Pardoes Cellnet Pages
Letter to the Association for Payment Clearing Services

27. July 1999

Association for Payment Clearing Services
Mercury House, Triton Court
Finsbury Square,

Dear Sirs,

Re: CELLNET (Telecom Securicor Cellular Radio Limited)

May I ask if you would kindly comment on the following matter. Cellnet are taking money, without authorisation, from the credit card and bank accounts of thousands of people who do not have any connection with Cellnet.

I recently read that Cellnetís pre-pay mobile phone billing methods were "criticised by the Association of [sic] Payment Clearing Services, which co-ordinates anti-fraud measures for the banking industry. Spokesman Richard Tyson-Davies said buying air time over the phone was often too easy and too little information was required from customers. "The situation is unsatisfactory," he said. "BT Cellnet is the main target for this kind of theft and I hope it will change its procedures to stop it happening.""

It has happened to me: three amounts of £50 each were debited by Cellnet, Slough, from my Barclaycard account in January this year. My complaint to Cellnet was met by evasion and downright lies, and I was told that I should be more careful about credit card security. Cellnet were completely unrepentant, and refused point blank to apologise, compensate me, or give me any assurance that it would not happen again.

Barclaycard closed my account, refunded the money (together with an ex-gratia £50) and have opened a new account for me, with all the inconvenience that that can cause (for example, I had outstanding authorities on the old card). Iím sure you appreciate just what a nuisance it is to find unauthorised debits on oneís card or bank statement: it can lead to real financial loss and inconvenience, which is not compensated for by Cellnet. I have learned of cases in which over £1,000 was stolen in this way. It really has to be stopped.

As Cellnetís response to my complaint was so disgraceful, I did some research, and publicised the matter on the Internet. The problem arises because of the lax and cynical manner in which Cellnet allow their customers to top up pre-pay mobile phones by keying in any credit or debit card number and expiry date, without requiring registration. As Iím sure youíre aware, this process lacks the protection which normally applies to "cardholder not present" transactions, and has been widely criticised. Cellnet, who claim to have sold over a million pre-pay phones, are, I believe, the only cellular operator with such an insecure billing system.


As you may know, this matter has already been aired (with my participation) on BBC TVís "Watchdog", and Radio 4 "You and Yours" programmes. It has achieved wide publicity through my web site at and has also been reported by "Which?" magazine, "The Independent" newspaper, "This is London", and elsewhere.

When Cellnetís spokesman Mr Dave Massey appeared on the "You and Yours" programme on 6. July, he gave answers which were at best disingenuous, and in some cases plainly untruthful, including the statement that Cellnet were putting new security measures in place that week. Itís clear from recent correspondence, and my own research, that this has not been done, and Cellnetís system is as wide open to abuse as it has always been.

Itís unacceptable that a large organisation such as Cellnet should be permitted to continue to operate in such a disgraceful manner, which is clearly encouraging the defrauding and inconveniencing of many thousands of innocent people. Nor do I find it acceptable that their public statements should be so blatantly dishonest, and that they still refuse to apologise for, compensate for or prevent repetition of these thefts. One expects better of a major British company, majority-owned by the dominant telecomms operator BT.

Please review the constantly updated material on my web site at, and let me have your comments. I have also written to Oftel and the Office of Fair Trading, but so far their response has been anodyne. As you will see from my transcript of the BBC interviews at at least one Trading Standards Officer shares my concern that no-one seems willing to take on the case.

Yours faithfully,


S.J. Pardoe


(No reply was ever received from APACS).

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