Steve Pardoe's Cellnet Pages
Reporting BT Cellnet's Fraud to the Police

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This edition 19/02/2002 (link update)

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

Read the full story here.

This page covers progress between Steve Pardoe and the Police in detecting BT Cellnet's fraud against the Company Barclaycard of one of my employees. Since I am a proprietor of the company, Cellnet's theft is effectively against me. When I spoke to Mr John Cross, BT Cellnet's Head of Security, (in Slough, 01753 565 000) he told me that Cellnet would cooperate with the Police if a victim asked the Police to prosecute, and the Police then logged the crime and investigated it.

A comparable assertion was made in Cellnet's PR response to the Daily Telegraph, but I was sceptical, as I knew from previous correspondence that the Police are unwilling to try to detect these crimes, as the location of the crime isn't clear, and (as has been reported to me) there is technically no fraud if the offence is against a machine (Cellnet's or the bank's computer) rather than against a person. I decided to pursue this matter with our local Police here in Northwich, to test the extent to which they will act and Cellnet will cooperate.

I was prepared to be persistent, and I advise anyone else who tries this route to be so as well.

I visited the Police Station in Northwich, and, as I had feared, the desk officer was not prepared to offer much assistance. I showed him the Barclaycard statement, and all he would concede was that there had been a debit. He could see no evidence that the debit was fraudulent, and said that it was a civil matter between me and the bank, advising me simply not to pay the disputed amount (impossible, since the account was collected by Direct Debit). He said that since the location of the event (he wouldn't call it a crime) was not "on us", that is within the geographical scope of Cheshire Constabulary, they would take no action. If I hadn't been more persistent it would have ended there.

I asked whether this meant that he was happy for the person who had topped up the phone to get away with it, and he said he wasn't, but that Cheshire couldn't deal with it. He went away to consult CID, and came back with the same response.

Another officer was rather more concerned to help detect the crime, and had clearly come across the Cellnet fraud before. He agreed that there was nothing that Cheshire could do, but suggested that I contacted Thames Valley Police, asked for the Crime Desk or Crime Service Unit, and reported the event, saying I should be able to get a Crime Report Number from them. They looked up the telephone number of the Slough Police Station for me on their computer.

I telephoned Thames Valley Police, (01753 506 000) and asked for the Crime Desk. A WPC ("G") was clearly familiar with the Cellnet fraud story. She asked whether I thought it was an automated transaction, and said that if so the "allegation" would have taken place not in Slough (Cellnet's headquarters) but in Cambridge, where these transactions are apparently processed. She said she could give me a reference number ("CT 002 of 99") and a contact number at Cellnet, but again wouldn't refer to it as a crime.

I phoned the Customer Service Line number the Police gave me (0990 214 000) and this was answered by an automated service, which twice asked me for my mobile phone number (not very helpful in this instance). It then asked me to press "star" twice and gave me the usual menu option stuff, eventually leading to "zero" for all other enquiries....

After some festive music-on-hold, I got a series of messages asking me to continue holding, and eventually got through to a male operator, to whom I explained my enquiry. He understood immediately, and asked "was it for 25 or 30?". I said it was indeed for 30, and he said "sounds like a voucher" (I presume he meant a keyed top up, to the value of a voucher). He put me through to the Pre-Pay department. Some more music-on-hold later, a lady ("S") answered. She was polite, but well briefed to offer me no cooperation at all, and to give out a minimum of information.

"S" confirmed that Cellnet could identify and turn off a phone used in a fraudulent transaction, but that they couldn't tell me its number, in case I took matters into my own hands, and Cellnet were held liable for any action I might take against the perpetrator. She kept telling me that I would need to tell her the telephone number of the phone that had been used in the transaction, before she could take any action to have it turned off, or the user traced and prosecuted.

I obviously don't have the number, so I suggested that she might trace it from the approximate time of the transaction and the credit card number used, since these things must be logged somewhere. She said that neither she nor any of the staff there were allowed to take credit card details, as these could only be keyed in over a phone. (This is understandable for security reasons, purely as a device to protect Cellnet in the event of a card being compromised). She said again that even if the phone could be identified, Cellnet wouldn't tell me its number or the identity or location of the user. If, on the other hand, I gave them the number, they could tell me where and when it was last topped up.

The location is important, since my colleague only uses his Company card occasionally, and in this billing period it had only been exposed in two places, a hotel in London and a hotel in Hemel Hempstead. It should be possible for Cellnet to identify the cell in which their mobile was being operated at the time of its top-up, and this should in turn narrow down the venue. If one of these hotels is in that cell, it's a fair bet that the fraudulent transaction took place there (or at least by one of their employees).

I pointed out that this conversation was getting me nowhere, so she went and spoke to her supervisor, coming back with the same story. Unless I gave Cellnet the number of the phone used in the transaction, they could not pursue the matter. I asked to speak to the supervisor, on the basis that since "S" was referring to her supervisor, the supervisor must know more than "S" did, but the request was refused point blank. She said that if I was going to pursue the matter I must take it up with the Police. I reminded her that it was the Thames Valley Police who had given me the Customer Service number, and who wouldn't act. I asked which Police she thought I should contact: Northwich, Slough or Cambridge? She couldn't answer that. As a last resort she suggested I contact the main Cellnet offices in Slough, and confirmed their number for me.

That, of course, completes the circle of my conversation with Cellnet's Mr Cross. It's clear from my experience, and that of my many e-mail correspondents that Cellnet's repeated PR statements are completely false. They will not cooperate in tracking down the phone used in the transaction and turning it off. The unfortunate victim is denied the justice of seeing the thief detected, prosecuted and prevented from repeating the crime, since Cellnet have such a clear and deliberate policy of denying this process.

I wrote a letter to Mr Cross on 28. January 2000 describing my experiences and seeking his help, but I have had no acknowledgement, even though it was sent by recorded delivery, and Cellnet have downloaded it as a web page.

As has been said before, Cellnet simply take your money, mislead the media about what can be done about it, and block any attempt by the victim to identify and prosecute the fraudulent phone user, or even turn the phone off. It's a criminals' charter, and shows yet again how disgracefully dishonourable Cellnet are in both word and deed.

It's not going to stop there. If visitors to these pages have learned anything about me, it's that I don't give up easily. Watch this space.

If you are a victim and have any relevant experience to report, please e-mail with the details.

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Once again, I invite Cellnet to challenge anything in the foregoing to which they can reasonably take exception, and it will be corrected.

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