Yourtel ‘fraud’ receives paltry €66,000 fine

Cantillon: Telco gets just a slap on the wrist for what amounts to serious criminal behaviour

Telecoms watchdog Comreg is   constrained legally to prosecuting certain regulatory breaches in the District Court, limiting the penalties that can apply

Telecoms watchdog Comreg is constrained legally to prosecuting certain regulatory breaches in the District Court, limiting the penalties that can apply

 

Regulation really only works when the regulator has teeth. So what are we to make of Yourtel and the €66,000 slap on the wrist it received on Monday for what Dublin District Court Judge Flann Brennan described as “deceit and fraud” in the Irish telecoms market?

The German telco had been deliberately targeting older, often vulnerable, customers in rural Ireland with the offer of cheaper landline calls if they switched from Eir to Yourtel.

However, in many cases the company did not even bother transferring the service away from Eir before billing the customer.

When upset consumers queried why they were being double-billed by Eir and Yourtel for the one landline service, they were told by Yourtel that this couldn’t happen. When it persisted and customers understandably stopped paying their bills, they were threatened with legal action and had their bills handed over to debt-collection agencies.

‘Virtual number’

Some customers thought the company was part of Eir because it used a “virtual number”to hide the fact it was ringing from outside the country and because fast-talking sales people began their unsolicited pitches by talking about the customers’ Eir account details, which raises additional data protection issues.

Nonetheless Judge Brennan only applied a €750 fine to each of the 88 charges to which the firm had pleaded guilty. He could have applied a maximum of €5,000 to each charge, hitting the company with a heftier €450,000 fine, but refrained.

Apart from the verbal censure, Yourtel, which is part of a much bigger telecoms outfit with operations in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, got off remarkably lightly for what amounts to serious criminal behaviour and frankly immoral sharp practices.

Telecoms watchdog Comreg is to be commended for bringing this disgraceful conduct to book, but must be disappointed with the paltry size of the fine. It is, however, constrained legally to prosecuting certain regulatory breaches in the District Court, limiting the penalties that can apply.

If ever there was an argument to give Comreg powers to impose its own “administrative fines”, which is afforded telecoms regulators across the EU, Yourtel provides it.