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.
- Put a passcode on both the handset and SIM card of your phone to make it more difficult for thieves to use.
- If you are charged for unauthorised calls you should try and negotiate with the network and see if they will reduce the bill.
- 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.
- Contact your phone provider to block all calls made to premium- or international-rate phone lines from your mobile.
- 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.
- If your phone has been stolen, report it to your mobile phone network straight away!
- Also report a theft to the police as soon as you can.
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
These ANONYMOUS cases are all taken from the UK-wide consumer helpline that is jointly run by Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland. (That helpline number is 03454 040506).
NB On this occasion we do not have the locations of any of these clients, and nor do we have any who are willing to be named or do interviews.
- One family’s attempt to stay in touch with their son whilst he volunteered for a charity project in South Africa turned into a nightmare when the SIM card they bought for him was stolen. They were hit by a bill of £3,000 and had to take money from another of their sons to pay, when debt collectors got involved.
- Just as his time working in Ibiza came to an end one student had his phone stolen and was horrified when he was told he had to pay around £5,000 for calls made by the thieves. His provider had only texted the stolen phone to say how much was owed.
- One man was seriously ill when his phone went missing and was unsure if it had been lost or stolen. The £1,000 bill that had been run up on it put him into real financial difficulty.
- One consumer was pick-pocketed on their first night on holiday in Spain. They tried repeatedly to speak to the provider’s customer service team but were unable to report the loss due to being cut off each time, with the cost of these phone calls adding up. When the consumer returned home the provider insisted they pay the full amount, which was over £600.
- One person whose phone was stolen in Barcelona found that the thief had run up a £4,800 bill on roaming charges alone.