KAMPALA — In a move to neutralise conmen who masquerade as staff of telecom companies and deceive customers that they have won unspecified prizes, telecoms have introduced dedicated phone numbers to call their customers whenever they need to reach them.
Speaking at an event to mark World Consumer Rights Day on Monday, Ms. Dorcus M. Batwala, the General Manager – Customer Experience at MTN Uganda, said her company was set to begin popularising 0312120000 as their phone number for calling customers.
Airtel Uganda’s Denis Kakonge said theirs would be 0752600222.
This initiative is an industry response to widespread complaints about fraudsters who call random customers purporting to be from one of the telecom companies, and claiming that they have won a prize they need to pick up after following certain directives.
Sometimes the callers claim to be UCC staff, threatening to deregister customers’ phone lines unless they do as instructed. Customers who fail to see through the scam often end up losing money to the fraudsters.
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Commemorated every March 15, World Consumer Rights Day was this year marked with a multi-stakeholder discussion on Digital Safety at the Uganda Communications Commission Head Office. In line with COVID-19 protocols, the event at the office was a low-key affair but live television and online streaming ensured a big and engaged audience.
First observed in 1983, the World Consumer Rights Day aims to raise awareness about consumer rights, needs, and interests. Over the years, the occasion has become a focal point for activists demanding justice and fairness for consumers of various goods and services.
The Commission traditionally commemorates this event through week-long consumer awareness activities that culminate in what is dubbed the “Communications Consumer Parliament”, a televised multi-stakeholder interaction platform.
However, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, UCC was forced to adjust the consumer engagement strategy this year, hence the discussion of the topic, “Consumer Safeguards” in line with this years’ theme, “Empowerment for Digital Safety: Challenges and Lessons”.
The panel of stakeholders that led the discussion had UCC Ag. Executive Director Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo, Dan Marlone Nabutsabi, head of Uganda Consumer Action Network, Joseph Beyanga, Head of Radio at Nation Media Group, and Jimmy Haguma, Chief Security Officer, UCC.
The ED explained that the Commission is obliged by the Uganda Communications Act 2013 to protect consumers of communications services, with Section 5(k) of the Act specifically tasking UCC “to promote and safeguard the interests of consumers and operators as regards the quality of communications services and equipment.”
Ms. Kaggwa Sewankambo described technology as a double-edged sword, which despite its obvious advantages can be abused to the detriment of the consumer.
“Therefore, there is a need to mitigate the negative impact of unhealthy technology use by empowering consumers of digital services to make safe and healthy choices,” she said.
In that regard, the Commission undertakes sensitization of consumers about their rights and responsibilities, ensures compliance of operators with license obligations on customer care and consumer protection, addresses consumer complaints, and protects consumers against unfair business practices and counterfeit products.
To that end, UCC has developed a comprehensive consumer complaints mechanism, including the call-centre through which the Commission attends to hundreds of complaints and enquiries from consumers every single day.
Customers that are dissatisfied with their service provider’s response are encouraged to report to UCC through the regulator’s toll-free line 0800222777, the website http://www.ucc.co.ug or file their complaint at the Commission’s offices in Kampala, Masindi, Gulu, Mbale and Mbarara.
During the lively discussion that was moderated by Mr. Henry Kimera of Consumer Education Trust (CONSENT), and drew in participants from UCC’s regional offices, the panellists called on consumers to take charge of their personal digital safety.
Mr. Nyombi Thembo, the UCC acting Director Industry and Consumer Affairs emphasised consumer education, saying ignorance facilitates fraud.
“You can’t win a lottery in which you have not participated,” he said. Ms. Batwala expressed concern about customers that handle their SIM cards casually, while Mr. Haguma warned against forwarding of online content whose source is unknown