Sometimes we come across people so wrong, so sad and stupid that they can't even qualify for our Wanker of the Week award. After all, you do need a certain amount of hand-eye coordination to be a wanker. Or so we're told.
Kevin Waldrum from Loughborough is about three steps on the evolutionary ladder below your common-or-garden wanker, and frankly to pillory him by giving him the award would be cruelty to the dumb. So, very kindly and with immense sympathy and compassion, here is Kev's story ...
45 year old Kevin, a former security guard (so, presumably, unemployed) lost his girlfriend of two years and was lonely and upset. He saw on telly an advert for a premium-rate daytime chat line, so called up to find what it was like. “You ring up and there's all these options, they ask your name and sympathise with you”, he said.
Soon he was calling regularly, and throughout September, October and November last year felt able to speak to the girls about his heartache. He felt he had a special bond with one girl. “I was telling this girl Hannah about my previous relationship and how it had ended 18 months before and she told me that she was having problems with her boyfriend and it was all going wrong,” he explains. “Her and the other girls had a nickname for me, I was so well-known there. When I called up they used to say 'Loughborough Kev is on the phone'.”
Strangely he did not stop even when he received a Vodaphone bill for £19,333.63. He says “I was back calling them pretty much right away. They used to warn you when a call was coming to the end of the 20 minutes you were allowed, and then I'd just phone straight back”.
Reality finally struck when he received a second bill for £71,850.67. He complained to Vodafone. “Vodafone need shutting down because they're ripping people off left, right and centre,” he said. “I'm not putting all the blame on them but not even multi-millionaires would want to spend this much on a phone bill, surely, so why I have been allowed to go up to £91,000? I admit I rang these numbers and it's partly my own fault but the line should have gone dead before I started to incur such high charges. They must be taking millions from poor people like me. It has absolutely screwed my head up. I am so down, depressed, desperate and anxious over the whole situation. All I can think about from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed is, how am I going to pay these bills?”
God, your heart aches, doesn't it, for the poor man? What an ordeal, and all because of these heartless profiteering bastards at Vodaphone. Nothing to do with the chat line itself, of course, because no doubt they were offering this splendid shoulder-to-cry-on service purely in the spirit of compassion. Just like the Samaritans, really.
Waldrum says the stress of the bill forced him to visit his doctor, who put him on medication to control his stress. He now takes Diazepam for anxiety and Nitrazepam to help him sleep. But he said he will not be able to move on with his life until the situation is settled. He said: “I called Vodafone and they said they were going to investigate but I haven't heard anything since. It's been about six months of pure worry since then. I've been totally traumatised by it. I have realised now, I just think 'Why did I ever do that?' I have deep regrets over it now. Every time I see a Vodafone shop I start to feel physically sick and get a migraine and it makes me shake. I want people to be aware how it can destroy lives. They have ruined my life.”
Needless to say, Vodafone's version of the story is a little different. They say they barred Mr.Waldrum’s mobile phone for high charges, but he ordered a replacement SIM from a shop to allow him to carry on calling the premium lines. They do admit that they missed an opportunity to alert Mr.Waldrum to the higher costs at an earlier stage and following an investigation have cut his bill to £29,083.
A spokesman said: “By his own admission, Mr.Waldrum made calls to premium rate adult entertainment services more or less continuously over a period of two months until we suspended the services on October 21 when the total debt was £91,000. We had previously barred a phone used by Mr Waldrum on September 11 for high usage, but he got round this by requesting a replacement SIM card from a retail store, saying he had lost the original. He was then able to continue to build up debt.
“We cannot manage our customers' spending for them, but we will try to alert them to it if we are aware of an unusual high spending pattern. Looking back at the records, we can see that we could have alerted Mr.Waldrum on September 18. It can sometimes take several days for billing to register on our system, and by this time, his extreme use of premium rate services meant his bill was already £29,083. Since we missed the opportunity to alert him at this stage, we will waive the charges of around £61,000 incurred after this point as a gesture of goodwill. Mr Waldrum remains liable for charges of £29,083.”
But this isn't good enough for victim Kev. He says he will continue to fight against being held liable for the remaining amount, calling the offer 'rubbish'. “They should drop the whole lot,” he says. “They have to think about my health. This is not about money any more, it is about respecting people.”
It's odd, isn't it, how most of the poor victims you read about in the Daily Wail have some sort of ailment in addition to their victimhood? Mugged in the street? We ought to feel especially sorry for them because they have a bad leg and walk with crutches. Their little pussy cat's been stolen? They suffer from emphysema and varicose veins so someone ought to take pity and buy them a new kitty. Do crimes, accidents and misfortunes not happen to healthy people, then? When did you ever see a story about “Totally healthy man knocked off bike”?
So for sad old Loughborough Kev to be taking medications for his “condition” is just par for the course. It's a pity the doctor can't prescribe anything for terminal stupidity. Or maybe not ... maybe Kev's being just a tiny bit cunning here. He didn't have an ailment that would prevent him from working before, did he? And now he has ... so that's the benefits secured for years to come, then.
The GOS says: That's our society in a nutshell, really. Everything has to be someone's fault and that someone has to be brought to book. On the other hand, nothing's ever OUR fault, and allowances should always be made. No prizes for spotting the inconsistency.
Here's a little story from my own past. About 12 years ago, before I became quite as tech-savvy as I am now and was able to guard against it, my computer got infected with a piece of malware that began dialling premium-rate lines during the night without my knowledge. Which, if one might be permitted to say so, is bloody clever. Evil, but clever.
The first I knew of this was when I received a phone call from BT. The lady asked if I'd been calling premium-rate lines, and when I told her I hadn't, was able to explain what had been going on. She blocked my phone line so it couldn't happen again, and expunged all the charges from my account. I have never uttered a harsh word about BT since.
I've had similar experiences with credit cards, and have been particularly impressed by the way Halifax have taken the initiative in spotting possible fraud with my credit card number, contacting me and checking that it was indeed fraud, and then wiping off any debts. On one occasion they did all this when someone hacked my card and began using it for small amounts just to see if it worked. Halifax spotted that in short order, and spent a lot of time investigating and tracking the fraudster even though the amounts of money were tiny.
Large organisations like Vodaphone, BT, Amazon, credit card suppliers etc. get a pretty bad press, and this isn't always deserved. They are large organisations. They can't, with the best will in the world, offer each of us the kind of personal service we'd like and which we used to receive years ago. They have to design large, complex systems that work, and into which we have to fit, simply because there is no other way for certain aspects of our society and our economy to work – there are just too many of us.
All that said, for every case in which we hear that some individual has got across a large organisation and is kicking off about it, I feel there are probably four or five cases that never make the headlines, because the customer has been dealt with fairly, humanely and sensibly, and the organisation has managed to give as much personal service as we have any right to expect.
Several of you will now write in and tell me how you were ripped off by British Gas or Virgin Money or something so I am completely wrong. My answer will be that no, I am not wrong. I am right. Of course there are times when the interface between organisation and customer does not work as it should. There are certainly times when you have to scream and shout and make a fuss until things get put right. But there are lots of times – probably a vast percentage of the total transactions - when things work sweetly. And it's only right to acknowledge this.
What we also have to acknowledge is that poor old victim Kev didn't work sweetly, and never will. Maybe we ought to give him the title Wanker of the Week after all? It's probably the only thing he ever will win.
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