If your credit card’s stolen and used, you’re not liable for fraudulent spending. But if the same happens to your mobile phone, it’s down to you to foot the bill. Isn’t it time mobile operators took some responsibility?
You’re a responsible person who takes care of your belongings. You cover your PIN at cash machines, keep valuables out of sight, and always report any losses as soon as you can.
But, despite your best efforts, you discover your mobile phone’s gone walkabout. After a vain search, you report the loss to your operator who say they’ll block your phone to prevent further fraudulent use.
But what about any fraudulent use that’s already occurred? Chances are it hasn’t been more than a day or so since you last used it – but how much damage can have been done?
Sadly, lots. Thieves can run up bills of thousands of pounds in just a few days. Constant and relentless use of your phone for overseas or premium rate calls, heavy internet use and smartphone app purchases can all add up to a massive bill in a surprisingly short time.
Credit cards are covered better
If this story was about your credit card, as long as you hadn’t been negligent, you’d be liable for – at most – £50 of fraudulent spending.
Possibly because of this, most credit card providers are vigilant to unusual use – sometimes almost excessively so. Mine has checked for ‘unusual use’ simply because I made three purchases within an hour – none of which exceeded £10.
But I’d much rather overcaution than an apparent complete lack of interest or responsibility, which is what many mobile users experience. If you’re pushy enough, mobile operators will sometimes waive part of the bill – but legally, they have no liability to cover any of it.
Take action when your phone’s stolen
Apart from keeping a close eye on our phones, there are a few precautions we can take. Some operators let you block access to premium rate services or overseas calls, so this is worth checking. And many modern smartphones have apps or services that let you put your own block on your mobile being used if you misplace it or it’s stolen.
And always report your phone missing to your operator as soon as you realise – even if, as some victims have experienced, a stranger lets you know they’ve found it and will return it to you. They could very well be the one who stole it and are trying to prevent you blocking it.
It seems massively unjust that the customer’s responsible for the full cost of fraudulent use, especially if the use is out of character, they haven’t been negligent and have reported the loss as soon as possible.
I think mobile operators could – and should – take some responsibility too. When I’ve asked mobile operators about it in the past, they usually argue that it’s technically problematic to flag atypical use quickly – there’s too much of a time lag between real-time use and it showing up on their systems.
And even if it was technically possible, some reckon that many people would be frustrated to find their phone blocked just because they used it differently to normal.
But a workable system to flag up atypical use shouldn’t be beyond these giants of technology. And I’m certain that if mobile network regulator Ofcom made operators liable for fraudulent costs, such a solution would be miraculously speedy to materialise.