Vodafone, Orange and O2 rapped for letting down victims of fraud


BBC’s Watchdog slams operators after thieves cost holidaying customers thousands of pounds

BBC show Watchdog has accused O2, Vodafone and Orange of not doing enough to protect customers when their mobile is lost or stolen.

It accused the networks of not identifying unusual or fraudulent activity on a customer’s account, resulting in higher than normal bills, when thieves make calls abroad on stolen handsets.

O2 customer Lori Parsons told the show she spends £60 a month on average but received a bill of £5,628.80 after her phone was stolen on holiday in South Africa.

Parsons claimed she tried to contact O2 by phone but couldn’t get through, so instead reported the theft to the police. However, O2 insisted she was still liable for the charges to her account because she didn’t report the theft until she returned to the UK.

O2 agreed to reduce the bill by half but added an early disconnection fee and legal costs to the bill, meaning Parsons still owed £3,700.

But in a statement to Watchdog, the operator said it had proactively blocked Parsons’s account when it suspected her phone had been lost or stolen. It claimed not to have had contact from her until two weeks later but cleared her account of the outstanding sum and apologised for any inconvenience caused.

Vodafone customer Susan Williams said she spends £30 a month on average, but received a bill for £1,512 after her SIM card was stolen in the Philippines.

As she was in a remote area of the country, she wasn’t able to report the theft by phone so instead did so on Vodafone’s official online forum from an internet cafe.

However, the response from Vodafone was to buy a new SIM card for £5 from a local shop. Williams reiterated that she needed the SIM card to be blocked, but the operator claimed it never received this request.

In a statement to Watchdog, Vodafone said there had been a delay in Williams making contact with it but acknowledged there had been confusion. It offered her a 20 per cent reduction on the original bill, taking it to around £1,210.

Orange customer Rob Leetman, who was spending £50 a month on average with the operator, received a bill of £1,243.67 after his phone was stolen and thieves made over 450 calls to France and Algeria.

Leetman claimed he tried to contact the operator several times by phone but each time found himself on hold for up to 20 minutes and so hung up. He also claimed Orange failed to spot the unusual activity on his account.

EE, the combination of Orange and T-Mobile, said it sympathised with Leetman and had offered a resolution. It said: “We have robust systems to protect customers from fraud and will often identify stolen handsets before they are reported.”