23-year-old billed £21k after phone is stolen

mobile phone insecurity

Georgia Harris, a 23-year-old recruiter from Worthing, was horrified to receive a £21,183.82 phone bill, after losing her mobile phone in Barcelona. She discovered that her phone was missing on her return home - by which time the thief had run up this incredible bill on overseas premium rate calls.

So how did it happen, and what can we learn from this?
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According to The Argus, Harris was on holiday in Barcelona when she lost the phone. It was taken in the morning, and she returned home at lunchtime the same day to discover that the phone was missing. She immediately reported the theft to police and Vodafone - her mobile phone company. However, in the few hours between losing the phone and reporting the theft, the thief ran up this enormous bill.

According to the Daily Mail, Vodafone allowed the calls to continue, because they were made overseas, so took 24 hours to appear in her account. It meant that Vodafone didn't realise there was unusual activity until thousands of pounds were already racked up.

Harris was initially told that she was liable for it all - as it had been run up between her losing the phone and reporting it as stolen. However, Vodafone launched an investigation and concluded that the theft was part of organised crime, therefore there would be no charge.

A spokesman told the Argus: "This is a very unusual case. Normally, the customer is liable for any charges up to the point they report their phone lost or stolen. However, this phone seems to have been used as part of a deliberate and organised crime which we will be investigating. In this case, we will waive all of the charges raised by this fraud."

Take care

For the rest of us, it's a salutary lesson as to how important it is to keep our eyes on our phone at all times. As a general rule we are liable for any calls made between losing the phone and reporting it as lost - and while we would have to be desperately unlucky to end up in thousands of pounds of debt, we could easily lose hundreds of pounds.

It's worth taking basic steps.

1. Keep the phone safe, in a zipped bag or deep in a hip pocket. According to official figures street muggings and pick pocketing where mobile phones were stolen has risen year-on-year since 2010. In the first eight months of last year, 264 mobile phone thefts were reported each day.

According to LV= pickpocketing is the most common form of mobile phone theft. One in six (17%) of those who have had a phone stolen say it was taken from their bag or pocket, so keep a close eye on it when you're out and about.

2. Use the keypad lock - ideally set it to activate after five minutes of inactivity, and set the PIN to something that is tricky for a thief to guess.

3. Register your phone at immobilise.com. It means that if it is ever recovered you'll get it back - in the interim your network can block it so that even if the SIM is switched, it won't work in the UK.

4. Block premium calls and texts from your phone. Call your provider and get them to block these types of calls - to limit the damage any thief can do.

5. Garlik, the online fraud and identity experts, says that if it's a smartphone, you'll need to protect the data too. Once you know a device has been stolen, acting fast is essential. The quicker you change passwords to accounts the better. You wouldn't think about it for two days if someone ran off with your wallet

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23-year-old billed £21k after phone is stolen

If you are a victim of a strike, or any other event beyond the airline's control (including ash clouds!), they must offer you a refund (in which case it's up to you to find a way home) or an alternative flight. While you are waiting for the flight you have the right to food and refreshment and accommodation.

If you are on a package holiday, your tour operator is entirely responsible for looking after you until you get back to the UK.

This is more likely to happen due to the financial crisis, but in some situations you are covered. 

If you pay by credit card and it's over £100, you'll get a refund from the card company. 

Your travel insurance may well cover you too, but check before you go.  

Talk to the airline, and if it is temporarily misplaced they should arrange for it to be sent to your accommodation, and you should be either given cash to cover the essentials in the interim.

If it's completely lost you must wait 21 days and then make a claim for compensation. If you are travelling as part of a package you can claim costs from your operator.

If you are travelling within the EU you need an EHIC card, which gives you access to public healthcare. However, this won't necessarily be free, and if you need extra services such as accommodation for a carer, a helicopter home or a delayed flight, you could end up seriously out of pocket.

The only protection that will guarantee you will be looked after without running up a horrendous debt is by having travel insurance - which often covers up to £10 million of costs.

The most common form of theft is pick-pocketing, followed by theft from a car and bag snatching. Meanwhile, 752,000 of those surveyed had items stolen from their hotel room or villa.

If you have anything stolen, your only protection is insurance. You need to tell the local police immediately and get a crime reference for your travel insurer.

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