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Victims of Phone Crime Could Be Losing £4 million a Year

12 Dec 2014

A lack of government protection could be costing victims of phone crime up to £4 million each year, UK-wide. That’s according to new analysis from Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland.

Our figures show that consumers across the UK who sought our advice this year could have saved £120,000 if bills from stolen mobile phones had been capped, as they are with stolen credit cards. Our analysis of Ofcom figures also suggested that as many as 160,000 people a year may be hit by shock bills from lost or stolen phones, and the total cost to these consumers could be around £4 million pounds. 

One year ago the UK Government and phone providers promised to cap bills from stolen mobile phones by early spring this year. Continued delays have led to people reporting charges from £160 up to £23,000 to our consumer helpline between April and November 2014; bills that could have been avoided if the cap was already in place. Thieves can rack up huge phone bills in a matter of hours after the phone or SIM card has been stolen, often by calling premium-rate phone lines. This can happen before the victim is even aware their phone is missing.

Whilst research commissioned by Ofcom put the average bill from lost or stolen mobile at £65, our research of our own clients has found that the impact can be much more.  Some victims are pushed into debt after being hit by bills of thousands of pounds. 

To protect consumers in extreme cases, we are calling for a cap of £50 on bills from stolen phones to be put in place by the UK Government and phone providers without delay. We are also urging all mobile phone users to follow our simple steps to help protect themselves in case their phones are stolen or lost. 

Margaret Lynch, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, says, 

“Many of us have had the unpleasant experience of losing our phone or having it stolen. We rely so much on our phones these days that it is always a shock, and we’re not always sure exactly what to do or who to contact. But our research today shows the need to act quickly to report the loss. Otherwise you could lose thousands of pounds. 

“We urge the government and phone providers to re-focus their efforts on taking actions that will protect consumers. And we also urge all phone-owners to take note of our Top Tips, so that you are doing all that you can to protect yourself from this situation. 

“Don’t forget if you do find yourself a victim of phone crime, you can always contact our Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06.”  

And Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice (England and Wales) says: 

“Victims of phone crime are at the mercy of financially devastating bills. Innocent people are being made to pay for phone bills run up by thieves despite a promise from phone providers and Government to cap costs. Demands to pay tens of thousands of pounds have pushed some victims of crime into the red. 

“The injustice of shock bills for phone crime victims must end. We are calling on the Government to stand up for consumers and cap bills from lost or stolen phones at £50 to protect the worst hit. Instead of waiting for victims of crime to get in touch, phone companies could improve their systems so they consistently check for tell-tale signs of theft, like a large number of calls to high cost phone lines.” 

Our TOP TIPS for all Phone-users to help protect themselves.

  1. Put a passcode on both the handset and SIM card of your phone to make it more difficult for thieves to use.
  2. If you are charged for unauthorised calls you should try and negotiate with the network and see if they will reduce the bill.
  3. If your phone is insured you may be covered for the cost of unauthorised calls made between you losing your phone and reporting it missing.
  4. Contact your phone provider to block all calls made to premium- or international-rate phone lines from your mobile.
  5. Make a note of the contact number for your provider and the IMEI number on the back of your phone, and store this note somewhere you can easily access.
  6. If your phone has been stolen, report it to your mobile phone network straight away!
  7. Also report a theft to the police as soon as you can. 

 

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