December 12 2014
Stolen mobile phones and SIM cards continue to result in shock bills for their owners, according to Citizens Advice.
The organisation has revealed that victims are facing sometimes massive charges – in one case as much as £23,000 – as a result of their phones being used by the thieves, often to call premium rate or foreign numbers. A teacher from Wales recently received a bill for £15,000 despite having reported the theft immediately. The average bill in such cases, however, is £65, according to the regulator Ofcom.
Citizens Advice said that up to 160,000 people a year are being hit. It added that of all the cases it had dealt with this year, more than a third involved phones stolen in Spain, most of which were taken in Barcelona.
The organisation's CEO Gillian Guy has called for the cap to be introduced as soon as possible, saying: "The injustice of shock bills for phone crime victims must end."
A year ago the then Culture Secretary Maria Miller promised that such charges would be capped at £50 by Spring this year, but this has still not happened, as the government says it is waiting for the industry to agree the details. Ed Vaizey MP, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), says he is hoping to have a meeting with the industry soon, according to a government spokesperson. The mobile operators confirmed ongoing conversations with the government, Ofcom and manufacturers, but one expressed concern that a cap may mean some victims not bothering to report the theft. Currently, consumers are not liable for the cost of calls once they have reported the loss to their network provider. Citizens Advice said phone companies could do more to detect stolen handsets by monitoring calls to high-cost numbers.
Owners could do more
However, phone owners can also do more to protect themselves. Research from Get Safe Online shows that over half of mobile phone users do not have a password or PIN number for their device. This means that thieves could get far more than they bargained for. Not only do they have their hands on your physical device, but they also have all the tools they need to steal your identity via your apps and online accounts, and run up huge bills in your name. CEO Tony Neate said: “We need to start thinking of our mobile phones as more like a wallet, with lots of content inside that can also be stolen. Similar to when we cancel all our cards, we need to make sure we’re taking steps to protect everything that’s stored in our phones too. By far, the simplest thing to do is to put a PIN number on your tablet or smartphone. It might seem like an inconvenience at first but trust me, after a few days it just becomes second nature and it will save a lot of hassle in the long run.”
Owners should also ensure that security features such as those that enable handsets to be tracked, are enabled. A number of apps are also available that include features such as remote wipe and even taking a photo of the thief and sending it automtically to the owner, in the event of the device being unlocked.
Top tips from Citizens Advice
– Put a passcode on your phone and on your SIM card.
– Ask your provider to block calls to premium-rate or international numbers.
– Note down a contact number for your provider, in case you need to get in touch.
– Report your stolen phone to the network as soon as possible.
– Report thefts to the police.
– If you are charged for unauthorised calls, negotiate with the provider to reduce the bill.