The worst mobile phone rip-offs ever!

Serena Cowdy
by Lovemoney Staff Serena Cowdy on 08 June 2010  |  Comments 19 comments

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

The worst mobile phone rip-offs ever!

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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Comments (19)

  • msknight
    Love rating 31
    msknight said

    I have to admit, I'm with Orange on the Racoon package with a free 80meg of data and I'm not using it all. At a monthly charge below £30 I'm very happy, regardless of the 18 month contract I had for the Nokia X6 handset. (iHandcuffs need not apply)

    It is a heck of a sight better than Vodafone whos bills were around the £50 mark and despite me being a loyal customer since the days of the Mototrola Flip. (that's a loooong time)

    So, it is horses for courses, I suppose. They haven't badgered me with sales pitches, I'm on top of my settings, none of this loyalty junk and everything has been very straightforward.

    The one thing they can't do is, if I am already on a call, any new caller gets the engaged tone. They don't seem to be able to handle that simple thing; the caller leaves a message instead and then I get a call back and have to call the caller back which then costs me. (unless I completely turn off voicemail)

    Either that, or I have to put up with the phone bleeping at me to tell me there is another caller on the line ... excuse me, but I'm already talking to someone else. It is bad enough when a telephone call interrupts a physical conversation; now we've got telephone calls that interrupt other telephone calls! What bright idiot thought that one up?

    Mobiles. Love them or hate them, we've got to live with them :-(

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • environmentaljan
    Love rating 8
    environmentaljan said

    The contract I hold for my younger son is with T mobile and I just can't access the account on line. Emails asking for help don't seem to get me anywhere and the website with tiny pale pink text is almost unreadable anyway. The only good thing is that at least the contact dd is what I expected unlike my elder sons Orange contract which has never been the amount I agreed (£35) but has been at least 30% more every month and we can't get to the bottom of why (except for £1.50 paper bill). GRRRR.All this in stark contrast to my easy, cheap Tesco pay as you go which keeps sending me large amounts of free service for a very modest top up of £10 a month. I will be glad when the boys can have teir own contacts but fear the phone sharks will get them in everyway possible.

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • AFlondon
    Love rating 18
    AFlondon said

    As I keep saying, to general scorn and derision, you can avoid all these problems by adopting my proven successful strategy: don't have a mobile phone.

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • gibboxxx
    Love rating 5
    gibboxxx said

    What do people think of the current deals to obtain a phone and contract for around £25 per month on 18 - 24 months and also receive a free 32' LCD TV? Obviously, I would cancel the moment the contract comes to an end.

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • msknight
    Love rating 31
    msknight said

    AFlondon, you've got to be kidding, my BT quarterly bill is rapidly catching up with my mobile phone costs; and that's without any Internet connection on top.

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • crazydaisy
    Love rating 0
    crazydaisy said

    this really does make me mad i wish people would read the no really so small smalll print ! i have been with carphone warehouse now for years i have insurance if something goes wrong they fit it if i have any problems they help for me the have been a great company to have a contract with ! i have a 35 pound a month contract with 02 i know what i get 600mins free unlimited weekend calls and unlimited text and i am a really happy carphone ware house customer 'they do all networks orange vodaphone 3 t mobile for me i am happy they looked into the best contract for me checked my phone would have coverage for me, most of my freind have phones form them some oon orange some on others noone moans ! i say if you get a expensive phone insure it eithe rwith carphone if you buy it from them or through your house insurer etc but most of all read small print and see what your actually covered for so many people don,t bother to read it and when things go wrong complain and moan ! i do highly recomend carephoneware house !

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • crazydaisy
    Love rating 0
    crazydaisy said


    at carphone warehouse i have just took out a contract for this on orange for 30 pound a month he gets 400 mins unlimited text unlimited its a good deal and he loves the tv to i was going to get him it on voda phone for 25 a month 300 mins unlimited text but we don,t get a great signal were we live !i also got insuance for his phone to and it only costs me 3.99p a month so i,m happy aslong as he does'nt go over as then it costs i think !! luckalie he has,nt but maybe thats because i,ve told him if he goes over just once i,ll tkae it all off him lol

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • crazydaisy
    Love rating 0
    crazydaisy said

    ps gibboxxx when the contract ends you could alway get another contract and get a laptop play station etc or another tv on my last one i got a free laptop and i,m due a upgrade now so just might go for the new iphone ! again at carphone lol god i think i should get commision from them lol but they are the best for me must admit and as for phones 4u i would go near there shops ever again for sure i was seem off by them big time once !!

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • easygoing
    Love rating 170
    easygoing said

    AFlondon it is your choice not to have a mobile phone and for those of us that do chose to have one there is no harm in us having a conversation about bad/good deals. Your offerings do not advance the debate which is why people become frustrated with you.

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  2 loves
  • Yorkstyke
    Love rating 94
    Yorkstyke said

    If you receive a cold call trying to sell you something just tell the caller that you would like to take them through security as happens when you phone a call centre.

    A few questions such as "date and place of birth? what's your mother's maiden name? and can you give me a number to call back? will soon p*ss off most callers.

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • irishshamrock
    Love rating 0
    irishshamrock said

    my husband just purchase a new pay as u go phone from vodofone and i was totally discusted at the weekend. i bought a 10 top up to ring my son who is on a vodofone net work we made to calls to him and did not try to use the phone again until the following day when it stated you need a top up. when i finally got through to vodofone on monday they said you were on the phone for 46 mins and it cost 9 pound odds . i told them we were phoning vodofone to vodofone and i did not believe we were on the phone for 46 mins and i felt cheated as most net works don't charge if you phone for talk sake o2 to o2 . any way we lost 10 pounds and won't be using vodofone again.   

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • CJB666
    Love rating 5
    CJB666 said

    When I bought my first mobile phone about 10 years ago this was with Carphone Warehouse on their then PAYG Fresh tariff. I needed to monitor my usage and so I opted for an itemised bill at £1 a month. Over the years these stopped being sent and I assumed that I was no longer being charged for them. However last year when I heard that Fresh was being closed down I also discovered that although I was no longer being sent itemised bills I WAS being charged for them. No wonder my top-ups never lasted very long. I complained to a local CPW store in London and they put me through to Fresh Customer Services. The latter then stated that 'yes' my account was flagged to receive itemised bills but due to a new tracking system they couldn't investigate very far back, certainly not for 10 years. I opined that they owed me well over £100 for years of missing bills. But they did say that all they could refund me was £25. Then in the ensuing debate they said that actually there was no such thing as itemised bills for Fresh and that they have never issued them. Strange. Anyway I got a refund cheque from CPW for £25 which I promptly cashed!! No wonder Fresh was closed down. And CPW has lost my custom.

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • CJB666
    Love rating 5
    CJB666 said

    I have a Giffgaff account as a replacement for Fresh. I got an email recently stating that I was about to be rewarded £26 for helping others on the Giffgaff Community Forums. Now that's what I call a good deal.

    However Giffgaff (and I guess many other mobile networks) have exorbitant roaming charges. But when I went to the Nederlands recently I used it for sending texts to meet up with my brother who live there. They were not too expensive. However I used it once to make a phone call to him when he was late. This lasted for a few seconds. Giffgaff charged me over £7 for that - due to the connection not being 'cleared' after I 'hung up' - that is the connection remained 'live' at my cost. Unfortunately it also reduced my credit to zero. However when I complained they refunded the charge without quibble. Excellent customer service.

    But not all is good. Giffgaff always send an account balance after every call and text sent in the UK. However this does not happen when roaming away from the UK. Therefore it is necessary to continually access their website to discover charges for calls. And they do not offer itemised billing. I hate that - it is important to know what is being charged for - and I don't trust any network not to rip me off.

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • CJB666
    Love rating 5
    CJB666 said

    Three are bad for ripoffs. On their S2 phone they have the usual apps. such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and RSS Feeds. If any of these are left logged on or enabled, continuous updating causes the credit to bleed until it runs out. And roaming with such apps. running can reduce credit to zero even quicker. Pointless waste of money. And there is no way to monitor data usage, just as its not possible to monitor call charges.

    Also Three have a nasty little scam running right now. They have heavily advertised that Skype calls are free for all time - regardless of credit being zero. However when there is an incoming call, even if a PC is also running Skype with the same userid, the Three network hi-jacks this to the S2, and if the call is unanswered it is diverted to Three's voicemail. Then the user has to pay 10p a minute to access it. So much for 'free' Skype. The solution to this is to call Three Customer Service (in India) and have call diverting switched off. But this also affects *all* incoming calls even from mobiles.

    Even nastier with Three and the S2 are the easy to access porn and gambing apps. Great for the grand-kids - NOT.

    Report on 08 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • drmiket
    Love rating 4
    drmiket said

    FREE gifts with your mobile. The noughties is right. The decade has been very naughty indeed brain-washing people into the Moonie state of belief. Take one example:

    FREE Sony 32 inch TV with Nokia and 900 minutes. Sounds great eh?

    Here's the reality

    Pay £840 (24 months x 35) for a TV worth only £329 (Google Sony 32EX301) and get a phone with it. Yes you get 30mins a day worth of calls, but I'm going to guess you either won't talk that much per pay (you lose), or you talk far more than that and you pay even more (you lose).

    Not convinced? How about

    Buy one get one free vs buy one let the other go mouldy in the fridge


    Buy 3 for the price of 2 vs Buy 3 for price of 3 because we marked it up anyway

    The cheapest method of making phone calls whilst at home is using a SIP phone. Pay £50 for a DECT (wireless) handset and use the internet to connect. It costs pennies to call Brazil even! You have the overhead of internet rental, but you've got that already as you're reading this...

    Just avoid anything that shouts FREE. It's just not. It's naughty and not nice.




    Report on 09 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • gibboxxx
    Love rating 5
    gibboxxx said

    Hi drmiket - I have been thinking about this. My partner has just left her job which provided a free mobile phone and calls. So, she is in need of a phone and service provider. The cheapest contract deals are SIM only at £10 per month. If you consider this cost and the purchase cost of a new phone then the deal for a new TV starts looking a little more inviting. In effect, if you remove the £10 per month cost you would need to pay for SIM only deal over 24 months (£240). The cost of a phone purchase - around £100? then you can take £340 from the best deal Car Phone Warehouse are doing (24 month * £25) = £600. The extra we would pay over the contract in this scenario is £260 for the new TV. Any thoughts or anyone aware of a better deal for a new TV and phone contract?

    Report on 09 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Thirdman
    Love rating 10
    Thirdman said

    In the Cashback section I can't beleive you are using the words; "trap", "rip-off", "complicated rules", "many clauses", "dodgy"!

    I've used cashback for years and it's simple. They send you a paper copy of when they have to receive a copy of a bill that covers a particular date. You have about a month to send it in to an address that is also written on the sheet. In case you lose it, you also have an email version and if you bought the phone online, as in my case, if you log onto the site can see all the dates again. I have never had a problem.

    Seriously where are you getting these phones from? It sounds like you're going with the ofers the cold callers are giving you. Surely it's standard advice - if you buy from a dodgy sales person you're likely to get a dodgy product?

    Report on 09 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • ticktock
    Love rating 35
    ticktock said

    My first mobile was on 'Rabbit' Yes I'm old, so what. Anyway, was with ***** (the red one with a tear-drop) for over 8 years. Phoned them for an upgrade, agreed prices and package, recieved contract which was almost double the price that was agreed so told them where to stick their contract.

    Been with o2 for sometime now, service and package is perfect.

    One of our daughters is on ***** (the other colour one) her contract is £35 a month. Her phone had a fault after 3 months, and she was told SHE would have to send the phone back herself to the makers. Have been in their shops myself to query this and was told, 'they are only responsible for the phone service NOT the phone' On top of that, the signal is usless it keeps ending the call.

    Report on 10 June 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Chuzzle
    Love rating 0
    Chuzzle said

    T Mobile users watch out for overcharges on emails (IPhone) as i was supposed to have free emails yet they have been charging me for "picture message emails". After a long conversation it transpires that when you reply to an email which has had an attachment, you will get charged for sending a "picture message" !!. unless of course you are actually sending an attachment or picture then fair enough.

    The only way around this is to send a seperate reply if you are not sending any attachments etc. Why dont they warn their customers about this? er well obviously they are raking it in. I have just managed to get a refund for this so they are aware of it, but cant be bothered to fix it.

    Report on 24 December 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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