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If in doubt - report your phone as lost or stolen

12th December 2013 Print

With the festive season in full swing, people up and down the country will be out socialising or hitting the high street to do their Christmas shopping.

At this time of year, however, consumers can be particularly vulnerable to mobile phone theft, with opportunist thieves preying on distracted shoppers or partygoers.
Not only are many mobile handsets worth hundreds of pounds and costly to replace, thieves can very quickly run up high bills on stolen phones.
Ofcom’s latest consumer research reveals that consumers pay, on average, an additional unexpected  £65 on their bill as a result of losing or having their mobile phone stolen.
However, consumer complaints highlight that, in some instances, charges from unauthorised use of lost and stolen phones can present consumers with unexpected bills of hundreds or even thousands of pounds.
Reducing the chances of ‘bill shock’ when a phone goes missing
Waiting to see if the phone turns up and failing to report it quickly can be a costly mistake.
Currently, consumers are liable for all charges incurred up until the point they report the phone as lost or stolen to their provider, including those they have not authorised.
Ofcom has expressed its concern about the unlimited liability that consumers face for unauthorised use of a lost or stolen phone up to the point that the phone is reported.  Ofcom is therefore fully supportive of the recent agreement between government and industry to work towards the introduction of a monetary cap on a customer’s liability in the event a mobile phone gets lost or stolen.
In the meantime, Ofcom today has a clear message for consumers – if you think that your mobile phone is lost or has been stolen, do not wait to see if it turns up – report it to your provider immediately.
Providers can put a bar on the mobile phone’s SIM to stop calls being made on it. This is usually easily reversible if the phone is later found, but consumers should check with their individual provider that this is the case.
Providers can also stop thieves from using the handset on other UK networks by blocking its IMEI – a 15-digit serial number unique to each handset.
Consumers with mobile phone insurance may also be obliged to let their insurer know if their phone is lost or stolen within a certain time frame too.
Top tips on mobile phone security
Ofcom’s has published a consumer guide offering advice on how to keep a mobile phone safe and help protect against unauthorised use.
Top tips include:

treat your phone as carefully as you would your bank or credit cards. Make sure that you always take care when using your phone in public, and don’t let it out of your possession;

put a passcode on both your handset and SIM to make it more difficult for thieves to use;

make a record of your phone’s IMEI number, as well as the make and model number. The IMEI is a unique 15-digit serial number which you will need to get the handset blocked. You can get your IMEI number by keying *#06# into your handset or by looking behind your phone battery;

consider barring calls to international and premium rate numbers (numbers which offer services you are charged for through your monthly phone bill or through credit on your mobile phone) to limit the risk of large bills being run up on your phone by thieves;

check the terms and conditions if you have an existing mobile phone insurance policy, or when considering a new policy as some insurers may provide cover for unauthorised use;

consider using apps which can trace your phone if it is lost/stolen and can wipe details from it remotely; and

register your phone with Immobilise, which is a database containing the details of millions of mobile phones and other property. This can help the police to identify the owners of lost & stolen property.