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Payphone Money-Harvesting Scam

Payphone jammed up? It takes your money but it won't let you make a call, and it won't give you your money back? Chances are it's been cunningly vandalised by means of the Payphone Money-Harvesting Scam. But don't worry! Here's a method by which you can get your money back, do everyone else a favour, and fight crime too!...

Phonebox vandals generally don't make a profit, and usually have to be content with the satisfaction of mucking things up for other people. But now there is a scam by which they can cunningly vandalise a phone box so that you lose your money and later they can come back and collect it! Yes, it's true - public payphones are being turned into moneyboxes for thieves!

If you find a payphone takes your money and you can't make a call and it won't give you the money back, here's what to do:

Check if the coin return chute is jammed? Check it carefully. Look at it from underneath. Look for a small plastic PEN of the type used at the Bookies! This is what's holding the slot jammed shut/open. Also check for jammed buttons on the keypad, usually with a matchstick end crammed into the edge of the button. This combination of sabotage is something which thieves do to exploit a minor weakness in some BT public payphones.

If you find a phone that's been mistreated this way, here's what you can do: The first thing to do is to release the pushbuttons. This is possible by insertion of a pin around the edge, and/or a persistent flicking action (you press the button in and slide your finger off the key so it suddenly flicks out). After a minute or two of this, it's generally possible to release the stuck-in keys.

Having released the keys, you can now make a call. Your first call is to the operator, who will give you your money back by sending you a free phonecard, and will report the faulty phone to the engineers who will be able to check it over.

Next, you can attempt to get your money back YOURSELF. (At your own risk be it! See warnings paragraph below!) This requires a medium-to-large screwdriver and some courage. Be careful not to damage the phone when doing this, but payphones are quite tough, and the procedure can be accomplished without damage to the phone if you are careful. Use the screwdriver to attack the small pen which is inside the reject slot. (You must not damage the phone!). The small pen is made of plastic and can be prized out by leverage from behind it. Upon release of this, your cash (and any other cash from people who have also fallen victim to the scam) will be forthcoming from the slot! (If you are of the ultra-honest persuasion and feel bad about some of this loose change being other peoples' money, give the excess to a worthy charity of your choice!)

WARNINGS: The courage element of the procedure is required as your actions may be interpreted by honest onlookers as if you are the phone vandal! Plus, if the crooks just happen to be about and see you collecting money they regard as THEIR money, they may be none too happy about it. Still, you're holding a screwdriver, so they might not raise any objections. Another important thing to consider as a possible reason for NOT using the screwdriver method, is that some payphones are under surveillance and some have CCTV. This means that if you attempt innocently to get your money back you could be caught by authority figures and accused of vandalising the phone and/or perpetrating the scam in the first place! So, best not to try it, eh? ... I always wonder about these things, because if CCTV is so good at catching YOU and condemning you for a crime you didn't commit, I wonder why it's not so good at catching the crooks. Also, CCTV surveillance? When you're making a private phone call? Decide for yourself if this is an invasion of personal privacy. Also see Libertarianism

Also, check any nearby phone boxes too, as the crooks try to plug any holes in any group of phones.

Now let's be honest about it, not every phone customer is willing to fight crime with a screwdriver, so let's look at some softer approaches which are nearly as effective: Firstly, what NOT to do is to just say "oh shucks" and leave the vandals to get on with it. You MUST get your money back, however small the amount. That way, the phone company will do the fighting for you. If you let criminals get away with even a few pence, it will encourage more trouble in future. So, here's the details of the "softer approach" to the same problem:

Before using a payphone, make sure the reject slot is not jammed. The official BT policy on this is to put a 2p piece* in and see if you get it back. You can also check the pushbuttons are working before putting money in. Also, if you lose money in a payphone, make a note of the callbox number and at some later time report the incident to the operator from another phone. This will get your money back by a free phonecard and also the phone checked by the engineers.

One of the things you should definitely do is to inform the payphone operating company (not just for your own sake, but to stop other people becoming victim to the scam, and to help to fight crime. Crime fighting doesn't have to all be an authoritarian notion where Big Brother is Watching You, but is a matter of public-spiritedness and the common good where we the honest folk look out for ourselves and each-other.

Here's even more information, sent in by a helpful contributor: Thanks!

If a customer wants to report a fault, damage or dirty kiosk or a jammed money chute, then they will need to contact the involved operating companies:

Street kiosks:

BT: 100 or 0800-252-639 or payphones[put an "at" symbol here]bt.com

BT: 0800-661-610 (UK)

Spectrum Interactive previously known as New World and NWP Spectrum:

Spectrum Interactive: 0800-211-299 (UK)

If a customer has lost money and would like a refund sent to them, then they can write to:

Spectrum Interactive, Freepost 668, Hemel Hempstead,Herts HP2 4WA, with a letter containing payphone details and full details of the problems experienced.

Or if they manage to get through to a customer service advisor at Spectrum, then they will connect your call for free as a refund.

Cable and Wireless Guernsey: 01481-700-700 (UK)

Managed payphones: (These are shopping centres,hospitals and hotels etc...)

Premier Managed Payphones (Infolines Premier): 0800-132-912 (UK)

4 Kiosk Solutions (Central payphones/Infolines public networks): 0845-652-1001 or enquiries[put an "at" symbol here]4kiosksolutions.co.uk


If a user is unsure of what to do and needs some advice on who to contact or wishes to make a complaint, then they should contact ofcom: contact[put an "at" symbol here]ofcom.org.uk or 0845-714-5000 - EDITORIAL NOTE: I HAVE CONSIDERABLE RESERVATIONS ABOUT THE EFFECTIVENESS OF OFCOM!

* Payphone customers should always check to see if a money chute is jammed by putting a 2p coin inside a payphone and if it doesn't drop through then it is jammed.

This should not be tested with 5p coins in Premier payphones since some payphones take 5p coins! These are the only payphones that take 5p coins. - EDITORIAL NOTE: This sounds all very well, but remember that even if you lose a two pence piece in a payphone, that will be a further small donation to the thieves! There are better ways to test it, honestly!

Also, even though I say WELL DONE to the payphone companies for trying their best to help, and I'm sure they are sincere, you have to be realistic and understand that most people aren't going to go to the trouble of putting their complaint in writing some time after the event.

My advice is to phone the company and go for an instant refund! (make a note of how effective this is at different companies). Incidentally, when putting in a complaint, be nice to the people at the other end of the line! It's not their fault, you know! How To Complain

Also see advice on good practice when complaining, general helpful advice about phones, and a list of phone companies