Real life

118 000 is, I now realise, the number of the beast

It led me to a 26-minute call that cost £134.08, including VAT. Great balls of fire.

7 February 2015

9:00 AM

7 February 2015

9:00 AM

‘Orange 1-1-8 thousand how may I help you?’ said the cheerful voice. Carefree as you like, I asked for the number for Sky customer services to report my parents’ broken digibox.

This was back on Christmas eve morning. I had been walking the dog around Kenilworth Castle when my dad rang in a panic saying the Sky box had broken, and, well, we had rather hoped to watch some television over Christmas. So I took it upon myself to sit in my car and make a phone call to sort it out.

But when I searched Sky’s website on my iPhone I could not find a number for customer services. I found numbers for all sorts of other things including ‘Report a deceased account holder’, but nothing at all for living account holders with deceased Sky boxes.

Which was why I decided to call directory inquiries. The only number for directory inquiries I could remember was one I must have had in my head from when I was an Orange customer. But now I was a Vodafone customer. ‘So what?’ you might think. Oh, how like a lamb to the slaughter I went, dialling 118 000 — the number, I now realise, of the beast.

The cheerful lady found the Sky customer services number instantly and said the words that would seal my fate: ‘Do you want me to connect you?’

Can I make clear that she most definitely did not say, ‘Do you want me to bankrupt you?’ She may have said something about call charges. But if I had properly digested what they were I wouldn’t have continued. She must have said them in that sing-songy voice so I didn’t really digest their meaning.

Why else would I have hung on my mobile phone as Sky took a long time to answer, playing me a jolly tune? And then a jolly man asked me to identify myself. And then things weren’t very jolly at all.

If you have ever made one of these calls you will know it is easier to forge a new identity than to convince Sky of who you really are. ‘Madam, can you give me your four digit passcode,’ he said, to which I answered that I couldn’t possibly remember. I didn’t say I was ringing about my father’s Sky. I just assumed it would all be fine if I continued merrily along. And because I had set up the account for my dad, as a gift, I was as good as the account holder, if you squinted slightly.

The Sky guy asked for my mother’s maiden name so I tried my mother’s maiden name, then I tried my father’s mother’s maiden name. Then I tried my mother’s mother’s maiden name. But nothing worked.

So I rang my father using my other mobile phone (yes, I have two mobile phones, it’s a valid lifestyle choice and people need to get over it) and I held him on that line while I battled Sky on the other.

‘Can you give me the last three digits of your bank account?’

So I tried the last three digits of my bank account, because when I set up Sky for my dad the payment came out of my account to start with. But that didn’t work.

‘The last three digits of your bank account, dad!’ I barked into the other phone.

Dad fetched his bank statement and read out the account from which the Sky payment had just been taken. But that didn’t work either.

Eventually, the Sky man agreed to identify me by taking a post code and date of birth. I gave my father’s details, which seemed to work. Then he said, ‘So, you’re Maurice Kite?’

I had gone too far. If I said no, the entire call would be wasted and he would insist my dad rang himself. And my dad would never manage it. So I took a deep breath and said, ‘Ugh-hurrr…?’

‘You are Maurice Kite?’ ‘Ugh-hurrr…?’ Then I said, ‘Maw-ree-say Kite. Maw-reee-say.’ The well-known French girl’s name.

Whereupon, after a doubtful pause, he agreed to send the first available Sky engineer to my parents’ house — in two weeks’ time. So we had to watch the small kitchen telly with the rubbish ‘freeview’ on Christmas Day after all.

And my comeuppance didn’t stop there. Because after ringing Vodafone last week to complain about the mysterious £100 data charge on my iPad — which they have since refunded but can’t explain — I was told that something else had sent my December bill into the stratosphere, making it £300 in total.

‘It seems you dialled Orange 118 000 on the 24th of December and they put you through,’ said the Vodafone lady, ‘and you were charged £5 a minute for that 26-minute call. That’s £134.08 with VAT.’ Great balls of fire.

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  • Suleiman

    118,000 ? I thought you were talking about the salary of an average corrupt and dishonest Employment Judge !

  • Mike Lothian

    Ever since 192 was disbanded and made into “more simple and competitive” 118xxx services the costs have sky rocketed from 20p per call (free from public payphones if you remember what they were) to ridiculous charges for connection, then per minute then extra charges if they put you through.

    Long live Google is all I can say – the cheapest and easiest of all the directory enquiries