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Sunday, 30 November 2014

BBC Watchdog in Doghouse Over Mobile Misinformation

BBC Watchdog

The BBC's Watchdog programme is making headlines for all the wrong reasons this morning, with news that it gave out inaccurate information to mobile phone users.

Here at the TV Licensing Blog we absolutely love Watchdog. We find it hysterical that the BBC dedicates a whole hour of its prime time schedule to the pretence that it's a consumer champion, oh so virtuous and whiter than white.

In reality the same BBC has overseen years of sex abuse, corruption, incompetence and financial impropriety. Every day the BBC authorises TV Licensing to harass and intimidate thousands of people it knows do not require a TV licence.

In the programme broadcast on BBC One last Thursday evening, presenter Anne Robinson explained how criminals were stealing handsets and deliberately running up bills by calling premium rate numbers they had a stake in.

In many cases the mobile phone providers have claimed that the victim of the theft is responsible for call charges incurred before they reported the theft.

The programme led with the offending segment, which went as follows:
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Anne Robinson (AR): Before that, mobile phones.

Hundreds of thousands of handsets are stolen each year. This sort of crime is huge and even has its own dedicated police team, because phones are no longer only stolen to be sold - instead criminals use them in a sophisticated scam whereby they rake in millions of pounds making continuous calls.

Now, you'd assume that since these calls happen after your phone has vanished, the networks wouldn't be pursuing you for the call. Wrong.


Riz Latif (RL): Nearly every single adult in Britain now uses a mobile phone, but it's not just of value to you - it's of value to thieves too.

That means if yours is stolen, you could have a lot more to deal with than just the trauma of the theft and the hassle of getting a new handset, because the biggest shock of all might not come until the end of the month, when your next bill arrives.

Orange customer Darren Buckley's mobile phone fell into the wrong hands last March and now he's desperately paying the price.

Darren Buckley (DB): I went on holiday to Barcelona with a friend of mine to watch the football, just for a couple of days. I got back to the hotel in the taxi and realised I'd lost the phone.

RL: Darren immediately rang home and asked his girlfriend to try and lock his phone remotely, using an online app. And all the signs were that this had worked.

DB: It reassured me a little bit. I thought "right, girlfriend's done it. I'll go and enjoy my holiday a little bit more".

As soon as I'd come home I rung up Orange straight away. I told them what had happened, obviously, they said "right, we'll cancel it".

RL: Darren thought no more about it, but then his bill arrived.


DB: The bill was for £2,144. I looked at it and there was just call after call. Every minute they were calling. I was gobsmacked.

RL: The app Darren's girlfriend had used to stop calls being made, hadn't worked.

In the 30 hours between the phone going missing and Darren reporting it stolen, someone had used it to make 200 calls, racking up charges of over £2,000 in the process.

But why would anyone need to make that many calls in such a short time? Are they desperate to talk to loved ones and friends? No. They are fraudsters, interested only in making money.

It's all part of a sophisticated crime. Getting hold of your phone is just the beginning. What these criminals are interested in is making calls - calls to premium rate lines that they own.

Calling these numbers can cost up to £3 a minute and whoever owns them gets a hefty chunk of that amount. So by using your phone to make calls, it's lining their pockets - and, they'll only stop when the provider eventually blocks the handset.

A complex premeditated crime, designed to be repeated time and time again, with Darren the unfortunate victim on this occasion.

So what do you think Orange did? Write off the debt? Not a chance.

DB: Orange said I was completely liable for the bill, up until the point that I reported it stolen. Normally my bill is £50 a month. It's quite clear that I never made them phone calls. After a bit of negotiation Orange knocked £600 off, but still leaving me with a bill of roughly £1,600.

RL: And it's not just Orange customers that receive little sympathy when their phones are stolen. 

Vodafone customer James McMillan also had his phone taken whilst on a night out in Barcelona. And even though he had no idea who had it, he felt confident they wouldn't be able to use it.

James McMillan (JM): I had a PIN on my phone at the time, so I thought my phone was pretty secure, and I thought it was just stolen for the value of the handset.

RL: James reported it to Vodafone the next morning, who blocked it. But, just as in Darren's case, a shock bill arrived a few weeks later.

JM: I received a bill that was over £6,000. I was totally in shock to see that kind of amount. It was crazy that such a huge bill could be run up in such a short period of time. It was just over about 30 hours.

RL: So how were the criminals able to do it, even though the phone is protected by a security lock? 

Because, sadly locking your handset won't stop this type of crime. It just means that no-one can make any calls from that particular phone.

But, take out the SIM card, and put it into another handset, and all calls made will still be charged back to you.

SIM cards can be protected with a PIN code too, but James had no idea about that before he was robbed.

JM: £6,000 is a lot of money. It's a car; it's a deposit for a house - you know, it's a lot of money.

RL: Which Vodafone is adamant James has to pay. But, he isn't taking it lying down and the case is now with his lawyers.

The stance of Orange and Vodafone in these cases isn't unusual. All mobile providers share the same policy: if your phone is stolen, you will be responsible for any charges run up on your bill until you report the loss.

But this position seems particularly unfair when you compare it to the way victims of credit card fraud are treated. If your card is lost or stolen you cannot be held liable for any unauthorised transactions made on it over the first £50, regardless of when you report the card missing. Why can't the mobile providers do something similar?

The Government certainly thinks they should. Last December it struck a voluntary deal with major phone companies EE, which owns T-Mobile and Orange, 3, Virgin Media and Vodafone, in which they all promised to introduce credit card style caps.

Those caps were supposed to have been in place by spring this year, yet so far none of the providers has taken any action whatsoever.

James Plunkett from the CAB (JP): People are coming to us every week in the situation where they've had their mobile phone stolen and they've had a huge bill as a result of that. 

We've looked at those cases and what we've found is that the bills range from about £70 in the smallest case, up to £17,000 in the maximum case. These are life changing amounts of money. 

It is completely unreasonable that the Government and the phone providers continue to delay on implementing this cap.

AR: So when can we expect caps to be put in place? Ministers are apparently due to meet the providers shortly to hammer out the details. We'll update you as soon as we know.

Orange says it works hard to tackle fraud and it picked up the unusual activity on Darren's account and had already blocked his phone by the time he called them. It's gone back to him today with an offer of £677 off his £2,100 bill - a total reduction of £68,000. We suggest he keeps bartering, because... Sorry 68%.

Vodafone have offered James a much better deal. It's prepared to reduce his bill from more than £6,000 to £500.

Now, both Vodafone and Orange say it's crucial customers report stolen phones as soon as possible and protect their SIM. All the networks have dedicated phone lines open 24 hours a day for this purpose.

Chris Hollins (CH): So how do you go about protecting your SIM? Here are the three best ways.

Number 1: Put a passcode on both the handset and the SIM. This can be done via the settings of most phones. Check the instructions to find out how.

Number 2: Make a note of the phone's IMEI number, as well as the phone's make and model. You may well need all three to get the phone blocked. The IMEI number is a unique 15 digit serial number. You'll find it behind your battery or by keying *#06# into your handset.

And finally, tip number 3: You could ask your provider to bar all calls to international and premium rate numbers, leaving the phone useless to thieves trying to commit this type of crime.

Well if you'd like to comment on that or any of the other stories we've featured tonight email us at watchdog@bbc.co.uk or join the conversation on Twitter, the address and hashtag are shown on the screen now.
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Thousands of viewers trying to protect their SIM using the second step above found that their handset locked, because the programme omitted to mention important information - that a PUK code is also needed. Some Watchdog viewers trying to protect their SIM without a PUK code handy, found their handsets locked out of action for several hours.

Unbelievably, the erroneous segment is still live on the BBC iPlayer now, in exactly the same format as it was broadcast on Thursday evening.

Another glaring example of BBC incompetence.

1 comment:

1005922 said...

PUK codes aren't required to get the IMEI using *#06# its an international standard code

All manufacturers & networks recommend this method for getting the IMEI