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The worst mobile phone rip-offs ever!

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Are you being ripped off by your mobile phone provider? Find out here.


Almost everyone I know has been caught out by a mobile phone rip-off or scam. I'm not talking about illegal activity here (although you could argue the charges involved are fairly criminal...). Most of the problems I've encountered are sneaky acts perpetrated by the phone companies themselves to help fill their coffers.

Whenever I think I've become wise to their dirty tricks, another scheme (or should I say scam) emerges designed to collar more of my cash. So here, I'm going to highlight the worst scams I've come across - and how you can deal with them.

Overpriced, inadequate insurance

This is one of the oldest phone rip-offs around. Some operators charge £80 a year - or even more - to insure your phone. This seems extortionate when you consider that:  

  • Many phones are worth less than that in the first place;
  • You'll usually need to pay an excess when you claim;
  • Basic policies usually don't cover problems like wear and tear or mechanical failure.

On top of all this, you'll still have lost all the numbers, texts and photos stored in your phone (which would definitely be the biggest irritation for me).

Solution: Think about whether mobile insurance is actually worth it. If you decide it is, you might get a much better deal from a stand-alone insurer or via a household contents insurance policy.

Read The big mobile phone insurance scam to find out more.

The text marketing blitz

Every now and then, my phone operator tries to get me to pay more with marketing guff about extra text packages and upgrade opportunities. Since I've made it very clear (on several occasions) that I don't WANT to pay any more, this is very annoying.

Separate marketing companies also stick their oars in, asking me to subscribe to everything from weekly horoscopes to football results updates. If I do, I'm likely to be charged around £1 every time I receive one of these updates. And even my ‘I want to unsubscribe' text will cost me an arm and a leg.

Solution: Avoid these services at all costs!

John Fitzsimons looks at three simple ways to cut the money you spend on your mobile each month

Foreign calling and texting trauma

Making calls or sending texts to the UK while on holiday abroad can end up working out to be very expensive.

A friend's horror story goes like this: "When I first joined my phone operator, they set my voicemail up to ring me three times each time a voicemail was received - without telling me.

"When I went to the US, I received a call and then the three call backs - and for each one I was charged a £1 - even though I never answered the phone!

"When I complained they told me that it was tough and that is how the settings work and I should have opted out of that service." Scandalous!

Fortunately, thanks to a European Parliament ruling, calling and messaging costs in Europe have started to come down. Last summer, charges for sending a text were capped at a maximum of 11 euro cents (around 9p), while caps on UK voice calls were lowered to 43 cents (around 36p), and the cost of receiving a call was capped at 19 cents (around 16p).

However, if you are going to be outside Europe, you're still going to end up forking out shed loads of cash if you're continually using your mobile.

Solution: Before you travel abroad, make sure you check exactly what services your operator has ‘thoughtfully' set up on your behalf. And find out about suitable tariff upgrades. Some providers will allow you to upgrade to an international package for the month you're abroad. Alternatively, you could buy a cheap SIM card in the country you're in.

Find out more in Cut the cost of calling from abroad.

Pricey foreign downloads

Net surfing abroad is phenomenally expensive. Don't assume unlimited email packages work the same way outside the UK - they very often don't.

And remember: You'll pay to receive emails REGARDLESS of whether or not you actually open or read them - because according to the phone companies, it's the transfer of the data that costs.

Solution: Speak to your operator and make sure everything web-related is switched off before you head to the airport!

Stranger danger

My phone rings - unknown number.

Them: Hello, we'd like to offer you a better phone contract.

Me: Are you calling from [my mobile phone operator]?

Them: Mmmm.... so we can offer you a great reduction on your existing contract...

Me: So you ARE from [my mobile phone operator]?

Them: Mmmm.... so about that new contract...

Me: Sorry, was that a yes or a no?

Them: Let me tell you what it involves...

This goes on until I manage to extract the fact that they're a totally unrelated company that I've never heard of.

Sound familiar? These people often ‘allow you to believe' that they're from your existing operator. When you accept the ‘upgrade' they offer, you'll discover that you've actually agreed to an entirely new contract, with a different network. And unless you can cancel your original contract, you find yourself stumping up the cash for two contracts at once. This makes me angry!

Solution: A friend of mine, when confronted with real ‘third party' horrors, just says ‘excuse me a second, there's someone at the door' then leaves the phone on the table and walks off for an hour or so. I wouldn't advocate this... but I must say I'm tempted!

Sneaky provider tricks

Frankly, your phone provider is likely to milk you for all the cash they can, loyal customer or not. Sneaky phone tricks include:

  • Not making it clear that you're taking out a REALLY long (18 or 24 month) contract;
  • Trying to get you to pay more for an upgrade you don't need-- when you're not even using up the minutes or texts you've already got;
  • Giving you something for free (such as three months' insurance) but not making it clear that if you don't cancel it at exactly the right time, they'll start charging you.
  • Offering ‘loyalty discounts' which aren't very loyal at all-- many expire after 12 months and you're back to paying the full whack.

Solution: Don't be pressured into accepting anything you're not 100% sure about. Take time out, think of all the questions you want to ask, then call them back when you're good and ready.

Related goal

Spend less on your mobile

Hate receiving your mobile phone bill every month? Don’t put up and shut up – find out how to slash that bill and cut your costs!

The cashback trap

Thankfully, this rip-off has been widely publicised. In a nutshell, if you don't send the right bit of paper back to your provider, at EXACTLY the right time, you probably won't get that month's cashback. Worst still, you may find that your WHOLE cashback set-up is voided and collapses - so you don't get any money back at all.

And even if you do follow all the complicated rules and adhere to the many clauses, it might take months to get your money.

Solution: Read Dodgy cashback phone deals slammed for tips on how to successfully claim the cashback you're entitled to.

Extra charges for paper billing

I'm sometimes not as vigilant as I should be. Having been with my phone provider for almost ten years, I discovered a small amount (around £1.50) on my monthly bill that I couldn't account for. When I asked what it was for, they told me it was the cost of the bill itself. Huh?

Because I hadn't expressed a preference, my provider had been sending me a breakdown of my calls every month and then charging me for the privilege. If they've been doing that for ten years, that means I'm c. £180 out of pocket. Urrgh.

Solution: Be more vigilant than I was! You can check bills online -- so you may decide you don't need detailed paper bills at all.  

More: Top 10 ways to slash your mobile phone bill | The 10 most hated financial products

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