ACM has imposed orders subject to periodic penalty payments on directory assistance providers for misleading practices
The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has imposed orders subject to periodic penalty payments on two directory assistance providers for having misled consumers. Consumers thus called with a directory assistance service, for which they have to pay extra, without them actually knowing that they were. They thought that they were calling directly with the companies that they were trying to reach. Each provider is imposed an order subject to periodic penalty payments of 20,000 euros per week, with a maximum of 500,000 euros.
These orders subject to periodic penalty payments were imposed on directory assistance providers Cadena XTRA and Telemedia Costa Blanca SL. In public communications such as advertisements and on websites, these providers give the impression that the number that they advertise with is the direct number of, for example, a customer service department, whereas, in reality, it is a directory assistance number for which the caller has to pay extra.
Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh, Member of the Board of ACM, comments: ‘We asked six directory assistance providers to adjust their advertisements, because of their misleading nature. Two of these providers did not sufficiently comply with our request. That is why we have imposed orders subject to periodic penalty payments on these providers, compelling them to implement the requested adjustments within three weeks. It is important that consumers are informed correctly, and that they do not end up paying more than they thought they would.’
ACM seeks to make sure that directory assistance providers make sufficiently clear to callers that they use a paid service, and that they are not calling directly with the organization that they are trying to reach. In this way, ACM protects people against misleading practices.
Consumers who are looking for the phone numbers of, for example, the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration, or the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) often use online search engines to find those numbers. One of the first search results is often a directory assistance service, which advertises with the name of the agency that people want to reach. Instead of this agency’s phone number, the directory assistance service’s phone number is presented. This may lead consumers into thinking that they are calling directly with the organization they were looking for, whereas, in fact, they are calling through the directory assistance service, and are thus presented with a steep bill.
Offering directory assistance is not illegal, but it has to be clear who the provider is, what the service entails, and what it costs. ACM, but also telecom providers and online forums, received many complaints from people who turned out to have called through such services, while they were thinking that they had direct contact with the agency that they were trying to reach. This harms callers, because they spent more money than they had expected. However, the agencies that are called, too, say that they are harmed by these practices.
What can consumers do?
ACM advises all consumers to stay alert to directory assistance providers. If you are looking for a number of an agency using online search engines, make sure to compare multiple search results, especially if these results include paid numbers. There may be a free alternative.