Customers of banks including Santander, Barclaycard and NatWest/RBS say it happens when they phone to activate a new credit or debit card.
They are put through to the firm Card Protection Plan (CPP) which tries to sell them insurance at the same time.
CPP admits some mistakes have been made but insists bank customers are not pressurised into buying its products.
One customer, Peter, from Cumbria, rang the number on his replacement Asda credit card, expecting to speak to Asda or Santander, which supplies the card on Asda’s behalf.
But the number was for Card Protection Plan Limited, which Santander and Asda had contracted to activate their cards.
Once the CPP staff member had activated his card, he made a pitch for Peter to buy identity theft protection insurance.
Peter declined, but he ended up getting it anyway as he told Radio 4’s Money Box programme: “The person I spoke to asked me if I wanted an identity theft protection product and I said no.”
However, when the customer checked his statement recently he discovered he had been billed for Â£83.99 for the product. When he looked at his statement for the year before more carefully, he realised he had been charged Â£69.99 then as well, putting him more than Â£150 out of pocket for a service he did not want.
Peter contacted Asda, but was told he needed to speak to CPP. CPP said it would listen to tape recordings of his conversation with the salesman and refund him if he clearly said he did not want the insurance.
But Peter was not willing to trust the company’s word on this and so phoned a government advice line: “Consumer Direct advised me to write a letter of formal complaint asking for the tape recording of the evidence.”
CPP could not find the recording and said the agent Peter had spoken to had now left the company. It offered to refund both fees.
Barclays, Barclaycard, NatWest/RBS and Yorkshire Bank have a similar contract with CPP.
Money Box has also heard from a Santander and a NatWest customer who said they too were signed up for ID theft protection insurance from CPP when they clearly said they did not want it.
One was offered a refund of the fee and compensation, the other requested his bank cancel the direct debit before any money was taken.
Money Box has also heard complaints from listeners angry about the methods CPP is using to try and persuade people to take up its products.
This month Mark, from London, rang the number on his Natwest credit card, expecting to have a short conversation with his bank.
He too ended up speaking to CPP and getting a sales pitch. He was shocked by its determination: “They just were relentless. I’d already said no several times. I could imagine people caving in.”
Asda told Money Box that since last year when Peter phoned CPP it has instructed the firm to stop pitching identity theft protection insurance to its customers
CPP confirmed to Money Box that the banks get a cut from every policy sold.
Barclaycard and NatWest/RBS said they approve all call scripts and monitor calls to make sure customers are treated fairly. Santander says it also monitors the service and says it believes the protection CPP offers is relevant and cost effective.
Shirley Woolham, a divisional director at CPP, admits some mistakes have been made when bank customers who contacted Money Box were billed for insurance they did not want.
She said: “We did listen to the calls identified and without question we did make a mistake.”
But she said bank customers were not put under undue pressure to buy policies: “We take our customer service activity very seriously.
“We ask the customer explicitly if they would like to entertain a conversation about ID theft. If they say no, we do not proceed with the call.”
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