Despite the attention focussed on the issue in recent months, 38 per cent of SMEs say that at least every other day they receive apparent misleading or deceitful approaches from companies trying to sell them telecom services.
The most extreme form of the practice affecting businesses is “slamming”, the practice where an order is placed to switch their phone service to another company without their consent.
The businesses most at risk from mis-selling and with the least resources to deal with it, are the smaller companies with less than five employees - 65 per cent of their owners or managers have experienced mis-selling.
Fifteen per cent of all businesses surveyed said they had become victims, locked into a contract that they believed had been mis-sold to them. On average, they were stuck with it for more than 18 months. With the time and hassle involved and any legal fees, the average estimated cost to the businesses affected was £791. Eleven per cent estimated it cost them even more - between £1,500 and £5,000.
Bill Murphy, managing director of BT Business, said: “Mis-selling is becoming increasingly significant as an issue for the UK’s SMEs, as increasing numbers find themselves falling victim to the underhand tactics of the less reputable firms in the telecoms market. This research confirms that the issue is not going to go away and businesses are suffering as a result.”
Many SMEs are now confident that they are more aware of mis-selling, 41 per cent say it is becoming easier to identify such calls. However, only 22 per cent of them provide briefing, training or written guidelines for staff on identifying mis-selling and 44 per cent have no process to identify rogue or mis-sold products or services.
The vast majority of small businesses - more than three quarters (78 per cent) - think that the telecoms industry should do more to protect them.
Murphy said: “It is the responsibility of everyone in the industry to work together to offer guidance and implement measures that will help safeguard SMEs from mis-selling practices.”
Gavin Dollin, head of National Partnerships at Business Link, said: “This research has identified a disturbing increase in the number of telecom services being mis-sold to small and medium sized businesses over the last year.
“Business Link fully supports BT's campaign to raise awareness of this issue amongst SMEs and advises all business to be aware of the impact this may have on their future growth and profitability. The advice available on bt.com is invaluable to help safeguard them against this worrying trend.”
The findings are part of a continuing BT campaign to raise the awareness of mis-selling with SMEs, and to help them to spot the warning signs when they are on the receiving end of mis-selling.