April Fool: You owe us money! How much? Not telling!

Note: For official invoice and billing responses use billing@exetel.com.au
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April Fool: You owe us money! How much? Not telling!

Post by MarkSnell » Tue Apr 02, 2013 10:05 pm

I guess I am taking the trouble to write because I am a long-time Exetel member, because I appreciate the value of the service, and because I am often recommending Exetel to my friends and colleagues, and helping them set it up. I like to see Exetel do a good job.

But sometimes I just shake my head and wonder.

Today was one of those days.

At lunchtime, I received the following email from Exetel billing (billing@exetel.com.au), presumably as authorised representative for our company account:
Payment for invoice dated 01/04/2013 was dishonoured by your financial institution today. Your service will be temporarily suspended and directed to portal page where you can make payment. Alternatively, please go to our secure members facility https://www.exetel.com.au/members/home.php to make payment. Exetel Billing If you have further concerns, please contact us with your reference number 229489. Financial hardship policy : http://help.exetel.com.au/pdf_files/Exe ... 8-2012.pdf
In other circumstances, I would have treated this as scam phishing junk mail, fraudulently attempting to extract money or private details from me to take advantage of me in another way.

However, this email purported to be from Exetel and was theatening to suspend my account, an account my work colleagues and I rely on for our business

I checked the member's account facility. There was no invoice for April 1, and my "Payment status" was listed as "ÖK". Nor had my access been directed to a portal page ... at least, it hasn't yet.

Was this Exetel's idea of an April Fool's Day joke?

Further, on checking our bank acount, there was no payment dishonored. The monthly deduction was shown as being processed and there was more than enough funds to cover it.

The email had no attached invoice, no link to the invoice itself and as you can see provided no details of the invoice within the body of the email. Apart from my name in the recipient field, it did not state who it was for. Its subject was only: "Payment was dishonoured". What account was it referring to? How much did I owe? What was the payment for?

I made the mistake of emailing Exetel to ask what it was about ("... contact us with your reference number 229489 ...") and got the following response:
Dear Mark,

Thank you for your e-mail.

Please resend your request/inquiry via the nominated email address with ten digit phone/service number. We will only reveal or discuss with the owner of the service once we are satisfied we have identified the person who is seeking information.

If you are unable to send the inquiry via nominated email address, please refer below.

To verify that you are the owner of account, please reply this email and answer below questions:

1. full name of account holder.
2. address of service.
3. monthly charge of service.
4. payment method used to pay your Exetel bill (direct debit/credit card)
5. last four digits of the bank account number/credit card.

Awaiting your reply.


Exetel Pty Ltd

I am not sure whether this was meant as another joke or whether the irony of the situation was just lost on billing staff.

How am I meant to be able to verify that I am "the öwner of the account" or "service", when I don't know (and Exetel refuses to tell me) which account or service they are referring to? I don't even know if the email is meant for me.

In most other businesses, it would be pretty simple to check who you have sent a letter of demand to and why, particularly if the reference number was at hand.

You could pretty easily tell whether the person who is responding is the person, or can speak on behalf of.the person, to whom the letter was addressed. Do the names match? Is the person the äuthorised representative"? Do the phone numbers and other details in the respondent's email footer match the details that are on file?

You could easily confirm whether or not the letter was a hoax.

You would be able to apologise to the enquirer if the demand letter went to the wrong person by mistake. Or you could confirm that an issue existed and provide details so that it could be sorted out with a minimum of fuss and, as a bonus, you would get your money more quickly!

Exetel seems to have forgotten that it was not me who initiated this conversation. It is they who should be substantiating their claim, not the other way around.

Apart from it being standard business practice in Australia to accompany a letter of demand threatening withdrawal of service with details of the alleged liability, I would have thought a little bit of common sense would have prevailed.

So, is this a hoax? Does a problem actually exist? .Am I the person they should be talking to?

... Or are they just not telling?

All the best


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Re: April Fool: You owe us money! How much? Not telling!

Post by Dazzled » Tue Apr 02, 2013 10:24 pm

Mark, I have no idea of Billing's activities, but if I had received a message like that I'd have disabled html in my mail client and looked both at the header and where the links went.

As to the business of identifying yourself when you contact them, every account has an email address nominated for Exetel contact, and you should always quote the phone number of the ADSL line. If you contact Billing some other way, it's for your protection if they ask for a few points of ID. Was the email sent to your nominated address?

Anyway if you don't get a reply from Billing promptly I'll refer the thread to them.

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Re: April Fool: You owe us money! How much? Not telling!

Post by udara » Tue Apr 02, 2013 10:58 pm

I have forwarded this thread to the Billing team leader , She will have a look at this and get back to you :)
To Log a fault ticket, please click Here or alternatively call Exetel VOIP numbers (02) 8030 1000 or 1300 788 141 (log faults 24x7)

Exetel Support Portal

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Re: April Fool: You owe us money! How much? Not telling!

Post by MarkSnell » Wed Apr 03, 2013 1:47 am

Dear Dazzled

Thanks for your help ... and for serving voluntarily as administrator of this forum. It's much appreciated.

While I agree with your explanation as a general principle for members initiating contact with Exetel, perhaps I haven't made my point clearly enough when it comes to people responding to private correspondence from Exetel.

So, by way of analogy ...

If I sent you (and only you) a Private Message through this forum, and you replied seeking more information from me in an attempt to resolve the matter, would you expect that the first thing I would do is suspect that you are not who you say you are, or that you are actually someone who has intercepted the message and is masquerading as you, and so give me grounds to demand ID? I don't think so.

On the other hand, if I had sent a message to the whole forum saying: "Would Dazzled please get in touch with me? There is a reward involved", I think the expectation can be anticipated to be quite different. I would imagine that most people responding would expect to have to demonstrate that they are, in fact, Dazzled.

I have not heard of anyone responding to a Private Message through this forum being asked to provide ID to establish that they are in fact the person to whom the private message was sent. Of course, they are that person or they would not have responded!

They don't and shouldn't expect to have to provide ID, unless there is something demonstrably wrong with the messaging system.

The only time that Exetel should be asking for proof of ID when sending a private message is when Exetel has no confidence that they have correctly addressed the message or when they have actually sent the same message to more than one person and are hoping the right person will come forward.

In either case, this implies that Exetel's messaging and administrative systems are inadequate and insecure, and gives us all good grounds to be worried about the security of any information we give to Exetel.

I prefer to think that this action, which you excuse as a protective practice, is nothing more than paranoid and thoughtless laziness that has become ridiculous. There is no logical justification for it.

No legitimate risk assessment could substantiate the practice, unless it could be shown that a significant proportion of people who respond to private correspondence from Exetel are not the addressee or a party who can adequately deal with it. .

Again, if this were the case, we would all have very good grounds to be worried.

I am quite concerned that either Exetel doesn't know who I am or they don't know who they have written to, and that either way they are not prepared to tell me.

All the best



Re: April Fool: You owe us money! How much? Not telling!

Post by Thushari » Wed Apr 03, 2013 1:16 pm

Dear Mark,

I have replied to your email today(email reference 6377306). Please refer the same and reply if you have further concerns.

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Re: April Fool: You owe us money! How much? Not telling!

Post by MarkSnell » Thu Apr 04, 2013 11:48 am

I have replied direct to Thushari, but for the information of those following this thread:

There is good news! I have been provided with the information, and have been able to sort out the payment. Everything now seems to be OK!

However, the situation was even more farcical than I imagined when I started this topic.

The notice turned out to be about payment for a second ADSL service we had ordered for our company.

We had not been notified that the service had been connected nor had we been provided with configuration or login details. The threat of "temporary suspension" was meaningless, because we did not have access to the service anyway. (The threat did not apply to our existing service as I had feared.)

So, even if we had been told which account the notice applied to, we would not have been able to view the invoice and take the recommended remedial action, because we were unable to set up the modem to be redirected to the payment portal and we weren't able to login to the account on Members' Facilities. (These details were were provided for the first time with the details of the account and the amount owing yesterday.)

When we wanted the second ADSL service, we were unable to order it through Members' Facilities, so we had to apply as though we were a new customer.

The application form gave no opportunity to nominate an "authorised representative" nor to associate this second ADSL service with the existing account, for which I was the authorised representative. The authorised representative can only be entered once you have access to Members'Facilities!

Without access to the Members' Facilities, there is no way of checking what the nominated email address is, either.

In this case, the nominated address turned out to be itmanager@(company domain name), which gets forwarded to my own address - mark.snell@(company domain name). Any replies from my address are from my personal company address by default.

It is not obvious in the email client which address the email was sent to and, at the time, I just didn't think about it. Why would I?

For me, this incident raises some broader questions which Exetel should address.


I am sure I am not the only person who is the authorised representative for more than one Exetel account or service, either in a personal or business capacity, nor the only one to have more than one service at the same address. When writing to customers, doesn't it make sense to mention which account/service you are referring to?

Without details, the notice is worse than meaningless and can be construed as threatening to withdraw one service on the basis of non-payment for another - very shaky legal ground, I would have thought, particularly when the threat implies putting a company's whole internet access in jeopardy.

Demands for money or notices of non-payment should be correctly addressed and provide details and remedies that can be actioned, giving a period of grace between the issue of the notice and the actual suspension of service.

I have been told that a period grace of 10 to 30 minutes is given. How adequate is this? Our email is only polled from the server every 15 minutes, already potentially beyond the grace period. Many corporate servers will not update mail more frequently than that.

Then the addressee has to be available to respond to it immediately.

Because the account detail was not provided and we had not been given configuration/login details, we had to contact Exetel Billing, who can only be contacted by email (not by phone).

We received the notice at noon. It could have been sent to us anything up to 15 minutes before this. It took us 30 minutes to investigate the payment history of our existing account and check with the bank for dishonoured payments before responding at 12:30pm. The grace period had already expired.

I challenge anyone to respond more quickly and meaningfully to such a notice than we did in the normal course of business.

Even if the grace period had not expired, It then took about another hour before a staff member answered with an acknowledgement of my emailed response, a further hour to be asked to resend the request, and more than 22 hours before the substance of the issue was addressed - all well beyond the 10 to 30 minute grace period.


The process of applying for an additional ADSL service should be available through Members' Facilities, so that new and existing services can be associated, ensuring that contact and authorisation details are consistent, and so that the services can be billed together.

A customer should be able to expect that authorities applying to one service will apply to all his services.

At the very least, an option to nominate an authorised representative and contact details should be available on the application form.


Verifying identity can be important, but surely this depends entirely on the context.

For example, does it really matter who pays a bill as long as the bill is paid? Do you really have to know whether the person has access to the account or not. Most companies (even Telstra) will allow anyone to pay an outstanding bill without requiring identity verification. This can be done online without any login. All that is needed is the account number, the amount and your payment details, which most companies supply in their letter of demand.

Further, as I stated previously, if a company (eg Exetel) sends a notice to a nominated email address, surely it is the responsibility and the prerogative for that email address owner to decide how to deal with it and to delegate the matter to someone else if he wishes. The possession of this notice is surely prima facie evidence of the person's right to deal with the matter.

When a greater degree of verification is required, there would seem a whole range of ways that this could be established - before challenging the customer for ID and account details.

For example, if the nominated email address is ITmanager@(domain name) and the title of the person responding is IT Manager, shouldn't that serve as an explanation for the response, even if the email was from the IT manager's personal email address?

Shouldn't the fact that the response was in the name of a company, that the domain names of both the nominated email and the respondent were the same, as well as the contact details, all be regarded as evidence of the credentials of the respondent?

Cross-checking of accounts held by the same customer would have shown that I am the authorised representative for the existing account, and hence the business, in dealing with Exetel. Is that too much trouble?

In this instance, ultimately, Exetel staff accepted my bona fides - "as clearly you work at the same business". This common sense approach should be adopted as standard practice - before challenging a customer for ID.


The fact that this notice was a new account for which configuration details had not been issued also highlights the fact that Exetel does not have an appropriate process for dealing with dishonoured payments on applications for new accounts and services.

This does not detract from the need to address the broader issues, but it is important that a meaningful unambiguous notice is sent to applicants for new services, particularly where they are existing customers.

The notice should provide an easy remedy that does not waste the time either of the customer or of Exetel staff.

The threatened consequences of not taking remedial action should relate to the service in question. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to state that "the service will not be connected", rather than to make a threat which implies another existing service will be "temporarily suspended"?

I hope Exetel will treat this as useful information with constructive suggestions and will take the comments on board, rather than simply defending existing practices.

Let's make Exetel even better!

All the best


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Re: April Fool: You owe us money! How much? Not telling!

Post by rukshani » Thu Apr 04, 2013 2:44 pm

Dear Mark,

Thank you for the valuable information/feedback and we can assure you that this will be escalated to the relevant teams in concern.

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Re: April Fool: You owe us money! How much? Not telling!

Post by James » Thu Apr 04, 2013 5:06 pm

we are redesigning our members area at the moment, and this will be a function available in it.

All future sms/email payment notificiatoins will have a reference in them.

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