The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has requested directory assistance provider Geenspoedwelpolitie to terminate their directory assistance services. The provider charged a fee for forwarding callers to phone numbers of the Dutch police. People calling the number were under the impression that they were directly calling the police, and were afterwards taken by surprise by the high costs they had to pay. The provider has already terminated these services, so that further harm to consumers has been prevented.
The service forwarded callers to non-emergency phone numbers of the police, and used the well-known slogan of the Dutch police force ‘Geen Spoed, Wel Politie’ (which roughly translates to ‘not an emergency, but police assistance needed anyway’). The Google ad and the provider’s websites were designed in such a way that people thought that these websites and phone numbers belonged to the Dutch police, whereas, in reality, they did not.
Annemarie Sipkes, Director of ACM’s Telecommunications, Transport and Postal Services Department, adds: ‘Callers are obviously harmed by such practices, since they end up spending more money than necessary. However, the police are also harmed. We protect people against misleading practices when using directory assistance services, and that is why we are taking action’.
Directory assistance services
Offering directory assistance is not illegal, but it has to be clear who the provider is, what the service entails, and what it costs. In their ads and on their websites, directory assistance providers need to make clear that their services are paid directory-assistance services, and that callers do not directly contact the agencies they are trying to reach. This also needs to be clear the moment anyone places a call. As soon as someone calls a directory service provider, that caller must be informed of the provider’s identity, that they are calling a directory assistance provider, and what the costs per minute or per call are.
What does ACM do?
ACM ensures that directory assistance providers comply with the rules. If it turns out that such providers use misleading practices in their advertising, ACM may decide to take enforcement action. That means, for example, that numbers can be withdrawn. In addition, providers may risk an order subject to periodic penalty payments or a fine of up to 900,000 euros per violation.
What can consumers do?
ACM advises all consumers to stay alert. Phone numbers of government agencies can be found on the websites of the agencies themselves. The police’s phone number for non-emergency questions or problems (0900-8844) can be found on www.politie.nl, for example. If you are looking for a number of a government 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.