Steve Pardoe's Cellnet Pages
First Letter to the Office of Fair Trading

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

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


Here is the text (reformatted for the Web) of my e-mail letter to the Office of Fair Trading on 30/3/1999.

Dear Sirs,

You may be aware, from the recent BBC "Watchdog" programme if not otherwise, of a serious consumer protection issue regarding Cellnet (Telecom Securicor Cellular Radio Ltd).

Cellnet are operating an irresponsibly lax credit card security system for pre-paid cellular phone (Easylife and "U") top-ups, and they took 150 from my credit card account, even though I haven't got a Cellnet phone.

When I looked into how this could happen, I found the true story, and their response to me, so disgraceful that I publicised it on the Internet, and it eventually became the lead item on the BBC's "Watchdog" consumer affairs programme on 11. March. My money was promptly refunded, with a courteous apology, by Barclaycard; but Cellnet remain unrepentant, and have refused point blank to apologise or offer any compensation.

Since the story broke, I have heard of people having several hundred pounds, and in one case over 1,000, illegally taken from their credit card accounts by Cellnet. Who on earth could legitimately want to buy 1,000 of pre-pay phone calls? Cellnet persist in saying it's not their responsibility, but this could be really serious, not merely inconvenient: imagine being stranded, unable to buy, say, petrol or even an airline ticket, because your credit card had been taken over its limit by Cellnet, without your knowledge! Is this the kind of behaviour we should tolerate from a company with their ambitions in the mobile phone market (such as the take-over of Martin Dawes)?

You can read my page on this subject at: http://www.pardoes.com/cellnet/cellnet0.htm

...my comments on Cellnet's response are at: http://www.pardoes.com/cellnet/response.htm

...and the BBC's story page is at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/watchdog/stories/cellnet2.shtml

I won't repeat it all here, as there's more than enough for you to read on my web pages and (now) the BBC one. Cellnet have not denied any of what I am saying about their system, and indeed most of the material on my site has come from Cellnet themselves or from Barclaycard. None of the material on my site is unsubstantiated or just passed-on tittle-tattle.

I know from my server logs that Cellnet have been reading my website material regularly, and that they have put their lawyers (Messrs Lovell White Durrant) onto me, presumably hoping to find something they could use to stop me telling the story. They appear to have backed off when the programme was aired, and they realised that everything I was saying was true, and they could no longer refute it. Cellnet refused point blank to apologise or compensate me for taking my money, and have still not done so, even though they know my e-mail address.

I think this is really shabby.

Please check up on this serious matter for yourselves, and let me have your opinion. I think it's appalling that Cellnet set up a payment system which they *knew* would lead to innocent people being defrauded, and that they are not being punished, other than suffering a humiliating PR disaster, and being a laughing stock among their competitors, who (along with many other organisations, including Oftel) have also been visiting my web site.

I feel strongly that Cellnet should apologise publicly, admit their disgraceful behaviour, and modify their systems to make them secure, as they've promised but so far failed to do. They should also apologise, and refund double value, to all the people, including me, who've been defrauded as a result of Cellnet's deliberately irresponsible card security. Just a straight refund through the credit card companies is not enough, as there's no punitive element. Anyone who's suffered additional loss (for example through having to cancel cards, or make other arrangements such as Continuous Authorities) should have proportionate compensation.

Oftel have ignored the problem, saying it's not their responsibility. I hope that the Office of Fair Trading will take a more enlightened view.

I should point out that apart from having an Orange phone and a BT line at home, I have no connection with any telecomms company.

Yours faithfully,

S.J. Pardoe
[Address deleted here]
www.pardoes.com
[Phone numbers deleted here]

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