Steve Pardoe's Cellnet Correspondence Page, continued, continued...

Page 3 of 3, rearranged again 21. August 2001. This page won't generally be updated.

Cellnet Index page

Logotype of Telecom Securicor Cellular Radio Limited
used here for the purposes of illustration and fair comment only


BT Cellnet are taking money from the credit card accounts of thousands of innocent people...   ...even though they haven't got a Cellnet phone!

This third page carries the earliest correspondence and commentary regarding the Cellnet Fraud scandal, and runs from early 1999 up to the end of 2000; that from the first half of 2001 is here, and the most recent correspondence is here.


27.December 2000 : GK writes:
I have just checked my statement using the Barclays Online website.
£30 was taken from my account;
29.11.2000 Card Purchase £30
BT Cellnet Prepay
I have not lost my debit card recently, so how has this happened? Don't Cellnet need to know the expiry date of the card?

Sadly, the expiry date is visible on the card and on the printed shop receipt, and the fraudster (Cellnet's customer) simply keys it into the phone. So much for "improved security".

GK wrote again on 1. February:
Just a quick note to let you know what happened;
Barclays bank asked me to fill in a claim form and I had to get a crime number from the Police, Barclays were very good and credited my account with the £30 straight away, their investigations are ongoing. I also had £29 taken from my credit card - again 'btcellnet prepay - Slough'. Egg sent me a claim form, they are carrying out their own investigation. My card should be credited with the £29 as soon as they receive my form.

27.November 2000 : AR writes:
I am a 20 year old living in Derbyshire, North West England.
On 23rd November 2000 I received my bank statement from HSBC where I hold a student account (now turned into a graduate account). The following transaction appeared on my bank statement: BT Cellnet Prepay, Slough. £30.00.
This is an unauthorised transaction and I have contacted HSBC who are investigating the matter. [...] It looks like BT have illegally charged my account for a mobile phone prepay package that I had no knowledge off and had no wish to purchase. The hurt this has caused is considerable and the matter is still on going. It was only this morning (27th Nov) that I got the bank statement with the suspect transaction from BT Cellnet.
[...] I DON'T NEED THIS S**T FROM BT CELLNET. AND I WANT MY £30 BACK PLUS COMPENSATION FOR THE DISTRESS AND TIME WASTED IN TRYING TO INVESTIGATE THE MATTER.

This is just for starters. AR writes again:
I spent the entire day trying to make progress and I recognise a lot of the points you raised on the website especially about your dealing with the police.
I contacted the local police (Buxton, Derbyshire) and they are investigating it. They sent an officer who deals with credit card fraud round to my house and we talked for around half an hour about what had happened.
I had an e-mail from [BT Cellnet] today saying they would help the police with their enquiries, but we all know this is not the case. The police officer who visited me said he had come across this before and they just kept hitting a brick wall. Are BT Cellnet obstructing the police? They must be brought to charge of withholding evidence, assisting fraud and perverting the course of justice if they refuse to trace the phone that the criminal used to buy the top-up voucher for. I believe BT Cellnet should be taken to court.

Here's the e-mail which AR received from BT Cellnet. It's the usual patronising and disingenuous response, similar in tone to their previous letters and e-mails to their victims: "unfortunate problem, we're victims too, it's not our fault, get your bank and/or the Police to sort it out".


Dear [AR],
Thank you for your e-mail.
It would appear that you - and we - have both been the victim of a fraud perpetrated by someone who has your credit card/switch number. As unfortunate as it is, credit card fraud is a reality across all industries.
Nevertheless, the telecommunications and banking industries are both, by their very nature, subject to a high level of security. At BT Cellnet, for example, we constantly review our security systems and we introduce enhancements to those systems as technology and circumstances change.
When customers credit their BT Cellnet Prepay accounts with either a credit or debit card, we check the card details through normal banking validation procedures. It is the banking system which determines whether the card is to be accepted for each transaction.
I can only ask you to inform the Police of your unfortunate experience who will issue you with a crime reference number. You should then contact your bank with this number and request an indemnity claim. BT Cellnet will of course provide any assistance or information to assist the Police or issuing bank in their respective investigations.
If I can be of any further help please contact me.
Regards
Caroline Smallshaw
BTCellnet Customer Resolution Team

AR wrote to us again:

I tried to contact John Cross at BT Cellnet today but all the phone numbers I have tried so far have since been made 'unavailable' or have been redirected to customer care. One had a recorded messaged on it that said 'sorry, this promotional offer has now ended'. The BT Cellnet bosses are obviously playing hard to get.
The main news I have to report is that there have been a few more developments in my situation today regarding the Police trying to trace the fraudster and the illegal phone.
When I phoned BT Cellnet's customer care line (which unfortunately is the highest authority in the company open to the general public) I asked them what the situation was with the Police investigations and why they were with-holding evidence. This time the information (if true) was very revealing and it may help me to set the Police in the right direction.
The customer support person in the 'prepay' department was obviously aware of the situation as soon as I started to explain about 'lack of security' and 'credit card fraud'. At least the staff have been briefed on the matter and that BT Cellnet have acknowledged the disgraceful affair.
He explained that the Police would have to go through 'the right channels' in order to obtain the information required to trace the illegal phone and the fraudster responsible. He also confirmed that BT Cellnet does have the information required to help the Police but under the data protection act they could not give it too a Police officer unless the Police used their powers to ring a 'confidential Police enquiry line' at BT Cellnet.
He said that only the Police have authority to access this enquiry line, which made me think 'if this is true, then why haven't they had any success in getting the information yet?'. I was lead to believe that my local Police force was not powerful enough to get around the data protection act, which is rubbish in my opinion.

Well, this is still going on. Call back for updates.

10. October 2000 : AM writes:
Thanks for a highly informative website. Although I have not been personally affected, (as far as I know), my friend has.
I have read a large portion of the information available on your site. I feel I need to air my views:
1. It is apparent from what I've read, in conjunction with the recent "local loop" unbundle, that BT & Oftel are working together. Oftel appears to look after BT first. It seems to be completely pointless approaching them.
2. I feel that there should be legislative powers to close down any company that encourages/allows fraud to take place. It is apparent that BTCellnet are happy for this situation to continue, therefore promoting fraud. The fraud department of the police should be allowed to investigate, & simply close them down.
3. Mobile phone operators have the ability to bar any handset from making further calls. They can bar/blacklist the serial number of the handset. The serial number of the handset is displayed along with the phone number. When the pre pay is updated, there is a number involved. Bar the fraudsters. Having lived in South Africa where mobile crime is high, I know that this can be done.
4. Why have [not] the banks and card company refused to allow BTCellnet to accept payment for pre-pays over the phone. This must be costing them a fortune in administration costs. This would also annoy existing legitimate customers, who will hopefully move to another network.
5. If this fraud is worth in excess of £10 million, why is it not hitting the headline news. This should be household news, so that BTCellnet suffer, & are forced to clean up there act, or better still, go out of business.
6. My guess would be that BT knew about this when they decided to buy all of Cellnet, not too long ago. Great revenue earner, isn't it??
I really feel that BTCellnet should suffer on a very large scale for all of this. This is the sort of thing you expect in the 3rd world, not England.
Once again, thanks for the super site. May you completely ruin BTCellnet.

Well, as I replied to AM, I'm not out to ruin BT Cellnet, merely to get them to change their ways and stop taking money from people without their authority. Widespread exposure of their policy, and public humiliation, are the means, rather than the end.

10. October 2000 : AMcC writes:
I was disgusted when I got into the office and someone did a search on the Internet for me. So I thought I would add my name to the list of outraged victims.

This is his circular to his colleagues, kindly copied to us:
"I have recently done some cash transactions on my account for bills, rent etc. Nothing unusual about that it may seem. However I did notice that my account had a transaction reading : BT Cellnet Prepay 30.00-
[...]
"On further investigation it seems that my account has been used by someone to top up their BT Cellnet mobile. I would urge all of you to check you bank statements very carefully for this type of fraud. BT do not require anyone to register any security details about their prepay accounts. Therefore crafty crim[inal]s can use a supermarket/pub receipts with your card details on to top up their mobiles".


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27. September 2000 : Our correspondent from 14. August, PG, writes again:
I noticed that Cellnet were flogging WAP phones (pay as you go) for 29.99.
I started to wade through the pile of bumph that accompanied the phone, until I got to the important bit - how to pay for top-ups :-) It clearly explained how to buy vouchers for top-ups or use a debit or credit card. All I had to do was to phone the automated payment system, type in my credit card number and expiry date, and then the 3-digit code on my signature strip* !!!!! I could pay a maximum of £30 using this method. The recorded message then explained that I could also top up someone else's Cellnet phone in the same way. I had not had to register the card at all, nor had I had to give postcodes, or any other ID. And they call this security ????

This confirms that BT Cellnet's repeated promises of improved security are largely false. Even their very latest product, the WAP phone, requires absolutely no registration of credit card details before topping up.

*Having to enter the signature strip data may improve security very slightly, in that these numbers are not printed on till receipts; but they are in plain view to a shop assistant handling the card, and it's not hard to remember a three digit number for a couple of minutes, and jot it down to use later with the data that are printed and left in the till drawer.

27. August 2000 : Our correspondent from 12 July also e-mailed Cellnet, via their website, to complain about their taking £200 from his partner's account without authority. Here's the result:

From: "PrePay Internet Support"
To: <[deleted]@dial.pipex.com>
Sent: 13 July 2000 11:07
Subject: BT Cellnet Customer Care - mobile number unknown

Dear [deleted],
Thank you for your enquiry which you submitted via our website.
As Cellnet do not have the authority to investigate matters concerning your private account, I have thus been advised by our Finance Department to refer you to your card issuer.
On your request your card issuer will arrange a 'Charge Back' to your account, for the transactions debited on the dates in question.
I apologise for any inconvenience you may have incurred but I can be of no further assistance in this matter.
Customer feedback such as yours is essential as it enables us to pinpoint weak areas of our business and make the necessary improvements as we continue in our efforts to provide the best possible mobile experience.
I hope that this answers your enquiry. If I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me.
Yours sincerely
Sarah Burns
BTCellnet Prepay Customer Care

Well, he did contact her, as follows:

From: "[deleted]" <[deleted]@dial.pipex.com>
To: "PrePay Internet Support"
Sent: 13 July 2000 20:19
Subject: Re: BT Cellnet Customer Care - mobile number unknown

This is exactly the sort of bland, self-protecting and totally "wash our hands of it" attitude that I've seen displayed in the TV programmes and web sites discussing this fraud - the fraud which your lax procedures are continuing to allow to happen. I was hoping for better.
"Customer feedback such as yours is essential as it enables us to pinpoint WEAK AREAS OF OUR BUSINESS and make the necessary improvements as we continue in our efforts to provide the best possible mobile experience"
Fine words.
Your company's attitude to making it easy for criminals to operate disgusts me.
[Name deleted]

Comment : it disgusted APACS, too, who called Cellnet's system "an encouragement to fraud" and "unacceptable". This response shows the cavalier and cynical attitude which Cellnet continue to display to their innocent fraud victims, in spite of all the publicity which their home-grown scandal is attracting. You'd think they'd at least invest in some decent PR.


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21. August 2000 : MW writes:
This is just a precis of our experiences with BT Cellnet over the last few months in connection with my wife's Easylife phone - I have full documentation if you wish to see it.
The tale takes on a different twist, as the opposite to the "normal" pattern of fraud has happened to us. Since May, BTC allege that my wife's mobile has been topped up by someone else four times using a fraudulent credit card.
BT Cellnet barred the phone in May, and following our protests, reinstated it. The phone was then subject to the same fraudulent topping-up a further three times up to July, and the phone has now been totally cut off, Cellnet now saying they have no further responsibility to assist us in the pursuit of a solution to this.
Needless to say, we do not know who did this (or why they would want to top up someone else's phone), but can only assume that the perpetrator has repeatedly made the same error in keying in the mobile phone number. However, the onus is now on us to prove our innocence and to clear our name.
The police have said they can do nothing for us without being asked by BT Cellnet, as the fraud has not been committed against us. BT Cellnet say their decision is final, and their "Customer Resolution Team" says they will not enter into any further correspondence with us. I was about to write to their MD, when I saw your website, so I'll hold off until I've read it from cover to cover.

The documentation is on its way to me, so I may publish it here: watch this space.

It appears that as far as the legitimate credit on the phone is concerned, BT Cellnet simply pocket the money, and render the handset (which MW's wife has bought and paid for) useless. MW later added:

Also, para 8.3 [of their Easylife T & C's] says "if when your mobile phone is disconnected you have any credits on the account they will be forfeited".

Comment : nice work if you can get it, and Cellnet evidently can. Although this is the reverse of the "normal" fraud, it's a glaring example of how insecure BT Cellnet have deliberately made their billing system, not to mention how disgracefully they treat yet another innocent victim. Rather than apologise and give his wife a new phone, they simply confiscate the old one and send MW packing.

14. August 2000 : Our correspondent from 18. April, PG, writes again:
I topped up my father's BT Cellnet pay-as-you-talk the other day using his credit card. All the details they required were the card number and expiry date - so it looks like they still haven't got any real security!

I asked PG for some further details:
[SP] - has your father had his phone for some time, or is it new?
[PG] Hmmm, probably about 2 years.
- which Cellnet plan is it on (Pay & Go, easylife, U)?
Easylife - it was a special offer at £99 (!)
- has it been topped up by a credit or debit card before?
Well, it's been topped up by both, as he tends to top up very infrequently.
- if so, was it the same card (number) that you used the other day?
It was the same one as was used last time - however, prior to that it was a debit card.
- while topping up, did you have to talk to anyone, or was the entire transaction by recorded voice (from them) and keystrokes (from you)?
Totally automated. I had to do it for him as he said "that woman keeps talking and won't let him speak!"
- was there any indication of the range of values you could have topped it up by (eg maximum £50)?
No - none at all.

This is interesting, as it shows that BT Cellnet's media claim that there is now a "registration" system simply doesn't apply to their millions of existing phones, as I've always suspected!


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8. August 2000 : This next message isn't related to our fraud campaign, but it's included here as it's typical of several we've had about BT Cellnet's shoddy treatment of customers. The BBC and "Which?" have both reported on Cellnet's reluctance to cancel contracts (in clear breach of consumers' rights). JW writes:
Great Website Steve - keep up the good work.
It's not just the pay phones that are a problem. This is my story:
In June last year I took out a BTCellnet contract. Free 12 months line rental but pay for calls.
The following day I returned the phone to JWE Foneshop and cancelled the contract under the terms of the Consumer Credit Act. I had made just one call but couldn't get a reliable signal in the area where I needed it most.
Twelve months later I began to get bills for line rental. I rang BTCellnet and explained. I was told that the line was still "active" (who's fault was that?) and that it would take several weeks to close down. They took money from my original Direct Debit agreement until I cancelled it and now they are demanding money in a very aggressive way, threatening County Courts etc all for £19.84. Their customer service department could [not] even find a record of my account when I rang them to complain. The whole set up is so impersonal. I have scoured the web in vain to find a name for their Chief Executive to write my complaint.
Next stop "You and Yours" on Radio 4.

... but here's a case which is extremely relevant to our campaign ...

7. August 2000 : SS writes:
Three lots of 30 pounds removed from my Barclaycard last month.
Result : Cancelled Barclaycard and new one to be issued, with inconvenience of no card for a week or so. Barclaycard paid the money back reasonably quickly, so not out of pocket apart from the hassle. I have a company mobile paid as a direct debit from the BC account and have never had a pre pay phone. I have never registered my BC number to be used for prepay.
Your site makes interesting reading.

SS wrote again on 8. August :
After finding the fraud I mentioned it in my office. Someone else remembered what I had said and then checked her account and found that she had been done as well. She sent an email to the rest of the building and at least 5 people that we know of in our office have been defrauded. Office of maybe 150 people.

Well, what are the chances of that happening, eh?
"SS" continues:
From speaking to the people here the frauds were all between the middle of June to mid July. The instances apart from mine were:
2 times £30. Barclaycard
3 times £30 plus two more attempts to get £30, charges for going overdrawn plus charge for bouncing a direct debit as the account was overdrawn, and charges for bouncing the last two attempts as the account was overdrawn. HSBC

Ironic, since (I believe) HSBC are BT Cellnet's Merchant Acquirer for card transactions, so they of all people should know better. I think that particular victim should have a very strong case against BT for compensation for the additional costs and inconvenience, as well as a full refund.

1 time £30. Don't know bank
2 times £30. Don't know bank
All were BT Cellnet frauds.

This, remember, happened to five victims within an office of 150 people between the middle of June and the middle of July this year. Improved security? Doesn't look like it to me.

4. August 2000 : CR writes:
I spotted the address in the Guardian. Wonderful campaign!


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31. July 2000 : AB writes:
I came across your site from a newsgroup I visited & am impressed by what one man can do in the face of corporate laziness & negligence.

28. July 2000 : JH writes:
The BBC Radio WM consumer programme "The Ed Doolan Show" carried a piece yesterday where some old dear had keyed in one digit wrongly into her pay-as-you-go Cellnet phone and £20 had been topped up into someone else's phone.
BT told her to [deleted] off and contact her card issuer, who also told her they could not help. A BT spokeswoman appeared on the programme with all kinds of excuses, but when pressed repeatedly by Ed Doolan, half agreed to consider some kind of recompense on an ex-gratia basis.

13. July 2000 : SB writes:
I have just read through the details and problems you've had with the BT Cellnet credit card fraud. And although I was aware that this kind of fraud had been taking place (after seeing the problem highlighted on TV months ago) I am angry that OFTEL / Cellnet have still not introduced any measures safeguarding innocent people against this.
I arrived home from work today to find my bank statement was showing a payment of £30 to BT Cellnet Pre Pay. [...] I rang Lloyds bank and they put me through to the VISA fraud hotline stating what had happened - the sympathetic operator said this fraud was very common with BT Cellnet, stating that someone had probably used one of my credit card receipts to obtain phone calls!
I was told that money would be replaced but my card will be cancelled and I'll be without its convenience for 10 days. (Embarrassingly, I had to borrow money from a friend to get petrol this evening and it'll be a similar story for the next week too!)
Why can't Cellnet have the same procedure as One 2 One. I had to register my card and send a recent statement for my Pay As You Go mobile phone. One card to fund one mobile phone. Surely BT Cellnet should be made to introduce these simple and effective steps to prevent this wide scale fraud. Incidentally, I now won't be able to top up my own mobile phone as my card isn't valid any more! With my money being transferred into an anonymous BT Cellnet account, there was only going to be one loser through all this...Me!
PS Keep up the good work!

Thanks, SB, I intend to. This case shows that even when the banks cooperate and refund the money Cellnet have taken without authority, the innocent victim is left inconvenienced, all because it suits Cellnet to operate their pre-pay system in this shoddy and irresponsible manner.

12. July 2000 : a correspondent who doesn't wish to be identified writes:
This has happened to my partner.
She had two debits for £50 each on each of two monthly statements - £200 in all.

So much for Cellnet's claims for improved security, which are supposed to limit the value that can be taken.

She complained to First Direct, and it took them ages to respond. They finally told her that the reason it had taken so long to respond was the sheer volume of this particular fraud that they were dealing with. Even after she notified them that she did not have a BT Cellnet phone, and that there should never be any such debits to her card under any circumstances, more appeared. I can't imagine that First Direct is very happy with BT Cellnet for causing them all this extra work!
I have e-mailed Cellnet telling them that when I change my mobile phone shortly, it will not be to Cellnet.

You can see the resulting correspondence above (27. August).

6. July 2000 : JO writes:
On checking my statement this morning I noted £20 deducted under the heading BT CELLNET PREPAY. This was not authorised by me, I haven't got a Cellnet phone!
As a result, I have now had to cancel my debit card and go into the Bank to sign a "Disputed Transaction" form. As you rightly say, who is going to compensate for the disruption and inconvenience?
Cellnet must stop this practise of accepting anonymous payments via credit card and refuse to accept any further calls from those numbers. It must be easy to disconnect the fraudsters almost immediately from the network.

JO wrote again on 14. August :
I've now received my £20 back via the bank, with no information as to how it came to be taken or what further action they are going to take. I did get a piece in the local paper, which made me famous for a day! and I attach it to this message.

The gist of the article was JO's £20 loss, and the statement by a Lloyds TSB spokesman that "There have been problems with BT client frauds related to pay as you go phones".

Image © Grantham Journal 21. July 2000


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Here is a message sent to us by JR, who's not one of Cellnet's fraud victims, but saw one of the "Daily Telegraph" articles, and later wrote to us (reproduced here by permission).

1. July 2000 : JR writes:

First, congratulations on a great site. The more people who are made aware of this problem the better, as this can only lead to more pressure being brought to bear on BT Cellnet.
I am not a victim of this fraud, but work as a Senior Clerk in a central London branch of one of the big four banks. Over the last year, I have seen countless BT Cellnet fraud cases, some of them quite heart breaking. When pensioners of 80 or 90 are robbed of a large part of their life savings it is almost impossible to imagine the hurt and distress they feel, or the anger which wells up inside us, the staff who have to console the customer and put the matter straight.
One of our elderly customers died shortly after realising he had been fleeced out of the best part of £300. Obviously, I cannot claim the death was in any way linked to the fraud, but the stress these incidents have on frail pensioners is worrying.

Can I give a few words of advice, which you might like to pass on via the site as you feel appropriate?
1. Everyone should check their bank and credit card statements every month without fail. It's surprising how many people just bin the statements or give them a cursory glance, and thus the cases of fraud that have come to light probably represent the 'tip of an iceberg'.
2. If you see a BT Cellnet entry you don't recognise, contact your bank immediately. Be polite (it isn't the Bank at fault, and shouting at a junior clerical grade member of staff will get you nowhere), but also be firm in stating you want the Cellnet items refunded immediately - and by this I mean within 48 working hours. Normally, disputed Switch transactions can take six weeks or more to be investigated, but we have short-circuit procedures for BT Cellnet because of the scale of the problem. Do not accept a six week timescale.
3. If you want to be certain the fraud will not happen again, you will need to be given a new account number, and not just a new card on the same account. The reason is that thieves are smart, and know ...

[I've deleted some detail here, for obvious reasons]
Unfortunately a new account number means starting again with your standing orders, direct debits, cheque books, salary credits etc - the hassle of which BT Cellnet refuse to reimburse you for.
4. Try not to let your credit/debit cards out of your sight, ever. However, be extra careful in petrol stations (especially in the inner cities) and small restaurants, as this is where lots of card numbers are copied.
5. Dispose of Switch/Credit Card receipts securely. Contrary to popular belief though, very few card numbers are obtained in this manner.

[I asked for his explanation of this, and CR responds:]
I'm confident about this, not because BT Cellnet have tightened their procedures with regard to the card information required, but merely because going through bins or picking vouchers off the street is not the method of operation preferred by the fraudsters - it's too much like hard work. Far more card numbers can be obtained and in a shorter timescale by having a 'placeman' in a petrol station/restaurant etc.
6.
[Paragraph deleted, mentions specific names]
7. When speaking with your Bank about the fraud, insist on that refund, but spare a little thought for the costs involved to us in sorting out the mess left by BT Cellnet, and also consider that even the most junior clerks these days are paid, partly, according to how many products they sell. Whilst we are dealing with fraud - which we know we must - we cannot also be selling, so our pay shrinks - thanks BT Cellnet!

Well, that's the considered opinion of a senior clerk in a major bank branch. Subsequent correspondence with JR went like this:

[SP] I'd like to ask a couple of questions:
- In your experience, are BT Cellnet frauds still much more prevalent than those from the other mobile operators (BTC say not)?

[CR] I've seen several dozen BT Cellnet frauds in the last year, but none whatsoever from the other phone operators.
- In your experience, are BT Cellnet less helpful than the other networks in resolving victims' complaints?
I'm afraid I can't comment, as most of our customers seem content to let us refund them, and do not pursue things further. More's the pity really.
- Have you even an order-of-magnitude figure for the scale of this problem?
We've refunded about £4000 over the last year at our (average to large size) branch which relates purely to Cellnet fraud. Assuming the fraud is as prevalent outside London as in, I think we are talking a figure in the low millions nationwide for our Bank alone. In total, I would guess about £10 million per year. This is all (educated) speculation though.

Well, that's pretty clear. So much for BT Cellnet's "improved" security, the way they abdicate responsibility for handling complaints, and the damage they are doing to innocent people. CR's messages also give the lie to Cellnet's repeated assertions that they are no worse than other networks as regards the incidence of card fraud. This is of particular relevance in the context of the statements attributed to Mr John Cross, BT Cellnet's Head of Security, in his recent interview with "Mobile News".

Our thanks to CR for this first-hand evidence.


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3. June 2000 : DD writes:
Great website, so good to know I'm not alone when it comes to mobile phone fraud.
In February, Vodafone took two payments from me each of £75 even though I haven't got a Vodafone.
Yes, Vodafone, but bear with us ...
It was taken using my Lloyds/TSB debit card. I only realised the fraud at the start of May when I immediately told my bank. The female member of staff was no help at all and just suggested I phone Vodafone which I did. I also cancelled my debit card and faxed my statement to Lloyds Card Services. It's been a month now and I've heard nothing from Vodafone or my bank despite telephoning and writing to them several times. All I want is my £150 pounds back which has been stolen from me, but I'm greeted by a wall of silence.

DD later wrote:
Seeing that BT man on the programme refusing to give a full answer or apology made my blood boil. It's amazing just how little they seem to care.

The recent TV exposure of mobile phone fraud has flushed out a few victims of Vodafone, whose credit card top-up security is also not all it should be. As Vodafone are regular visitors to our website, perhaps some publicity here will persuade them to improve matters.

1. June 2000 : [a different] JR writes:
I read some of the items on your website & have to admit to being a victim recently. A Tesco Visa card (managed by Royal Bank of Scotland) was used to purchase £90 in total of air time from Cellnet over a period of two weeks & on 3 separate occasions. I did not contact Cellnet, instead I phoned Tesco, told them of the fraud on my card, & asked what they were going to do about it.
I was eventually put through to their fraud department, who investigated & phoned back tell me to destroy my card. They issued a new card & returned my account to its original balance, £0.00. This type of fraud must be very widespread.
In this area I've heard of schoolchildren passing card numbers around schools. These numbers are obtained from the bins of garage forecourts. Good luck in the fight.


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28. May 2000 : JR writes:
Very informative site - surprising to see what sort of scale this fraud involves (and that people aren't alone on this).
My friend has had 2 debits of £50 per transaction made from her Royal Bank of Scotland in early May 2000. My sister has had one debit of £50 taken from her Barclays Addition Account on 25 May 2000. Both are pursuing this through their respective banks. The Royal Bank of Scotland are aware of the ongoing investigation into BT Cellnet fraud. The telephone banking contact at Barclays seemed blissfully unaware.
As a result, my sister has cancelled her 'Connect' cards and is waiting to contact the bank after the late May bank holiday. It seems as if very little has been done since you first brought this to people's attention in 1999. What more do they need?!

24. May 2000 : MD writes:
I have also had a fraudulent use of my Visa card to the value of £40.00. While the Visa company credited my account I still felt annoyed about the misuse of my card details. I found it too great a coincidence that the unauthorised debit appeared very shortly after I had used my Visa to buy a mobile phone. I did not 'top up' the phone using my credit card and no-one other than myself has access to my cards.
I think that the system used in the Iceland shop where receipts are printed using an asterisk for the last few digits could help to reduce crime of this kind.

This sounds like an excellent idea, and might prevent fraudsters from getting the card numbers quite so easily. I'll be making some enquiries to see whether it could be adopted more widely.

Update 8. August : Marks & Spencer have announced that they, too, are to cease printing the complete card number on till receipts.

23. May 2000 : MH writes:
Congratulations on your appearance on Hard Cash. I too was defrauded in March but only discovered it last week! In my case it was £75 to Vodafone.

Update 8. June: this story is still running, as "MH" is getting a very poor response from Vodafone ...

Here's an update on the Vodafone situation.
I rang their Customer Services department in Newbury (0836 1191) and spoke to an advisor (J) who began by informing me that the money had not been taken by Vodafone! When I pointed out the absurdity of this notion, when Vodafone is named on my bank statement, she began asking me a number of questions about what the money had been taken for.
I explained that all I knew was that Vodafone had taken £75 from me without authorisation. It then transpired that her initial response was from a written statement they have been instructed to work from when answering queries from victims of fraud.

MH has kindly copied me with a partial transcript. A section reads:

"The debit on your account has not been made by Vodafone. If you did not make or authorise the transaction then it is likely that someone has obtained your card number and used it fraudulently to buy [air] time for Vodafone Pay As You Talk phones."

This is remarkably similar to BT Cellnet's stock response, reported by several correspondents. Perhaps this is what John Cross, BT Cellnet's Head of Security, was referring to as better cooperation between the mobile operators: better coordination of their PR statements, perhaps? Just like Cellnet, Vodafone have tried to fob MH off with a patronising and disingenuous prepared statement.

Of course the debit was made by Vodafone, and it's disgraceful that they should try to talk their way round it. MH is taking the matter to a higher level, so let's see what happens. How will Vodafone stack up against their great rivals BT Cellnet, when it comes to dealing with their fraud victims? There's an opportunity here, if they choose to take it (and we know they are both reading this material).


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23. May 2000 : DT writes:
Hi - great web site very informative
Just thought you'd like to know that the same thing has happened to me but with Orange Just Talk - Darlington appearing on my statement. I thought this problem was only affecting BT Cellnet

Sadly, Orange and Vodafone are occasionally compromising cards, as well, but BT Cellnet are by far the worst offenders, as their card processing is completely automated. Only One2One have a really secure system.

23. May 2000 : JMC writes:
Well done on your interview yesterday. I felt though that Mr Cross was let off the hook not being pinned down over compensation, and the thrust of the message was blunted by the subsequent item suggesting that the other networks were as bad.

Mr Cross simply uttered repetitive and disingenuous PR, but was inevitably constrained in what he was allowed to say. Cellnet obviously can't afford any public acknowledgement of liability. It would be interesting to hear the bits of the interview that weren't broadcast ; in my case, only a fraction of what was recorded actually got shown.

22. May 2000 : CJRA writes:
I thought I was alone in my outrage at this theft by BT. My own card was docked £50.00 - and I still had it in my wallet. Details stolen from a receipt no doubt.
My card company replaced the card immediately, and informed me that BT had reimbursed them. They said they couldn't comment on BT's security procedures. BT's initial response was a fob off about the bank security system. When I pointed out that this was no use if the card had not been stolen, they refused to discuss the matter further.
I agree with your interpretation that they see this fraud on innocent third parties as an affordable part of their business plan. I've written to Oftel, no response yet.
I'll be happy to lend my support to any action you want to organise against BT. I think your main point must be to make everyone aware that the card doesn't need to be lost or stolen or out of their sight. People I have told this are normally amazed. What is OFTEL for?
Good luck

What, indeed, is Oftel for? It seems they are rapidly becoming a Trade Body, only concerned with cultivating a nice patch for the telecomms operators to grow in. They (and the OFT) have a dreadful record of ignoring complaints from the public, but they are quick enough to address issues raised by the operators.

19. May 2000 : TH writes:
It was a relief to come across your Cellnet site, if only to learn that I'm not the only person they are trying to defraud.


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18. April 2000 : PG wrote to the uk.telecom.mobile newsgroup:
A couple of days ago, I looked at my online credit card statement (had the card just one month) and noticed that some lowlife had spent £200 of my money on a BT Cellnet top up - I don't have a BT Cellnet account. The card issuer say that I won't have to pay for this, and that they would reclaim the money off BT Cellnet. BT Cellnet say that they "had an internal email about this problem about a month ago" and that "they would hopefully something in place by August to combat this type of fraud" :-(
My questions are; how come Cellnet can accept an amount such as this, presumably without verification, and; how come it takes so **** long to get countermeasures in place ??????

I've started e-mail correspondence with PG, and he's an angry man. He's spoken to Cellnet and the Police, and isn't going to give up easily. BT Cellnet have been telling the media that they've improved their security, and it's now impossible for a fraudster to charge more than £100 of calls a month. So how, and why, did BT Cellnet steal £200 from PG?

PG wrote again on 14. August :
I topped up my father's BT Cellnet pay-as-you-talk the other day using his credit card. All the details they required were the card number and expiry date - so it looks like they still haven't got any real security!

This is interesting, as it shows that BT Cellnet's media claim that there is now a "registration" system simply doesn't apply to their millions of existing phones, as I've always suspected!

18. April 2000 : RB writes:
I have been battling this charge since Aug 1999. First USA Bank [deleted] Wilmington DE [deleted]. This bank will not give me any info on Cellnet. I don't know who made 2 phone calls to Slough Great Britain. If you can help me resolve this matter I would sincerely appreciate it. I know that I did not make these calls and I don't know how anyone got my credit card account no. I have never used this credit card. Please advise send response to [deleted]. Thank you.

This is the second time that I've heard from a Cellnet victim in the USA. No-one would want to top up a Cellnet pre-pay mobile over there ... what on earth are Cellnet playing at? They obviously make absolutely no checks at all on the card or its user, accepting any old number without authority.

11. April 2000 : JD writes:
I too have been a victim of BT Cellnet. Mid March my HSBC statement showed two entries within a day of each other each for £50. I am not, have not and will (probably) never be a customer of BT Cellnet. When I contacted BT Cellnet they just bodged the issue and referred me to my bank and the police. All the staff at my local HSBC were very knowledgeable about this problem and refunded the monies the next day.
Interestingly, when I mentioned this fraud to my colleagues most were under the impression that BT had 'sorted' the problems and that it couldn't happen again!

That's the impression that BT Cellnet's PR machine would like you to have. As you now know, it's not true.

Maybe it's time for another Watchdog update?


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29. March 2000 (Updated 8. May) : MM writes:
I've had £150 charged to my account by CELLNET LTD SLOUGH even though I or my family do not have mobile phones. Is my problem the same as described on your website?

I'm afraid it is, read on for his next e-mail ...

1. It was three £50 transactions (8, 13 & 14th March 2000).
2. I use the card perhaps three or four times a month. I've used it more than once at a 24hr petrol station in [deleted], Walthamstow.
3. All I had to go on is what's on the bill "Cellnet Ltd Slough". I phoned 0870 860860 and the person I spoke to, ["D"], suspected a pay-as-you-go-phone, also mentioned fraud. He asked whether my card was Barclay's. Also said I would not have to pay. His reaction was polite but he did not ask for details. Was this the best number to call? Does the Bank of Scotland have a significant problem with this Cellnet thing?
4. I searched using the alltheweb search engine looking for Watchdog's program on Cellnet and found your site.
5. I have no objection to my case being described in general terms and without my name being used. I'm awaiting replies to the letters I've sent today. We'll see though if things start turning ugly for me.
I've written to the Bank of Scotland (I've cancelled the card), BT Cellnet and the Trading Standards Officer in Ealing.

Well, let's see what happens. £150 stolen in one month is no joke, and is completely at odds with BT Cellnet's cynical claims of "improved security" made by Mr John Cross on Watchdog. Will Cellnet apologise and compensate "MM", or will they brush him off and send him to his bank?

Update 8/5/2000 : We now know the answer: Cellnet sent MM a standard letter exactly like the one you can read here. It's a cynical denial of responsibility (as we've come to expect).

Why didn't Cellnet ask for details of the fraud, so that they could prosecute the perpetrator? Is it because they'd rather protect their dishonest customer than help the Police solve the crime? Will Ealing Trading Standards act? Who can say?

Update 3. April : Essex County Council visited our Cellnet web pages on 30. March, so perhaps the various Trading Standards Officers are getting a case together ...


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24. February 2000 : PG writes:
Mid January £50, and I'm not even a customer, nor am I ever likely to be.
I did contact Cellnet via their website and invited them to contact me to apologise and tell me what they are doing to assure me this won't happen again - no reply as yet.
I'm an MBNA customer, they were already aware of this problem when I called them and to their credit dealt with this without question, although the very fact I've had to close and re-open an account and re-setup direct debits is somewhat infuriating especially as it could happen again.
I suggested to both my bank and MBNA that a good way to stop this would be if a customer could elect to ban a particular companies transactions on the account but alas I'm told by the banks that this is not possible.
How did I find you? Well, I went to dejanews.com and type BT Cellnet fraud... wow what a response, it seems that this has been running for so long that now there is a vast history of appalling BT Cellnet behaviour.
If there is any way I can help please let me know.

22. February 2000 : JC writes:
I checked out your website and found it to be one of the most helpful 'consumer-positive' sites around when investigating the BT Cellnet pre-pay fraud.

18. February 2000 : AR writes:
Good site,
Does this mean that Cellnet cannot trace (or log) calls made from the fraudulently topped up phone?

12. February 2000 : JH writes:
I lost 150 pounds to BT

31. January 2000 : RMcG writes:
I have just become a victim of Cellnet Ltd, upon checking my bank statement online I was horrified to find 2 withdrawals each for 50 pounds made to Cellnet Ltd Slough. I contacted my bank immediately and was advised to cancel my cards and write to Visa BACS who would investigate. I also contacted Cellnet first on Saturday 29th Jan and was advised to contact my bank and they would sort it out with Cellnet head office. After spending all day Saturday thinking about what had happened it occurred to me that whoever had done this may do so again. I decided to phone Cellnet again to give them my card details so if they did try again they could trace the call. This time I was advised to contact the police, which I did, I am now waiting for an officer to come some time in the next 2 days.
I found your site by searching "cellnet fraud". I was amazed to read how long this has been going on. I was also disgusted with the attitude shown to you by Cellnet and their head of security Mr John Cross. After reading your site I continued to search and found a site called www.fcs.org.uk thinking this was going to be another site dedicated to helping fraud victims. I was surprised to read that the chairman of "Crime 2000" was none other than Mr John Cross.
I hope you succeed in your campaign and if there is anything I can do to help I would be more than willing.

3. January 2000 : AMcK had dreadful problems getting top-ups, and writes:
After reading your website, I was so disgusted, that I am cancelling my BT landline tomorrow and will go over to cable phone and fax. As for the Cellnet, I will be getting an Orange instead.
Well done indeed for your good sense and persistence in publicising this scam. I wish you every success.


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Following the second Daily Telegraph article, which was based on this website, we've had a stream of e-mails from readers who are also victims of Cellnet's fraud. Here are some edited highlights. Many thanks to all who've taken the trouble to write in so quickly : there are some very angry people out there.

For these e-mails to arrive, their writers must have...
... been Cellnet fraud victims, and ...
... been readers of the Daily Telegraph that day, and ...
... seen the article on an inside page, and read it thoroughly enough to find our website reference, and ...
... had an Internet connection, and ...
... taken the trouble to visit our site, see the e-mail address, and ...
... sat down to compose a message.

So, how many recent victims does that mean there must be out there? The following are extracts from just seven e-mails from people who satisfy all the foregoing criteria. What are the chances of that happening?

Yet BT Cellnet told the Daily Telegraph that "we are now satisfied we have a system that is secure". Do they really believe that? It's completely at variance with the facts, and they know it. Since the matter was raised in the BBC Watchdog programme in March 1999, BT Cellnet have continually misled the media and their victims, trying to make out that they were putting better security in place, and that the fraud story was old news.

That simply isn't true. It's current news, and it's disgraceful that these victims are still suffering loss and inconvenience, and also being fobbed off by BT as if it were someone else's fault.

Here are some recent e-mails from Cellnet victims who've read the Daily Telegraph article:

RB writes on 9/1/2000:
Well done Steve. You must be congratulated for performing a public service.
Yes I am yet another victim of BT Cellnet's' fraudulent trading practices. They stung me for £50 on 16/08/99. Anyway since I was aware of BT Cellnet's scam (probably through your efforts via the media) I quickly got Lloyds to put the money put back into my account...
...To quote from BT Cellnet's' letter (ref 10895 dated 14/12/99 signed Jonathan Attwell): 'However, we unfortunately were not in a position to have been able to prevent this incident from occurring.' I believe this comes under your definition of a lie. Any fool could tell them how they could have prevented it but as you have demonstrated, their best interest lies in continuing the scam.

BS writes on 23/12/1999:
Having read the article in last Saturday's DT, I am, as requested, mailing you with my experience which I hope will be of some use. On receiving my June 1999 Mastercard statement, I discovered that 7 x £50 (yes £350 worth of) transactions had been made in favour of BT CELLNET. I immediately telephoned my card provider and during the course of the ensuing conversation gained the impression that this was a well known (and previously experienced) scam (but it was one of which I had no knowledge). I then asked whether there were any more transactions that would appear on the next month's statement and was informed that there were a further 3 of £50 (ie a total of £500). I was informed that it would be advisable for the account to be closed, an action to which I readily agreed despite the inconvenience of
a) being without that card (although I had another that I could use)
b) having to inform trusted 3rd parties that they could not now directly debit that account
c) incurring interest charges as a result of paying only the amounts for which I was responsible rather than the full outstanding balance (ie £500 more than I was responsible for).

JB writes on 23/12/1999:
Read an article in the Saturday Telegraph about this phone fraud without really understanding how it could be done, then received my Alliance & Leicester Visa statement on Tuesday and there were 2 amounts for £50 on 1st and 2nd Dec in Slough. I have not been to Slough in recent times, if ever, and certainly never bought anything in that area. I rang Visa who immediately understood what had happened and have referred the matter to their fraud section. I am not paying the £100. However, my card has been frozen and I am waiting for a new one (over Christmas!) so I am not very happy.

MS writes on 23/12/1999:
On the 13th and 14th July this year I lost £150 in 3 separate payment of £50 to BT Cellnet, and 50 to Orange Just Talk. I reported them as fraudulent and got my money back 2 months later, but it caused me no end of hassle since it sent me over the limit of my overdraft which, had I not noticed it immediately, would have cost me.

JH writes on 21/12/1999:
I read the article in Saturday's Telegraph about credit /debit card fraud and BT Cellnet with great interest. On Thursday 16/12 my daughter had £50 debited from her Bank account and the same amount on Friday 17/12 - both amount were credited to B.T. Cellnet. Her bank were unhelpful - didn't even suggest she cancelled her card. This was just two days before the Telegraph said that BT Cellnet had tightened up its system.

MH writes on 21/12/1999:
I received a bank statement on Saturday 18th December to find that two unauthorised withdrawals had taken place on 23rd and 30th November respectively and each for £25. BT were not very helpful, but did suggest I contact the Lost or Stolen number of my Bank. This I did, and to my surprise I learned that fraudulent use in connection with BT Cellnet was commonplace. The bank promised to refund my money, but asked that I obtain a mini statement once a week to check for withdrawals of £50 & £25, and report to them if any further debits occurred. That done, I sat down and read the paper, hence this email.

AB writes on 19/12/1999:
This is our story. In September I found two payments to Cellnet for £50 each. Neither payment had been authorised by myself or my wife. I first phoned my bank who advised me to contact Cellnet direct - the person I spoke to was offhand, uninterested, said it was nothing to do with them and to contact my bank. I rang the bank (Co-operative) again but asked for Visa and explained the fraud. The person I spoke to was very helpful, told me I would get a refund and told me it was a very common scam at the moment. While I was pleased with my bank's eventual response I am appalled at a big company treating defrauded members of the public in such an offhand manner. After all, they have been used as a means to defrauding people of money and yet they seem to take no responsibility. Or that was the impression I gained in September.
Good luck with your campaign.

PR writes on 19/12/1999:
My daughter moved to Thailand in May and arranged to close her Lloyds Bank account before she went. After she'd been gone a couple of weeks, I went into her Lloyds Bank branch to see why we hadn't received the cheque for the closing balance. The personal banker checked her account and discovered it was £131 overdrawn!! I knew it couldn't be. Then she said 'oh, oh' and disappeared, returning with the head personal banker. 'We've had another one,' she said. It turned out that my daughter's account had been debited three times for £50 each time to BT Cellnet. (she isn't with Cellnet). The bankers told me they'd had several of these debits recently (this was May 1999). They credited my daughter's account instantly and referred it to their fraud department.


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These are other e-mails received from victims of Cellnet's fraud before the Daily Telegraph article appeared.

14. December 1999: Angus Beare reports that Cellnet took two debits from his Lloyds TSB account. He writes:
"I found your site by searching for 'cellnet fraud' on the Web. I just phoned Cellnet and they referred me to my bank and refused to accept that any blame should be placed with them! Said they were looking into their security systems.
The bank have agreed to reimburse me and were very helpful. I'm with Lloyds-TSB. I use their internet browser for keeping an eye on my account.
Yes, I'd be happy for you to use my case as a named example. No problem."

2. November 1999 : A lady from Ealing has forwarded to me her e-mail correspondence with BT Cellnet after they took £100 from her account. As you can read here, BT Cellnet initially try to fob her off, then offer a pathetically disingenuous explanation of their "improved security". Finally, there's a veiled threat from Cellnet that she should be careful to get her facts straight, and the usual point-blank refusal of compensation. Sorry, who was the victim, again?

A friend who recently bought a One2One phone in a branch of "The Mobile Phone Shop" mentioned BT Cellnet pre-pay fraud, and was told that the staff there were well aware of it, and that it should never have been allowed to happen.

You can read Cellnet's pathetic letter in response to a lady who complained when they took her money here. Is it a contrite response from an apologetic company, or a cynical and indifferent PR exercise? You decide.

Further correspondence confirms that Cellnet are still taking money from people who have no connection with them. I have again written to the Office of Fair Trading and to the Association for Payment Clearing Services to see what they have to say.

23. July 1999: it's official: Cellnet have not improved the security of their pre-pay mobile phones ("Easylife" and "U"). I called in at the BT Cellnet shop in my home town this lunchtime, and their salesman (mid 20's, wearing a striped black and silver tie) told me that it is still the case that absolutely any valid credit or debit card number could be used to top up one of these phones. He seemed completely unaware of the security implications, until I pointed out the weakness in the Cellnet system.

A correspondent (JB) has pointed out that Barclaycard are now offering a free BT Cellnet "Easylife" phone to new account holders, and wondered whether this might compromise Barclaycard's attitude towards cracking down on Cellnet's insecure billing system.

I'm not convinced that this would actually affect Barclaycard's relationship with Cellnet, as I've learned that Barclaycard are not Cellnet's "Merchant Acquirer", in the industry jargon. The promotional scheme apparently (my reading of Barclays leaflet collected in branch) requires this particular phone to be topped up from a pre-defined Barclaycard number, so it's reasonably secure in itself, and we can surely take it on trust that this is an arms-length commercial transaction, in which Barclaycard just happen to have selected BT Cellnet as the phone provider.

A correspondent from the USA reports by e-mail that she has had a charge made on her credit card by Cellnet, even though she lives in Virginia! I am helping her investigate this.


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James Goodlet has e-mailed to say that Cellnet have debited his account without authority. An extract appears here with his permission:
On April 26th, I too had three £50 debits from my account, an HSBC switch account, followed by a further £50 debit on June 1st.
On April 28th, when I discovered the fraud, I immediately contacted my HSBC branch, who seemed ignorant of the problem and not too concerned about the potential for further debits. 
Later the same day, I spoke to Cellnet's Prepaid phone department (their Customer Care department said that they had been getting a lot of these problems, and that I should talk to Prepaid Accounts about it, so clearly they are aware what is going on).  I found their Prepaid Accounts representative ill-formed, glib and patronising.  I too got the line that I must have given my card details to someone else, and when I insisted that this was not the case, I was informed that this was likely to be some for sophisticated card fraud and that it was my *bank's* responsibility to sort it out.  Cellnet were so concerned that they didn't even take my name.

Perhaps the Office of Fair Trading will take an interest. Their name was mentioned on "Watchdog" on 25. March, so I wrote to them on 30. March, and you can see my letter here.

I have now had a second letter from the OFT. Their Consumer Affairs Division, wrote on 17 May 1999 (ref 344739) and advised that  "the Director General does not have the power to intervene in individual disputes.  However, [the DG] has a duty under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 (the Act) to administer the licensing system imposed by the Act". There's a reference to section 25(2)(d) of the Act, and she says they are making their own enquiries. 

I e-mailed a second letter to Oftel about this matter on 26/02/1999, with a pointer to the web pages. My ISP log suggests that they (as imran.gtnet.gov.uk) visited this page at 17:05 on Friday 26/02/1999, so they must be well aware of what's happening, but they have not responded to me at all. That's still the case at 15:00 today. If they aren't regulating this, who is?


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