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Virgin Media - John C. Kirk

Aug. 21st, 2007

12:45 am - Virgin Media

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I've been having trouble with Virgin Media (formerly NTL) for a while now. I'm not actually a customer (despite all their cold calls), but I'm still involved with them: their call centres keep phoning up people who haven't paid their bills and leaving a message with my work number. That means that I get conversations like this:

* Phone rings *
Me: "Hello, HMR, John Kirk speaking."
Random person: "Can I help you?"
Me: "What? You phoned me!"
Random person: "Yes, but you left a message on my answering machine."
Me (engages psychic powers): "Ah, let me guess, you're a Virgin customer?"
Random person: "Yes, I am."
Me: "And you haven't paid your latest bill yet?"
Random person: "Er, no, I haven't."
Me: "Ok, you've got the wrong number. We're nothing to do with Virgin, we do clinical drug trials."
Random person: "I don't want to take part in a drug trial."
Me: "Yes, I realise that. We didn't call you, Virgin did, but they're stupid and they keep giving out my phone number instead of theirs."
Random person: "Are you sure? This is the only number I've got."
Me: "Yes, really, I'm quite sure."
Random person: "So how do I pay my bill?"
Me: "Phone Virgin!"

(I normally advise them to find their latest bill and call the phone number on there, but some people no longer have that bill.)

This has been going on since last December, and I had two calls within the space of an hour when I was working late tonight. I've tried reporting it to Virgin, but I haven't had much luck there. The problem with call centres in general is that the staff work off scripts: that's fine if you want to do something routine (e.g. paying a bill), but they generally don't have the initiative to handle unusual situations. If the call centre is based in a foreign country (e.g. India), and the staff don't speak English as their first language, this makes it even more of a challenge.

I did try phoning them again tonight, and the person I spoke to asked whether I'd ever been a customer; I said no. He then asked for my postcode, and informed me that I wasn't in a cable area. I don't think he quite grasped the key concept here, namely that his colleagues were confusing my phone number with their own; I haven't been mixed up with any other customer. He went off to speak to his manager, then said that he'd updated the account so it won't be a problem anymore. We shall see.

This is a minor irritation for me, and certainly not a good advert for their company. The people who keep trying to sell me the business broadband service have tried to distance themselves from the home service, basically saying that even though it's under the same name it's a completely different organisation. (Some might say that this defeats the purpose of having a big name "branding" in the first place.)

Still, my main concern is for the customers who are affected by this. When people phone me, they often give me their account number. Since they're intending to pay their bill, I'm sure that I could easily get extra information from them if I was rather less ethical. E.g. "For security purposes, please could you confirm your date of birth, address, and your mother's maiden name. Thank you. Now please tell me your credit card number, expiry date, and security code from the back. Thank you: that payment will now be deducted from your card." I could then use this information for identity theft, i.e. cloning their card and using it to buy things for myself.

Unlike the average phishing email, these phone calls are quite well targetted, so I can't really blame the customers if they think that the phone number provided is a real one. I also have to wonder whether I'm the only person who gets these misdirected calls; there may well be other people who are already rolling in cash because of this. Given that Virgin are basically denying that the problem even exists, I doubt that they have proper records, so this would be bordering on the perfect crime.

Ultimately, my advice to anyone who's considering Virgin for their internet needs is "don't do it".