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ACM withdraws numbers of ‘COVID-19’ directory assistance services

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has withdrawn two Dutch premium-rate phone numbers: 0906-2121212 and 0906-0400388. The former number was used by Caramello Online Services BV (Caramello) as a directory assistance service forwarding callers to the toll-free number of the Public Health Service (GGD) to make an appointment for a COVID-19 test. 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 to the GGD. ACM had already blocked the number before, in part because of a report filed by Dutch consumer program Radar, a letter from GGD/GHOR Nederland, and consumer complaints. In addition, all payments related to that number were suspended, thereby preventing the transfer of revenues to the number user.

After ACM had blocked the number, it subsequently turned out that, on the website on which the directory assistance service was offered, Zoekopnummer.nl BV (Zoekopnummer) had changed the number to 0906-0400388. The impression was given that callers were able to make appointments for free rapid tests. This was not the case. When calling the number, callers were forwarded to a commercial testing facility, which gave callers information about rapid tests, and then referred callers to its website where employers were able to register in order to request free rapid tests for their employees. In that case, too, the costs of these calls were 90 cents per minute, and callers continued to pay that rate after being put through. ACM had this number blocked too, and it had all payments related to this number suspended.

Consumers that placed calls using Caramello and Zoekopnummer will be refunded

Consumers that placed calls using Caramello’s number 0906-2121212 between March 6 and April 6, 2021, will get a refund of their call charges from their telecom providers within two months. The same goes for consumers that placed calls using Zoekopnummer’s number 0906-0400388 between April 8 and April 22, 2021. Refunds are automatically given to these consumers: they do not have to do anything themselves.

Although the telecom providers cannot be blamed for these misleading practices, the law says that they are responsible for paying back consumers any amounts that have been unduly paid.

See also

06-08-2021 Ruling of provisional-relief judge on misleading directory assistance service involving COVID-19 tests (in Dutch)