SEARCHER BEWARE: premium rate phone services needlessly rack up your call costs

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SEARCHER BEWARE: premium rate phone services needlessly rack up your call costs

We all regularly perform internet searches for telephone numbers. Lately, however, staff on the Intellicom helpdesk have noticed a spike in the use of premium rate phone services used to contact certain government services.

We all regularly perform internet searches for telephone numbers.  Whether we want to contact the Revenue Commissioners in relation to tax, source the phone number for the local GP or get in touch with the neighbourhood hairdresser for a weekend appointment, performing (typically) a Google search is the main way that we find the contact numbers that we need.

Lately, however, staff on the Intellicom helpdesk have noticed a spike in the use of premium rate phone services used to contact certain government services.  These are typically 1590 numbers that redirect to the regular phone number of the service but can cost anything up to €3.50 per minute

Here’s an example.

I did a Google search for words relating to taxation in Ireland.  This entry appeared in number two position in the search engine results page.  The page title and meta description underneath were closely linked to the search term I entered.

Premium rate phone services

When you click on this entry, a list of premium rate 1590 phone numbers is provided directing you to the various departments within Revenue that you might want to contact.  Once you dial the number, you’re re-directed to Revenue’s number but charged for the service at a premium rate.

Let us be clear about this:  there is absolutely nothing untoward with a service provider furnishing a number to customers based on a premium service that could be dialled for a few cents under our telecoms plans.  And in fairness, the service providers are completely upfront about their costs.  They typically charge €2.95 per minute for most of these premium services.

But many users, in the midst of a busy working day and under pressure to complete a certain task, overlook the fact that this is a premium rate service, literally grab an early Google search result and proceed to dial.  The fact that it happens to be a premium rate phone service completely escapes their attention.

At Intellicom, we have set soft and hard spending thresholds on each client account.  And this has proved very effective in uncovering the use of premium rate phone services and in a very small number of cases, even telecoms fraud.

Here’s how it works.

Premium rate phone services


Our helpdesk sets spending alerts when the customer deviates from what we consider to be their average telecoms spend.  For example, we might set the soft threshold for a typical small business customer at €40 per month.

Once the soft alert activates, this serves as a trigger for our staff to investigate why the telecoms spend is so high.

With a soft alert, the customer can continue making calls and this gives us a window of discovery before the hard alert – which in this case could be set to €50 – stops any further outbound calls until the spending threshold is increased with the permission of the client.

Here’s a simple example from one of our small business clients that was subsequently discovered to have been using a lot of premium rate phone services.

Premium rate phone services


Between 3rd and 15th January this year, this small business racked up telephone costs of €64.76, dialling premium rate numbers.  These calls should have cost less than one EURO if they had used regular local numbers to make the connection.

However, the breaching of the soft limit prompted our staff to perform a discovery exercise on the customer’s spend and this is what we found.

We were able to increase the monthly threshold for the customer and they were able to take the necessary action with staff to change their dialling behaviour away from premium rate phone services.

At a time when lots of businesses are putting a focus on cost cutting to make their offering more competitive, avoiding the unnecessary use of premium rate phone numbers is a must.

We appreciate that the use of non-geographic numbers can be confusing.  Here’s a list from the Communications Regulator, Comreg, on premium rates numbers and what you can expect to pay for them.

Premium rate phone services

Comreg has also acknowledged the level of confusion amongst consumers and businesses in relation to the use of other non-premium, non-geographic numbers such as 1850, 1890 and 076.

In December 2018, Comreg announced changes to the use of non-geographic numbers.

  1. From 1 December 2019, a call to an 1850, 1890, 0818 or 076 NGN (non-geographic numbers) will cost no more than the cost of calling a landline number.  This means that if landline calls are included in your “bundle of call minutes” then NGN calls will also be “in bundle”.  No separate charge will apply for any NGN call (unless you have used up your bundle of call minutes).
  2. From 1 January 2022, the five NGN ranges will be reduced to two. The 1850, 1890, and 076 ranges will be withdrawn and the 1800 (Freephone) and 0818 range will remain. This 3 year period is to allow organisations that use NGNs time to prepare.

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