The Spanish watchdog FACUA Consumers in Action last month warned against returning missed phone calls from five African and eastern European countries.  The advice follows complaints of unexpectedly high bills after calling numbers left by businesses in Albania, Bosnia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria.

At the heart of the problem are private-sector companies which use high cost additional tariff numbers for their call backs.  These automatically charge the originating subscriber for the connection, and FACUA says that, while this could be regarded as unethical, it is not illegal.

The organisation says that anyone having fallen prey to the scam should advise their operator in writing and request an itemised bill which breaks down the cost of the rogue call.  The customer can then opt not to pay this part of the bill.

FACUA adds that Spanish law states that a telecommunications company is not allowed to cut off a customer who has contacted them to dispute a bill or who does not pay a charge relating to these additional tariff numbers.  So, even if the phone company then sends reminders, the customer should not be cut off for non-payment.

FACUA says the numbers to beware of are those beginning with international dialling codes 355 (Albania), 387 (Bosnia), 225 (Côte d’Ivoire, formerly the Ivory Coast), 233 (Ghana) and 234 (Nigeria).  It also advises consumers who routinely receive calls from these countries not to reply to numbers displayed which are not known to them.