Although Ofcom has clamped down on some telecoms operators for miss-selling and misleading marketing some of the less scrupulous ones have created a few new tricks or revised old ones to catch out unwary businesses.

Dave Millett of Equinox highlights some things to watch out for and questions to ask in order to protect yourself and your business:

Since BT announced the end of ISDNs a number of suppliers have been pushing businesses to migrate to SIP (connecting your phone system to the internet). However, as ISDNs will still be around until 2025 so there is no immediate need to switch.

SIP can offer a number of benefits but it needs a strong Internet connection to succeed and these additional costs need to be offset.

One trick is to leave items out of the quote so you’re not comparing like-with-like. In addition, these deals are often for 60 months. Prices tend to go down, not up – but you’re tied in for a long time.

Some suppliers are selling SIP to organisations whose phone systems are not compatible; so they offer a converter box. This is often sold on a long term lease hire tying the customer in to the supplier and giving the supplier the opportunity to raise those prices over time. In one case by 45% over four years.

One supplier used what looked like a landline number for its broadband support desk, but charged 50p a minute to call it. To hide this from scrutiny they did not provide itemised calls as standard. It only showed up after the customer was on to the support line for an hour and noticed his bill which was pretty standard otherwise was up by £30.

In another case, we’ve seen VoIP providers that do not offer itemised calls but just send a top up bill when they say the previous amount has been used up. This gives them immense scope to have minimum charges, set up fees and even uplift call rates. Always demand a priced itemised call report every month so you can make these checks. If the supplier won’t provide it – perhaps they have something to hide.

Mobile hardware funds have always been an opportunity for dirty tricks; for example, holding back amounts not used at the end of the contract, or inflating the hardware fund to make it look bigger whilst also raising the cost of phones so the fund actually goes no further.

We saw one supplier who had buried in the small print, that if a customer left them then they had either to return the phones or pay back half of the hardware funds provided, which in their case was £12,000. So if someone offers you hardware funds check they do not have a boomerang attached. Even better ask for the hardware fund in cash and then you control it.

Finally, if a supplier calls you offering your business a free PBX for less than you are currently paying for lines and calls ask them the following questions;

  1. How long is the contract that I would have to enter?
  2. What would our line rentals and call cost be? – so you can compare to current
  3. Would we own the system outright at the end of the contract or is this a hire agreement?
  4. What make and model of system would you offer and with which handsets? – Google the models as they often try to palm you off with end of life or obsolete products
  5. Would the line rental and call costs be fixed until the end of the contract? – usually no, giving them the chance to increase prices
In our experience no one has ever replied to these questions - which tells you all you need to know.

There are many good operators out there – but unfortunately there are also a large number of unscrupulous ones. So, as a business owner you need to be wary and ensure you check, double check and ask lots of questions.