Is there anybody there? Tap once for yes!
Ghoulish goings-on are rarely popular but what about if you were charged for calls from
an empty house?
While making repairs to the outside of his premises workmen accidentally disconnected
the phone line. Though he was aware of the problem Mr Carrington decided not to tell
the phone company about the problem until the repairs to his house were complete.
When the phone bill arrived he noticed that it included charges for calls made during the
time that the line was cut. With Halloween approaching he became concerned that he
was paying for some demonic discourse and contacted the company to complain.
The phone company made an investigation into the complaint and arrived at conclusions
that Mr Carrington was unhappy with. He contacted Ombudsman Services for help.
The phone company insisted that they had been dialled from the line, but Mr Carrington,
dismissing ghoulish goings-on, could not see how this was possible.
The calls were almost all of short duration; some were to the speaking clock, but all the
rest were to local numbers. There was no obvious calling pattern by time of day, and
indeed some calls were made in the early hours of the morning. Almost all of the
numbers contained no digit higher than “5”, and around half of the digits were the
number one. Many numbers were sequences of low digits, for example 123, 111333,
221111 etc. The ombudsman recalled a complaint he had handled a few months earlier
where, upon investigation, the phone company discovered that a flood had shorted the
telephone wires and caused digits to be dialled without human intervention. The calls in
both cases had common characteristics.
The ombudsman considered the possibility of poltergeists but took the view was that the
almost complete absence of digits above “5” meant that it was unlikely that the numbers
had been dialled by a person or a spirit; such number sequences would be highly
unusual. There were periods of days or even weeks without calls being made, and the
ombudsman concluded that these gaps might have coincided with relatively dry
conditions where the bare ends of the line were not dipping in water. His view was that
the bare wires, left exposed and in wet groundwater conditions, perhaps rippled by wind,
could cause connections to be made and broken. Although most handsets now use tone
dialling, telephone exchanges still recognise digits sent out by old handsets, which are
simply a series of short disconnections. It would be unusual, in such circumstances, for
large digits to be dialled, which is probably why no out of area calls were made, which
would need an area code starting with “0”. Many thousands of digits may have been
“tapped out”, but of course only those sequences which made a valid telephone were put
through and billed.
In making his decision the ombudsman concluded that though this was an unusual
explanation, it was the most likely. The phone company had already offered a small
financial award and an apology for the way the complaint was handled, and to credit the
cost of some calls. The ombudsman concluded that Mr Carrington should still pay for
some call costs because it was his action that caused the problems. Both Mr Carrington
and the phone company got an explanation of the most likely cause of the problems.
The moral of this story – let the company know as soon as a problem occurs, you never
know who, or what, may be trying to make contact!