P.S. I'll find my phone. Who took my phone.
June 27, 2008 2:44 AM   Subscribe

UK phone fraud: Someone stole my phone and rang up £3000 of calls to Nigeria. The phone company says it's my fault for not keeping tabs on the phone and I have to pay it. Is there anything I can do?

I'm with O2. I got the phone with my 12-month contract but hadn't been using it, because I preferred the usability of my old Pay-As-You-Go Nokia... so when the new phone went missing on 18th May I didn't notice. I made a call on 18th (Sunday) and then the thief started making calls on 19th, continuing until 23rd May. In that time they made 60 hours of calls, some to Nigerian numbers, some to UK mobiles and landlines.

I discovered what had happened last night when I got a notice that O2 had tried to take £3,042.86 out of my account (it bounced, because I don't have the money). I called them up for advice and they told me I was liable for the whole amount as "we expect customers to contact us as soon as they realise their phone has been stolen," and that I'd have to pay it back within 6 months. The best they could do was refer me to a debt collection agency who would offer longer payback terms with less to pay per month. I told them I'd have to talk to the police before I committed to anything like that.

I phoned the police, who took the details and said they'd pass them on to the phone investigation team. However, the operator seemed pretty ambivalent about whether they'd give me a crime reference number as "the question is, why didn't you notice the phone was missing?" At this point I thought the phone must have been taken around the start of June and told her as such. Now they're supposed to get back to me in the next 72 hours.

After that I phoned O2 again to ask them to send me a list of calls, and to check whether they'd barred the phone, which they had. I checked my statement online and saw the details about the calls that I listed above.

So: Is there anything I can do about this? Am I really liable for this fraud? Surely it wouldn't be the case if this was a credit card. Is there some regulating body I can complain to? Should I talk to a lawyer? Just refuse to pay up? Or am I screwed? I can barely afford this, and that's assuming they give me a long payment term without much extra interest to pay.
posted by Drexen to Law & Government (24 answers total)
"we expect customers to contact us as soon as they realise their phone has been stolen,"

which, in fact, you did. I say don't pay. You didn't make the calls. Let them chase the phone thief.

In Australia, we have a Telephone Industry Ombudsman who deals with this kind of thing if no agreement can be reached by other means. You're also in a civilized country, so I imagine you'd have something similar.

Best of luck.
posted by flabdablet at 3:03 AM on June 27, 2008

Here you go. And it looks like O2 is covered.
posted by flabdablet at 3:10 AM on June 27, 2008

Thanks guys, looks like I'll have to make a complaint to O2, and then to Otelo if that doesn't work out. At the least it'll buy me some time to try and raise some cash in case of the worst case scenario.
posted by Drexen at 3:26 AM on June 27, 2008

You might want to speak with your Citizen's Advice Bureau or a solicitor. But the O2 pay monthly agreement makes it pretty clear that you are liable up to the point where you report the loss (paras 5.4, 5.6 of the Services Agreement; 4.1 of General Terms and Conditions). The Office of Fair Trading seems to have regarded such terms as fair in the past.

Follow the O2 internal complaints procedure that flabdablet linked before going to Otelo. It gives you more bites at the apple—every stage might have someone who is willing to reduce the charge. And if you don't get the result you want from Otelo you can go a further step and complain to Ofcom.
posted by grouse at 3:28 AM on June 27, 2008

Otelo won’t look at any cases that are less than 12 weeks old

Its unlikely you'll get away with not paying the bill. Its your word vs theirs on the fact that you didn't make the calls. O2 really aren't at fault here, they provided the service as per your contract, its not their fault you didn't know that your phone was stolen over a month ago. The phone company is only liable to pay for calls made after you report the theft to them. Its not their fault that you lost your phone or that you didn't report it until over a month after the event.

The best you could realistically hope for is a reduction in the bill, the phone company would rather recover some of the cash than not get it at all, or have to go to court to get it etc.

This article is about Orange customers but still relevant - Naomi Kendall was contacted by Orange-appointed debt collectors who demanded she pay a £5,000 bill run up by thieves who stole two Orange SIM cards from a company desk. She and her husband Simon, who run a small arts-development business from a shared office, were unaware that the SIM cards had been taken until their phones suddenly stopped working.... They appealed to the regulator Ofcom and were referred to an arbitration service, CISAS, which found in Orange's favour
posted by missmagenta at 3:47 AM on June 27, 2008

Thanks, grouse.

As a followup, does anyone know if I'm likely to have to start paying while I pursue the complaints procedure? Otelo say they won't review complaints less than 12 weeks old, should I hold out until then, or should I start paying if they demand it? i.e. would that indicate some kind of concession towards them? I'll check in with the CAB/solicitor as well, when I'm able.
posted by Drexen at 3:50 AM on June 27, 2008

In the meantime you might want to move to Virgin Media, they cut your phone off if you go above an agreed credit limit. You can also get insurance that covers fraudulent calls (make sure it covers the period before you report it to the phone company, anything else is a scam since the phone company should cut you off once you report it).
posted by missmagenta at 3:51 AM on June 27, 2008

missmagenta : Its unlikely you'll get away with not paying the bill.

Ah, ok. Well, I'll give it a go, and try to reduce it at least.
posted by Drexen at 3:52 AM on June 27, 2008

Be careful about what you do with your final demands. The mobile phone companies have absolutely no problem with trashing a persons credit rating. Open and reply by letter or email to all demands they send. Make sure you stay in contact with them. If they start getting heavy (e.g. final demand), and you can afford it, you should pay them a bit of the outstanding amount, but mark your bill as being "paid under protest", and make it clear that you're paying as much as you can.

Also, agreed that you need to see the CAB or a solicitor. Especially, considering the large amount of money involved.
posted by seanyboy at 3:57 AM on June 27, 2008

Check your renter's or homeowner's insurance policy.
posted by three blind mice at 4:11 AM on June 27, 2008

If you don't pay your bill on time, they may charge interest at 2% above HSBC's base rate, and administration fees (para 5.3).
posted by grouse at 4:22 AM on June 27, 2008

My instinct is that you're out of luck. My partner had her (UK) phone stolen 6 months ago, and reported it immediately to her carrier, T-mobile. About £2000 of calls to Algeria appeared on her next bill. She pointed out to T-mobile that these had taken place after she had reported the phone missing (and hence it would have been possible for T-mobile to block the phone and prevented the fraud). They agreed and took the charges off. As your calls took place before you reported the loss, the reverse applies.

However, it's probably worthwhile to negotiate with them and see if you can reduce the amount. But you'll have to pay something.
posted by outlier at 4:26 AM on June 27, 2008

If you're a subscriber to Which? I believe they have a group that acts on behalf of its subscribers for situations like this, it might be worth looking into. If nothing else, they have a section on mobile phones that could be useful, including where to complain.

From your question it looks like it was 5 days the phone was missing without you noticing - to me that seems an arguable time period with the mobile phone company, surely people go on holiday, have a particularly hectic time at work, etc. for just five days. As others have said, don't just out-and-out not pay the bill but continue to try to negotiate with them and bring in third parties, you're not being unreasonable for the sake of less than week.
posted by ukdanae at 4:39 AM on June 27, 2008

From your question it looks like it was 5 days the phone was missing without you noticing

5 weeks not days. The phone went missing on the 18th of May and was reported on the 26th June.
posted by missmagenta at 5:11 AM on June 27, 2008

missmagenta : 5 weeks not days. The phone went missing on the 18th of May and was reported on the 26th June.

Yup, 5 weeks unfortunately, although it seems the thief only made calls for the first 5 days and then presumably dumped the phone.

Thanks again for all the advice so far, everyone.
posted by Drexen at 5:16 AM on June 27, 2008

£3,042.86 in calls to Nigeria from 19 - 23 May, and your carrier didn't notice? Really?

I'd consider taking this public - find someone who knows how to do PR and get on a TV show that deals with ridiculous corporate behavior.
posted by zippy at 5:21 AM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh sorry, I double-checked the dates but obviously wasn't being clever enough!
posted by ukdanae at 5:23 AM on June 27, 2008

I'd second zippy's suggestion, and point out that credit card companies are perfectly capable of spotting peculiar spending patterns and putting a halt to card usage, and the same should be true of mobile phone companies (there's no reason you shouldn't have it as an option that any call to a country you've not made before is refused and you're asked to call your company to authenticate for example). Any press coverage can only be in your favour, they may well drop the charges in favour of reducing the negative publicity, and it may well stop some other unfortunate person finding themselves in this situation in the future.
posted by edd at 6:29 AM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

zippy suggested: "find someone who knows how to do PR and get on a TV show that deals with ridiculous corporate behavior"

You could try Radio 4's You and Yours, they love this sort of story.

On television there's Don't get done, get Dom but I don't think I could bear to spend any time with that obnoxious little squirt, even with thousands of pounds at stake.

All the best of luck in resolving this.
posted by ceri richard at 8:01 AM on June 27, 2008

Along the lines of zippy and edd, paragraph 5.5 of the Services Agreement says "We will monitor usage of the Service via your account for the purpose of controlling our credit risk and your exposure to fraudulent usage." You might argue that they were negligent in monitoring usage to control your exposure to fraudulent usage, which the contract says they will do, not just may. Find your biggest bill to date. If it is even £100, then the charges are 30 times your biggest monthly bill in five days. Any reasonable monitor would recognize that spending this amount in five days to a country you've never ever called before was potentially fraudulent and should be investigated. By failing to do this they failed to hold up their end of the contract and you should not be liable for their negligence. You can offer (without prejudice) to pay only £100, because they should have cut you off after that point.

Well, that's an argument anyway. For £3,000, I would urge you to consult the CAB at the very least, and possibly a solicitor. It could be well worth your while if your liability could be reduced in half.

And get that crime reference number.
posted by grouse at 8:35 AM on June 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Several of the daily papers have a once-a-week section where they take up consumer complaints like this. For example, the Daily Mirror.

You could also contact Consumer Direct, who say that their number two most complained about thing is mobile phone service agreements, so they are probably in a good position to give advice.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:39 PM on June 27, 2008

This happened to me. Phone was stole by my daughter's classmate. He ran up a $1700 bill. T•Mobile held us liable. We pressed charges against the kid and the juvenille court made him pay. He paid $1000 or so of the total, but we've gotten no more. T•Mobile was horrible to work with. We're now with Verizon, although I doubt they'd be much better in the same situation. Good luck!
posted by unclejeffy at 2:17 PM on June 27, 2008

My o2 bill states I have a £160 "call credit limit before VAT". It might be worth finding out what yours is / was and if they let you exceed it?
posted by JonB at 2:47 PM on June 27, 2008

grouse : "We will monitor usage of the Service via your account for the purpose of controlling our credit risk and your exposure to fraudulent usage."

Wow, thanks again grouse (and everyone else!) I'm pretty terrible at dealing with stuff like contracts, so that's definitely a useful pointer. I actually never used more minutes than I was given for 'free', so £3000 is actually 150 times larger than my usual billing amount, £20. I've definitely got a clearer idea of how to proceed with this thing now, and if it's going unfavourably, I can start edging towards taking my sob-story to the media.
posted by Drexen at 5:35 AM on June 28, 2008

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