell you / try and save you. The line just goes dead on your side and on their side they’re left with a disconnected line.

The chances are they’re telling the truth when they say that they can’t tell you who has slammed you. The losing provider isn’t notified about who the gaining provider is. If you have a working line but it’s not with who it should be, dial 150. It will ALWAYS go through to the customer services of whoever the line is active with. The only other ways to find out is wait for an invoice from the new provider, or speak to OFCOM (but it can take them 6 weeks to locate who the provider is).

If you’ve been slammed, then your provider can’t legally increase your charges by making you return on a new tariff. You had a contract in place with them for a set price. If the tariff you were on is no longer available, they need to match it as best they can and give you the money for the difference. They also can’t try and say your now in a new contract term. They might try to, but OFCOM and Ombudsman Services wouldn’t take their sides. In fact, the Ombudsman Services had an entire session on those very points at a communications providers stakeholder day not too long ago.

From how quickly your line came back up, I suspect it was never actually disconnected. If it was disconnected, then PlusNet have used a Directors Service Office request at BT Openreach to get it back up which they can normally only do for vulnerable people (or people they lie to BT about and say are vulnerable to try and get expedited connections).

Best thing to do is just go straight to the CEO’s office the second you think you’ve been slammed. Normal agents have no power to do anything to try and rescue telephone numbers (they can get lost during slamming), correct contracts or offer compensation. All they can do is transfer you to sales to place a new order to come back to them.

Update 1 (27/04)

My internet came back. My router tells me it was at 1845 on the 26/04. It’s actually hard to tell exactly when because I don’t think it was looking for the main connection while it was connected to my phone. When I unplugged the phone it came to life.

I called plusnet to see what was going on. It’s almost impossible that I got reconected this fast so I’m wondering if I ever got disconnected at all. They said:

  1. I’m registered on an active connection, and it’s with them.
  2. There’s a flag on my account that says it’s not working, even though the data is clearly flowing through it.
  3. I’m still down to be reconnected on May 7.

The guy at plusnet was really helpful but couldn’t make head or tail out of what had happened. He cancelled my reconnection because he could see it was actually working.

I’m going to have to call on Monday to get my old price back and hopefully shed some light on to what happened.

Update 2 (28/04)

The plot thickens.

Called Plusnet to find out what was going on. They knocked their heads together and came up with the following few facts:

None of the above makes sense, since my connection is active! They can’t explain this, which is insane. I understand why it might be difficult to explain a fault, but being unable to explain the reason for a connection being active? It’s a first.

Plusnet have said that I should not expect my connection to stay active. I think they are covering their bases - I really can’t see why it would drop at this point.

It’s hard to believe what they’ve told me on the phone. Just how plausible is the story they’ve fed me? It goes directly against what is actually happening!

What started out as a journey of discovery about a scam has turned into a bizarre sequence of events.

I’ll keep this page updated.