£100 cap for phone theft victims
Mobile phone users will be protected from massive bills when their devices are stolen under measures announced today.
Customers have been landed with charges of thousands of pounds because of usage by thieves.
Under a voluntary agreement five leading providers - EE, O2, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone - will introduce a "liability cap" of £100 which will be activated as long as the phone is reported lost or stolen within 24 hours of going missing.
It means the most a victim of theft will pay is £100.
Citizens Advice said consumers regularly contact them for help after being hit with five-figure bills. Between April last year and February the organisation estimates that users have lost as much as £140,000 because of bills on stolen mobiles.
Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: " Victims of phone crime should not be paying excessive bills run up by thieves.
"A cap on bills from stolen mobile phones will come as much-needed relief to consumers targeted by phone fraudsters. Citizens Advice has been calling for a cap to be put in place after helping consumers landed with bills as high as £23,000.
"We will be keeping a close eye on the phone providers' caps to see if they do really protect phone crime victims from the worst bills."
Three introduced the protection for its customers in January and the other four operators have confirmed they will follow suit.
All five firms have signed up to a new code of practice which also obliges them to:
::Provide clear pricing information and alerts when consumers reach data bundle limits.
::Provide information on how to avoid roaming charges.
::Provide a barring function so users can protect themselves against unauthorised or inadvertent calls to premium rate services and in-app purchases.
Ed Vaizey, minister for the digital economy, said: "Protecting hardworking families from shock bills through no fault of their own has been a priority for this government.
"By working with the mobile operators, we have secured an agreement that will provide consumers with real benefits as well as offer peace of mind."
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 a phone is lost or stolen, however, it is crucial customers let us know as soon as possible - we have a 24 hour hotline so customers can report loss or theft at any time."
An O2 spokesman said: "This agreement demonstrates our continued commitment to deliver usage safeguards and advice to our customers. This new cap builds on the safety and security advice we already give to customers and should provide additional peace of mind if their phone goes missing."
Dave Dyson, chief executive of Three, said: "The liability cap is one of a series of measures we've pioneered to help ensure Three customers are protected and in control of their spending."
Annie Brooks, director of Virgin Mobile, said: "This cross-industry agreement simplifies things for consumers by making the treatment of fraudulent use of lost or stolen phones consistent. It remains vital that people report their phone is lost or stolen as soon as possible."
Mark Bond, customer operations director at Vodafone UK, said: "We will continue to do everything we can to protect customers from theft and believe our new cap will improve our customers' experience at what can be a upsetting time.
However, because it is very easy for criminals to rapidly build up high charges using stolen phones, we continue to encourage customers to report phones missing as soon as they can and make it as easy as possible for them to do so."
Hamish MacLeod, chair of the Mobile Broadband Group, said: "This announcement is a major new protection for customers and is in line with the industry's long standing commitment to help our customers protect their mobile and its contents."
Which? said the protection did not go far enough. The consumer champion has called for firms to charge customers nothing if their phone is lost or stolen within 48 hours.
Executive director Richard Lloyd said: "This long overdue cap proposed by mobile operators falls short of expectations and won't do enough to protect consumers facing unfair bills run up by criminals when their phone is lost or stolen.
"This is yet another example of why consumers are fast losing trust in mobile operators, with people already overpaying by billions of pounds for mobile phone contracts that just don't suit their needs."