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New cap on bills for stolen mobiles falls short

Phone being stolen

Should you have to pay for a bill that’s been racked up by criminals? The Government has reached a voluntary agreement with five mobile operators to tackle shock phone bills – we don’t think it goes far enough.

EE, O2, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone are to set a cap of £100 on your phone bill if you report your mobile lost or stolen within 24 hours.

Three has already introduced the cap, with EE planning to introduce the same within the coming weeks. O2, Virgin Media and Vodafone will follow with the new measures later this year.

Shock mobile phone bills

We’ve heard from people who’ve been served with bills costing thousands of pounds due to mobiles (and their SIM cards) ending up in the hands of criminals. Which? supporter Frances shares her experience:

‘[My daughter’s mobile provider] let a bill of £1,800 run up on my daughter’s stolen phone before they let us know. They are now harassing us for payment which we cannot afford.’

Although the long overdue cap will limit the impact of shock bills like the one shared by Frances, the measures still fall short of our expectations.

Why pay for fraud?

You might remember that we surveyed mobile phone users to find out whether they thought a £100 cap would be fair. A third of them said they’d find it difficult to cope with an unexpected expense of £100, and six in 10 didn’t think they should have to pay any of the costs arising from fraudulent use.

You don’t have to pay for the fraudulent charges made on stolen credit cards, so why should you have to with your mobile?

There’s another problem with the new agreement. You’re only going to be protected by the £100 cap if you report your phone lost or stolen within 24 hours. You usually have to do this over the phone…

Losing trust in mobile operators

This voluntary agreement is just another example of why people are fast losing trust in mobile operators. Add to this that three quarters of people are on the wrong mobile contract, and it’s a good thing Ofcom’s reviewing the mobile phone market.

Not only should it be easier to report a phone theft, we don’t think you should have to pay anything for fraudulent activity on your phone if you report it lost or stolen within 48 hours. We also think there should be an industry-wide plan to protect people from shock bills.

Has your mobile phone ever been lost or stolen? What type of response did you get from your mobile provider?


Not being a great user I converted to Pay as You Go years ago & I intend to stay that way totally limits unauthorised use! How are you supposed to inform them if you lose the phone? Does anybody remember their number if calling from a borrowed or friends phone? same problem with banks if you lose the card number is on the back of it.

Mobileman says:
23 March 2015

All mobile users should have a secret code that they can send to their stolen phone to ;
A) Disable the phone.
B) Delete all content including phonebook and pictures.
C) Locate the phone.
Some phones already have some of these features and the phone companies could introduce them across the board if they chose to. This would make phone theft a bit pointless and all of the stress caused to decent folk would not happen! Which should start a campaign to achieve this!

How does this prevent a thief from using a stolen SIM card? It’s the stolen SIM card that’s the issue here, not the stolen phone.

The emphasis should be on stolen SIM cards, not on stolen phones. The theft of a phone is irrelevant to the ability of thieves to use the SIM card. If the media reported the problem properly, i.e. that the theft of the SIM card is the problem, then consumers might understand better what they need to do to protect themselves.

I think that mobile networks should be liable for all usage on stolen SIM cards that they originally issued without the PIN enabled by default. In other countries, networks issue all SIM cards with the PIN enabled, often with a random PIN printed on the outer card containing the SIM card, and the problem of stolen SIM cards consequently has a much lower impact than in the UK. Note that this is completely separate from any PIN used to protect the data in the phone.

Imagine if debit and credit cards were similarly issued without any PIN protection until the customer enabled it. As a result of such a negligent practice, debit and credit card issuers would be held liable for all fraudulent usage in the event of loss or theft. Therefore when mobile networks issue SIM cards without any PIN protection enabled, why aren’t they similarly liable for all losses? As usual, Ofcom has done nothing to implement the obvious solution to this problem.

According to this Sky News article, “Kip Meek, of EE, said: We advise customers to protect their phone as they would their wallet and make full use of the security features, including SIM lock“. If EE advises customers to make full use of the security features, including the SIM lock, why doesn’t it enable the SIM lock by default? EE’s failure to do so is negligent, as are all other UK networks’ failure to do so.

The proposed £100 liability limit is only tackling the symptom and is not tackling the cause. Can Which please campaign to have SIM locks enabled by default?

NFH – Thank you for shedding much light on the problem. Without your posting I would be unaware that it is the SIM card that is the relevant area of concern.

I hope and indeed trust that the factory set SIM is not defeatable by programs such as this:
at dekart.com/products/card_management/sim_manager/

I know little of mobile phones and even less of smart phones as I barely use them. I am conscious of computer hacking and frauds and therefore have little trust in security/companies/regulation.

I do have a devious mind and it seems to me that allowing the phone to be found with an old blocked SIM inside whilst you use the recently knicked SIM card would mean you probably would be able to use it longer. The mobile handed in to the police should allay suspicions and perhaps nullify any suspicions being phoned to the issuing company.

I believe that we should be able to decide what value cap we want on phone charges. We should also be able to choose a smaller credit limit on credit cards and whether or not we want a contactless debit or credit card.

Let us put the consumer in charge, even if we have to fight for our rights.

As I understand it you can ask for your own limit on a credit card.

I use PAYG so unauthorised use not a problem as I rarely have more than £10 in credit. You are responsible for looking after your own phone of course, but putting an upper limit on call charges will depend upon how much you use yor phone, won’t it? Putting on a limit may prevent you using your phone for the remainder of a month if you have higher usage than expected without it being stolen.

My broadband provider has a limit on my monthly landline phone calls before it advises me. Never used the limit but seems sensible.

Given the choice I would set my cap at £10 to limit the charge if my phone was stolen. That would enable me to call a costly number in emergency. Other calls are covered by the tariff. I certainly don’t relish paying £100 for calls if my phone was stolen.

When I got a couple of credit cards over 40 years ago, I set a low limit for one of them, which is the card that I use routinely. It means that if anything goes wrong, my maximum loss is limited, notwithstanding whatever legal protection I may have.

wavechange, I’m not sure how you differentiate between normal calls and “stolen” calls before you report, and where your £10 cap fits in. A contract can still be used after it has been stolen and rack up a big bill, unless the proposed provider’s cap is in place if you report it quickly as stolen? have I missed something here?

Malcolm – What I would like is to limit the charge for calls to £10 if my phone gets stolen. I suspect that many others on ‘unlimited’ tariffs for normal calls would want this too. I simply want the protection that I used to have with a PAYG phone, which you mentioned earlier. Maybe users should be required to enter the SIM PIN if they want to make a chargeable.

Perhaps those on “inclusive” contracts should only be allowed to make calls up to their “free” monthly limit, and then buy extra in advance if needed. Those on monthly tariffs could place a limit on their bill without them again buying in advance. PAYG is much simpler, but pricey. Perhaps we should all be on PAYG but at fairer rates!

Like having a water meter, PAYG concentrates the mind on the necessity and duration of calls, and on whether a text message would do. I don’t regard PAYG calls as pricey because I make so few. People who cannot avoid making a lot of calls, or lengthy or long-distance ones, are obviously better off on a contract but, as NFH frequently points out, the sting is in the unused [and un-carry-overable] minutes priced into the bundle [minutes, note – not per second as mobile phone use was originally charged; we’ve lost that battle!].

Malcolm – There is another good reason for users having to take action if they reach their ‘free’ monthly limit. The charges for continued use can be very high indeed.

I am happy paying 45 pence a day for unlimited calls on my mobile because I often make long calls with people who don’t have a landline, for example where they work between offices. When landline to mobile calls become cheap, as we have been told will happen, I will probably go back to PAYG. My emergency phone that I keep in the car is on the Three network and calls cost a sensible 3p per minute.

Ian says:
24 March 2015

Several mobile networks still require you to call them on expensive 084 or 087 phone lines.

Some say these calls are free, but that’s true only if you call them from the SIM that you want to report as stolen…

When I couldn’t fnd my mobile phone last year I had no idea whether it had been ‘lost’ or ‘stolen’ – probably the former in the circumstances. I didn’t worry about the cost of reporting it to Vodafone in order to stop unauthorised use. It was PAYG and there was probably only £10-20 credit on it – Vodafone probably still has all or most of that. I thought the phone might turn up somewhere but it hasn’t and I forgot all about it until now; perhaps the credit balance is transferable to the replacement phone.

My understanding is that under the T&Cs for PAYG phones, you will lose your credit if no calls or top-ups have been made in the last 180 days. The phone may be inactivated sooner but will reactivate it on request.

I had an idea that was the situation. Since the credit retained is far less than the phone I lost was worth it’s gone to the back of my mind again.

Just to clarify, all UK networks will extend a PAYG SIM card’s validity from the date of the last balance change (increase or decrease). For nearly all networks, the validity period is 6 months from the last balance change. Giffgaff allows some additional means such as 0800 calls (free on giffgaff) and multiple incoming calls.

Even if there is a validity period of six months, PAYG phones can become inactive before then, requiring the user to request that they are activated. It would be useful to have a link to reliable information about the policy of different companies because many including myself have a PAYG phone for emergency use. I once had a PAYG phone inactivated after 30 days.

Patrick – please could you rename this conversation from “New cap on bills for stolen mobiles falls short” to “New cap on bills for stolen SIM cards falls short“? This has nothing to do with a thief’s possession of a stolen mobile, but has everything to do with stolen SIM cards.

Hi NFH, thanks for your comment. Patrick’s out the office today but I’ll have a chat with him tomorrow about your request to change the name of the article.

Perhaps at the same time the tale of Frances’s daughter could be fleshed out. I understand it makes astonishing and dramatic reading but given we have no details of whether this was over weeks or a single day, or when the loss was reported , any sense of outrage is tempered by the knowledge we have only been dealt with half , or less, of the story.

Anne says:
28 March 2015

I phoned Virgin to request that they capped the amount of credit available on my phone at £50 (as they have set it much higher than that) I never go over my monthly limit and it would only be in an emergency that I would do so and therefore £50 is what is required.

They advised me that this is not possible!!!

Under these circumstances they should be liable for any loss incurred as a the result of fraud.

[This comment has been slightly tweaked to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Anne, why should Virgin be liable for “ANY LOSS INCURRED AS A THE RESULT OF FRAUD“? Surely Virgin should be liable only for losses that exceed your desired cap of £50, irrespective of whether they implement that cap.

Carolyn Gyseman says:
15 April 2015

I should try again, I got mine capped at £50 . One gets very different results depending on who one speaks to as I have found in the past. Wanted it capped far lower but they would not go any lower than £50.

For far too long the Mobile Phone Monguls have decided that it is them who must be protected – Customers are there for their convenience. There is no earthly reason as to why all of them cannot provide safety systems in their software to strip a stolen mobile of its data immediately – and limit overspend on an agreed data package, Users must accept that they too have a responsibility and if they don’t adhere to an agreement – such as the safe custody of their phone at all times: then they must pay the consequences!

Noel says:
28 March 2015

I had a horrendous experience with Orange a few years back. I had been travelling for a year and decided to have a SIM card with orange that allowed me to make calls if ever in an emergency.

While staying at a friends house in Botswana, Southern Africa, I receive an email from Mum letting me know that Orange are trying to take £7,000 from my account for a bill outstanding.

Luckily for me, I didn’t have that money. I then had to spend several days communicating with Orange abroad as to what the hell was going on.

What had transpired was that my SIM card was stolen from my bag by my friends son who was making calls to his friends in Botswana while racking up several hundred pounds every time as this was going via the UK.

After I had received confirmation from the Police in Botswana that this is what happened and that it was a foolish mistake by a teenager, Orange UK and Orange Botswana both decided that I still owed them the money but would only charge me 50% of the bill owed if I paid within a limited timeframe.

Of course I didn’t pay Orange a penny, but now have had to deal with demands for payment from one debt recovery company to another for the past three years. This has also in the past affected my ability to get work (credit checks) and bank accounts/mobile phones. Thankfully, my credit rating seems to have recovered recently but this does not excuse that cold/money grabbing nature of the company Orange.

The sooner the cap is enforced, the better people’s lives will be in not having to experience all the stories I have read in this forum!

Noel, when you make an outgoing roaming call within a visited country, your call does not cross any borders or go via the UK. It is only incoming roaming calls that are routed via the UK, because the caller has to call your UK number. Therefore Orange Botswana billed Orange UK for the domestic national calls within Botswana at its wholesale rate, which should be similar to what a local consumer pays. Orange UK then marked this up this wholesale charge by several thousand percent.

I remember the days when roaming in Singapore on an Orange SIM card, I could make outgoing calls within Singapore for which Orange UK charged me 6p/min, which included a 35% markup on top of the Singapore network’s wholesale charge. Then Orange UK decided in 2002 to hike its roaming charges to standardised uniform rates of £1.30/min for outgoing calls. Total rip-off.

You might not be feeling very well-disposed towards your friend after that experience, especially if they haven’t made a contribution towards your loss. You have suffered a form of theft for which there probably isn’t any protection or insurance. I agree with NFH about Orange’s rates being extortionate and, perhaps, looking at it with hindsight, you should have tried to continue negotiating in the hope of getting a further reduction. Now you are in the hands of debt collectors and they will be adding their charges at every step and turrn. Citizen’s Advice might be able to take the case up again with Orange and at least help you draw up a viable repayment plan to get the debt collectors off your back.

John is right about negotiating a further reduction. Given that the usage was stolen and not incurred for your benefit, Orange UK could expect you to reimburse them only for their losses, i.e. the wholesale charge that they paid to Orange Botswana. The same principle applies you damage something in a shop. The shop can expect you to pay only for its losses (i.e. the wholesale cost) and not any profit on top (i.e. the retail price), as well as the profit on any consequentially lost sales resulting from temporarily insufficient stock. Given that the profit on consequentially lost sales doesn’t apply to a service, Orange UK could not expect you to pay any profit on top of its wholesale charge.

Noel, unfortunately I think this £100 limit still wouldn’t protect you in this circumstance. It only applies when you’ve reported a stolen SIM card within 24 hours. If I understand correctly from your post, you didn’t even realise your SIM card was stolen until after you’ve received the phone bill.

I have a Tesco pay monthly smartphone which has a £10.00 cap (my choice) above the monthly payment so I can text donations to such things as Comic Relief.

Ian says:
28 March 2015

As there is no way for the customer to prove whether the calls that are purported to have been made have actually been made, will this now simply mean that anyone reporting their SIM as stolen while abroad will be automatically hit with a £100 bill?

Stolen mobiles should be capped to £50 & All phone use aboard should be capped at £25 over your average monthly payments each month.

Although The Uk & Europe should be working together to make data/internet/gps charges should be unlimited in Uk at £16 & Then charge more for speeds, But a basic speed with real true legal unlimited data/internet/gps deals should be enforced with a set price & Charges should only increase for more speeds.

stewart lynskey says:
7 June 2015

My daughter had her phone stolen whilst out with friends, thinking she may have mislaid it, she rang one of the girls in the party when she was home and the girl said that she had found it.
The next day on picking up the phone from her friend she soon realised it wasn’t her phone! So she didn’t report it missing because she thought that it wasn’t!. Received a bill from EE for just over a £1000. Explained the situation to EE and it fell on deaf ears, now in the process of sending in a debt recovery company. Surely an obvious pattern of new phone calls and of different usage develops at around the time of loss, It is all recorded,It must be obvious that this isn’t a normal use scenario!
The company is more than happy for someone ( a criminall) to run up a bill, and an innocent man/woman to pay.

Jorik McSherry says:
22 June 2015

I had my phone stolen in Spain a couple weeks back. They took the sim out and made calls to Africa. I am with EE, and I am now stuck with a 800GBP bill. I am still battling with EE, but so far they insist I have to pay the whole amount. They act like they never heard of this newly introduced 100GBP cap. Clearly these calls are not made by me. The same number has been called over and over again, so clearly this is highly suspicious and most likely a deliberate act of crime. Therefore, I refuse to pay. Does anybody have any advice or suggestions? Thanks!

Morning John, thanks for your comment and I’m sorry to hear about your stolen phone whilst in Spain. Have you taken a read through our useful advice about what you should do? If not, you can view this content here:


If you’re not happy with the way in which your complaint has been handled you can take it to one of two dispute resolution schemes – Ombudsman Services: Communications or Cisas.

These are independent complaints schemes that will consider a complaint about a mobile phone service provider if you haven’t been able to resolve your problem directly.

Jorik McSherry says:
22 June 2015

I forgot to say, I did report my phone stolen to EE within 24 hours. I am on a pay monthly contract. Still, there is no 100GBP cap on my account. I am falling on totally deaf ears with EE. This 100GBP cap does not exist at all.

Given NFH’s eminently sensible comment on SIM locks can Which? confirm:

A] it is true
B] what is Which? doing about it?

I appreciate it may not be a huge problem but what do surveys reveal on this matter.

As for A] I believe it.

” Instructions
Contact your wireless carrier by calling the toll-free customer service number. (Find this on your provider’s website or a recent invoice.) You will need to verify your account password before the PUK code is released to you.

Power your phone on. You will see a “SIM Locked” or “Enter PUK” message. Type in the eight-digit PUK code and press “OK.”
Type in a new four- to eight-digit PIN code when prompted, then press “OK.”
Verify your new PIN code by re-entering it when prompted. Press “OK.” Your SIM is now unlocked.

Tips & Warnings
If the PUK code has been entered incorrectly 10 times, your SIM card is permanently locked. You will need a replacement SIM card.”

Craig Walton says:
27 August 2015

Currently having an issue with ee. Having had my phone stolen on holiday in Barcelona last weekend, the thieves managed to rack up a bill for £5782 before I had chance to report it. It was over the stated 24hours. I believe it was 35hours before I had a chance to report it. ee have agreed to reduce the bill but have still left me with £2736 to pay. These are the charges that were made after the magical 24hour period. Any advice would be gratefully received.

I’m very upset and worried about a bill I have been asked to pay over £1200, because someone had stolen my SIM card and incurred charges from Dubai. I am so upset and worried about this as I cannot afford these charges. EE are holding me responsible because I did not report the SIM card lost. (I had no idea it was missing) as I had not used the phone for 9 months. I hadn’t sent or received a txt on that phone (extended work number) because I had lost the charger for the