ACM blocks premium-rate number of directory assistance provider to firm offering paid COVID-19 tests

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has blocked the premium-rate number used by a directory assistance provider that forwarded callers to a provider of paid tests for coronavirus (COVID-19). The costs of these calls through the directory assistance provider were 90 cents per minute, and callers continued to pay that rate even after being put through. It appears that this directory assistance provider has misled consumers in multiple ways. For example, the provider added the following text next to the number that consumers could call: ‘Call for the nearest FREE COVID-19 testing location. The government covers the costs for you. Therefore, please contact us before this government scheme expires.’ In reality, consumers are forwarded to a commercial company that conducts tests for a fee. As opposed to what the number user claims, these tests are not covered by the Dutch government.

This case concerns the same directory assistance provider that, until recently, had put callers through to the Public Health Service (GGD), among other organizations, using a different premium-rate number, for making appointments for a COVID-19 test. In that situation, too, did ACM intervene by blocking that number.

Like in the previous case, this suspension will last eight weeks at the most. During this time, the number cannot be reached, and no revenues will be paid out to the number holder. ACM will conduct a further investigation during this period. ACM will assess whether the number can be withdrawn, among other options.