Vodafone has warned mobile phone users to "think of their phone and SIM as a wallet", after a customer whose SIM was stolen overseas was stung with an £850 bill.
Stephen Tracey told ZDNet UK he received the bill after his SIM card went missing in South Africa.
"I had changed my SIM card over to a local one to avoid expensive call charges, however my UK card was stolen from a hotel without my knowledge and used for 10 days," he said.
He subsequently called Vodafone and the SIM was cancelled, but when he returned home he was hit with the £850 bill, as nearly 100 calls had been made per day for the 10-day period.
Tracey believes that Vodafone should have spotted the sudden increase in activity on his SIM card and taken action, in the same way that banks can detect unusual account behaviour. He entered into a dialogue with Vodafone, and claims they responded aggressively when he said he should not be liable for the bill.
"We argued for a long time," he told ZDNet UK on Tuesday. Referring to the 50 percent discount they eventually offered him, he said: "They phrased it as a goodwill gesture".
"It went from 10 percent to 20 percent to 25 to 30 to 50, and each time I refused it. But then it reached the point where I had to pay the next bill — which I couldn't afford — or take the offer.
"What got me was that it was a Vodafone SIM card and all the calls were made to Vodacom, which is in the same group. They're just passing the buck internally," he said.
Vodafone's spokesperson confirmed to ZDNet UK that the company had immediately barred Tracey's SIM when it was reported stolen, and said splitting the bill was "as far as we were able to go".
"Obviously we've taken it on trust that all the calls made in South Africa were made fraudulently," she said. "Unfortunately he is liable for use of the SIM, and that would be stated in his contract."
She urged mobile phone users to see their phones and SIMs as "like a wallet with live money in it", suggesting, "if he were to try and make an insurance claim, they might have some serious questions to ask him about where it was and how he was looking after it."
She also claimed there were inaccuracies in other recent stories which involved stolen Vodafone phones leading to massive bills.
A story reported last week regarding a charity worker who was hit with a £2,800 bill after his phone was stolen in Borneo failed to mention that the phone was not reported stolen for six months, she alleged.