Vodafone Withdraws USD23k Bill For Barcelona Crime Victim

Are some mobile operators pushing their luck, when they ask victims to pay huge bills after criminals steal their phone? That is the conclusion of Richard Colbey, a British lawyer who recently took up the case of Osian Rhys Edwards, a schoolteacher who fell victim to the criminal gangs that target tourists in Barcelona. You can read the full story in The Guardian.

Vodafone barred the stolen handset after GBP15k (USD23k) of premium rate calls were racked up, within just hours of the theft. Rhys Edwards claimed he informed Vodafone of the crime but the operator said it had no record of his call. Instead, Vodafone pursued payment in full, and then offered to reduce the bill to GBP10,500 (USD16,440) whilst allowing Rhys Edwards to pay it off over many years. Vodafone also threatened to damage his credit rating. But given that Barcelona is known to be afflicted by this criminal scam, does it seem reasonable to allow such heavy premium rate use, before the telco intervenes?

Vodafone’s behaviour so outraged Colbey that he agreed to represent Rhys Edwards for free. His comments on Vodafone’s legal position are worth reviewing.

Vodafone’s position looked legally flawed for several reasons…

What I thought particularly outrageous was that Vodafone was threatening to report Osian to a credit reference agency without first getting a court judgment. The power large organisations have to do this gives them an unfair advantage in any dispute with consumers…

I set out Osian’s case in a forcefully expressed letter to Vodafone’s “General Counsel” (a US term for chief lawyer), demanding, somewhat unrealistically, a complete capitulation and compensation for the stress within 24 hours… We huffed and puffed in emails as litigation lawyers do, and within a few days had reached agreement that Osian would pay nothing for calls after his phone was stolen, but wouldn’t actually get any compensation. I expect a judge would have reached the same conclusion…

To its credit, and slightly to my surprise, Vodafone did not insist the settlement was subject to a confidentiality agreement. I hope that this will encourage others faced with similar claims by phone companies to stand their ground.

The issue has trundled on for a decade and no company has yet wanted to test its position in court. This is almost certainly because the companies are getting legal advice largely in line with my own view that they could not win, and they would have no choice but to change their policies once a precedent was established.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.