There is a new Telstra scam affecting what appears to be its older customers. We are not sure of the endgame, but scammers are going to great lengths to get customer information perhaps to use for ID Theft.

It all started when my wife’s aunt rang me in a panic, saying Telstra was going to cut her phone off. I have Power-of-Attorney (POA) for her, and so it was up to me to get to the bottom of the issue. My immediate reaction was that it must be a Telstra scam.

After she calmed down – after all she has been a Telstra customer all her long life with the same phone number for decades paying the same quarterly bill – it became evident that some sort of Telstra scam was going on.

It appears that sometime earlier this year she received a fake letter purporting to be from Telstra. It stated her service was to be cut off because Telstra (the scammer) was unable to verify account holder details.

Telstra scam

Instead of bothering me, she rang the 1800 number provided and gave her full name, date-of-birth, service address, account number, last bill amount and how paid.

That was enough information to con the real Telstra.

It accepted a cancellation order from the ‘Estate of Mrs XXXXX’ and then opened up a new account using those details. Presumably, then the scammers could make expensive international calls and rack up charges that my Aunt would be expected to pay!

Co-incidentally, the real Telstra, rang my Aunt’s number to confirm the cut-off and transfer, and she answered – miraculously back from the dead. I have taught her well to avoid phone and door-to-door scams, so she said she didn’t believe a word the caller was saying. However, the caller – Shiraliee – gave her the legitimate Telstra call centre number 13 22 00 and an SRI (incident number) and asked her to call back or her service would be cut off.

Oh no, not Telstra’s faceless and useless Philippines call centre again

Regular readers will know of my trials and tribulations with Telstra (still not resolved but hopefully closer) and the hundreds of hours wasted repeating information to its largely useless, incompetent, but pleasant Philippines call centre. So I called, played keypad lotto and after some time – “Telstra is experiencing an unusually large number of calls at present” – was put through.

The male assistant was all cheery but spoke so fast and so poorly that all I got was gobbledygook. I politely requested he transfer me to someone who spoke more slowly and clearly, and miraculously he slowed down to a staccato pace, and communication was ‘mostly’ established.

After explaining the issue, explaining my Power-of-Attorney role, giving my Aunt’s name, address, DOB and more, the SRI number and being on the phone for 15 minutes he announced that the Complaints officer would have to call me back and would do so within 48 hours. So why did it take 15 minutes to tell me that? He had enough information after three minutes.

Telstra scam
Definition of the Telstra faceless Phillippine’s call centre – hell lets be charitable – all of Telstra!

Then later, miraculously I got a call from Shiralee, but it was from a Western Australia (08) number and that in itself was perplexing. I went over the whole issue again and found that Shiraliee (Telstra) could not deal with me as they had no record of my POA.

I explained that I had sent Telstra a certified hardcopy in 2012 and an emailed PDF copy in early 2017 when I wanted to change my address.

“Sorry, we don’t have it on file. If it was that long ago it’s likely the new computer system does not have a copy on file,” she politely said. “We can’t deal with you, but let me talk to my supervisor Leo and see what we can do.”

By that time, no amount of politeness could stop me retorting. “Look, my aunt has been a long term customer, she did not request a cancellation, and all she wants is a peaceful life. I am not asking for anything more than that – I don’t want to transfer control or set up a new address.”

Leo came on the line and explained that without the POA they could do nothing, and my wife’s aged Aunt would have to ring and approve my calling on her behalf. I think I uttered a swear word or three and again explained that all she wanted was the status quo! Was that so hard? Well, there was another 30 minutes wasted.

Now the original hard copy POA is long filed somewhere, probably back in my home state, but as luck would have it, I found the 16 January 2017 email to Telstra with a PDF copy. I resent it to Team.Telstra.com and waited.

Shiraliee called back some time later and said she had the POA and could talk to me.

It was then that she said that a finalisation bill had been sent to the “Estate of Mrs XXXX” at an address unknown to me and the call to the number was just a courtesy call to advise the cut-off.

We fixed that, and hopefully, my wife’s aunt will have uninterrupted service. At that stage, I had spent nearly an hour on the phone, listened to my frantic aunt and my blood pressure (which is usually low) was on the boil at the difficulty to simply retain the status quo.

I asked for some compensation – not for my time which as POA I give freely – but for my Aunt’s angst. Leo came back on the line, and it was a cat and mouse game where he asked how much I expected and I said it was up to him to make an offer which I may or may not accept or go to the Telecommunications Ombudsman. We settled for a token credit.

GadgetGuy’s take: Why is Telstra so hard to deal with?

It seems to me that the useless, faceless Philippines call centre focuses on handling “larger than expected” phone traffic in as short a time as possible using poorly scripted solutions and not really caring if that solves the issue – you can always call back again and lodge a new incident.

Shiraliee and Leo were empowered to do something, but in my case, the absence of a POA on file (that I had sent twice before) slowed things down.

Now, I am a reasonable and logical man and patient to the nth degree, but my patience wears thin where incompetence or unreasonable obstacles are placed in the way of a resolution. Sure, Telstra was protecting my Aunt’s interests, but then some other Telstra department had been conned by a scammer into finalising her account and taking it over!

Telstra talks the talk but does not deliver.

Telstra scam
Motherhood statements are just a lot of hot air!

So my message to the elderly, infirmed or those incapable of handling their own affairs is to appoint a trusted POA quick smart to avoid being ripped off.

Now let me tell you about those damned itinerant Irish roof repairers that are ripping off vulnerable people as well…

The Channel 7 report is here.