Monday, September 29, 2008

Don't become a victim twice

People whose cellphones, or those of family members, are stolen and do not block their SIM cards, believing their networks or service providers would pick up the bill in the interests of combating crime, are being made victims again.

Why do people not block their SIM cards? Because a police officer asked them to keep their phone accounts active, enabling the police to track the suspects, and assuring them the cellphone companies would pick up the tab.

Instead, they end up compounding their losses with a hefty cellphone bill, run up by the criminals. Talk about rubbing salt in the wound.

Kathy Cromer-Wilson's son's car was hijacked in April, and his cellphone was among many things taken. Police asked him not to block the SIM card immediately, to allow them to track the suspects through calls they made.

The account was left "open" for three weeks, after which a police officer stationed in Benoni provided Kathy with a letter stating this had been done to assist the police.

"He said my service provider would cover the cost, but Nashua told me that absolutely no way do they do that," Kathy says.

"My phone account is R2 178 for calls made by the hijackers. So not only do we lose a brand new car, CDs, Garmin, sound system, university books and cellphone, but to top it all I have to pay for calls by hijackers!"

Asked to comment, Nashua Mobile said it advised clients when their cellphones were stolen that they should block the SIM card immediately, to prevent calls being made on the account.

"On some occasions, the handset itself is not blacklisted immediately so that our risk and fraud team can liaise with the SAPS to track the device down using the IMEI (the handset serial number).

"The IMEI number can be traced without leaving the client's SIM card active, so we always advise the client to block the SIM immediately.

"We explained this to the client when he contacted our call centre, but he preferred to leave his SIM card active.

"Unfortunately, that means he remains liable for the call charges. We are sorry that we must impose this extra burden on the client after he was a victim of a crime. We strongly advise other clients who find themselves in a similar situation to trust the advice of our customer-care consultants."

Andre Byleveld's story is an extreme version of this scenario.

Last October he took out a R50 pre-paid contract with Cell C for his mother, Connie Janneke. Three months later she was murdered and her phone taken by her killers.

Andre, too, says he was advised by police not to "blacklist the cellphone" in order to help them track down the men who murdered his mother, and he was given a letter confirming this.

He was happy to oblige, because he knew the most it could cost him was R50.

But unbeknown to him at the time, the network had activated a post-paid contract instead, and Andre ended up with a bill of more than R12 000.

And so began his calls to Cell C. He was repeatedly assured, by several Cell C staffers, that he'd be refunded, but it just didn't happen.

"Now it looks to me like I'm at a dead end," he told.

"I have given them everything they asked for, but still no refund; just one empty promise after another."

I took the case up with Cell C's chief customer operations officer, Steve Bailey, who firstly confirmed, as I'd suspected, that there is no formal agreement between the network and the SAPS regarding the network footing bills for airtime used by criminals on lost or stolen phones.

"The customer is unfortunately liable for any costs incurred by criminals if the matter was not reported, and the line was not deactivated as a result," he said.

"On request by the SAPS and through the right legal channels, Cell C will support the SAPS in their efforts to trace criminal suspects by deactivating the line but keeping the handset 'alive'. Once the line has been deactivated, no more costs can be incurred on that account."

Possibly in some cases the police's advice to keep the handset active is being misinterpreted by crime victims as an instruction to keep the SIM card - and thus the account - active. Big mistake.

The good news is Cell C concedes the post-paid account was opened in Andre's name, instead of the prepaid Controlchat 50 account, so he's finally been refunded the R12 100

"We have also offered to replace his SIM card at no cost, and have migrated him to the correct cellphone package.

"And we have recharged his account with airtime to the value of R250 as a gesture of goodwill."

Bottom line - if your phone is stolen, contact your network or service provider immediately to have the SIM card blocked, so the criminals can't use the phone at your expense.

The police can still track the criminals through the handset itself.

2 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

The police CAN tracce & track stolen cellphones to within metres of its location at any time, but they never DO.
Lack of manpower, lack of know-how, lack of IQ all play a role in helping the criminals get away.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts exactly. The cops give zero attention to cellphone thefts so why leave it open???

If they don't bother with murders and rapes, you think they are going to put a detective out to look for your scrappy old Nokia?