Steve Pardoe's O2 / BT Cellnet Fraud Index Page
Migrated to pardoe.net from pardoes.com
BT Cellnet (and now O2) are taking money from the accounts of thousands of innocent people without their authority
Logotypes of O2 / Telecom Securicor Cellular Radio Limited used here for the purposes of illustration and fair comment only
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"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".
- Edmund Burke
If you are a recent victim of O2 (formerly BT Cellnet) credit card fraud, or are a journalist looking for background information, please e-mail to us (address below) to request access to the article archive. This website ran to over a score of pages, and received hundreds of hits per week at its height.

You can click on these links to read a précis of the appalling story, and visit our media page for newspaper articles, and TV and radio programmes about the O2 / Cellnet fraud, prompted by our website.

Update 18. November 2013

Disappointingly, and despite the massive adverse publicity which we've generated for them and their shabby predecessors BT Cellnet, it seems that O2 are doing little to discourage fraudulent top-ups of their pre-pay mobile phones.

E-mails from victims suggest that this unnecessary and cynical fraud is happening again.

RK writes, in November 2013:

"I have just found your page after being taken for £10 twice, fortunately I have been refunded by HSBC but that makes them the victim. I have a little concern that on both occasions my bank rang me to ask if I had authorised a payment to some "Auto part company" when I told the bank I had never heard of them they decided to replace my card, this makes it four new cards in about three years.

I also phoned O2 to complain and was told that they would investigate and cancel the phone number it was drawn against, but from what I have read on your web page they may be lying.

The bank employee told me that the refund would be withdrawn if they found that the original payment was genuine and I got the impression that she suspected me of a false claim which annoyed me but I said nothing but the next time I will as I have been banking with them for 61 years since I was 7 years old. Why have the banks not done any thing to stop this, all they need to do is tell O2 to do checks or they will stop all payments requested for them, if all the banks did it O2 would certainly be in trouble and would sort it out."

Quite so. We do of course share RK's anger that the banks haven't clamped down on O2, but presumably the commission they receive on millions of pounds' worth of top-ups far exceeds the moral damage they suffer.

SP writes, in August 2013:

"Thanks for the helpful info about the telephone fraud. They are still at it- my daughter had 60 pounds taken from her Lloyds account. She telephoned the bank today and they promised to refund the money. She now has no bank cards or any access to her account until she can return to the UK and fill in the fraud forms etc. Amazing they are allowed to get away with this still after more than 10 years. Keep up the good work.

Please do quote me on your website if it helps. This thing is obviously very common as when she told a friend of ours, the friend checked her UK account (we are British but live in [...], Germany) and sure enough another fraudulent payment to O2 was uncovered! I suppose a lot of the payments are overlooked so it is not hard to see why O2 would do nothing about the fraud. Shame there is such a lax regulatory environment in the UK but as long as the money continues rolling into O2....

Previously, our correspondent SJB wrote :-

"Hi, I too have just been a victim of this scam (February 2011) and luckily spotted it online within days. Santander were contacted and immediately refunded the two £15 transactions. My card was locked and later replaced and I signed a declaration to say I hadn't made these payments. Appreciate the information, thank you so much".

We're glad to see that Santander dealt with this so promptly, but it shouldn't be necessary. If you're a victim and your bank doesn't take your case seriously, by all means point them to this website, so that they can see how widespread and long-lasting this cynical and schematic fraud has been.

PS writes :-

"Hi, I found your website through Google. I'm a victim once again of an O2 pay as you go top up using my credit card number. £30 on 22 December 2010. The last time was March 2009 £30 each for O2 & Talk Talk. I don't understand how they do it!".

Well, we do, and it's made easy for the thief by the lax payment systems adopted by O2, and also it seems TalkTalk, though we hear much less about them, as our website is "meta-tagged" for O2 and Cellnet.

KP wrote in October :-

"I have just found and read everything on your web site, thank you.
On the morning of Thursday last, I went online to check my account at Nat West Bank, and found entries listed as 02 Slough, at 15 Pounds each debited from my account. I immediately got in touch with the Fraud Dept at Nat West, and they refunded the money to my account, it was there to see within 20 minutes. I am only telling you so that you know that the fraud is still ongoing.
I have never had any dealings with 02".

Earlier - O2 are described by Barclaycard as a "fraudulent retailer" !

CH writes :-

"Thanks for the story and the links. On finding an 02 transaction today I called Barclaycard. They immediately cancelled [my] card to avoid further losses, telling me that O2 is known to them as a "fraudulent retailer". I'm now to expect a new card and some forms to sign to apply for a refund. Barclaycard say they will investigate once the forms are returned".

We were surprised that Barclaycard would be so explicit in their condemnation of O2, so we asked our correspondent to confirm this, which he did...

"The exact term used by Barclaycard on the phone was "fraudulent retailer". I'm sure this will be on Barclaycard's recording of my conversation with them. I can't exactly remember whether Barclaycard said O2 was marked in their records as a "fraudulent retailer" or said O2 was known to them as a "fraudulent retailer", but the term "fraudulent retailer" has stuck in my mind because it was a shock to me that Barclaycard are happy to continue giving them credit. Presumably, the profit from doing so still exceeds the cost (to Barclaycard)".

Sadly, this is the commercial arithmetic which allows O2 / Cellnet to get away with it - no card issuer can afford to forego these lucrative transactions. We should point out that Cellnet always used to deny that they were committing the fraud, blaming their dishonest customers, but it is O2 / Cellnet who actually take the money from their fraud victims such as our correspondent - the phone user just takes airtime from O2 (which costs O2 hardly anything). APACS themselves described Cellnet's procedures "an invitation to fraud", so the term is nothing new. To add insult to injury, Cellnet always refused to divulge the identity or location of the handset topped up, even to the Police, claiming "data protection", so the cynical scam continues with impunity.

Another correspondent mentions that forums such as MoneySavingExpert.com have lots of new traffic about the scam. Try searching on "O2 prepay fraud" for more examples, or read what bad publicity BT Cellnet suffered at the height of our campaign here.

Have O2 really no clue, or conscience, about card security?

Here's a case reported in The Sunday Times Online. The victim said, "I couldn’t believe it when Tesco Visa told me O2 would not be investigating the matter further.” I can well believe it : it suits O2's business model to protect their dishonest customer, just as it did when they called themselves Cellnet. It's a disgrace, and I'm utterly disgusted that O2 are still cynically profiting from it.

[1] Apparently I'm not allowed to say "stolen", since Cellnet used to insist that they had no "intention permanently to deprive", even though they refused point blank to reimburse the money they took from me! Instead, they threatened me with legal action if I used the word "steal" (their big-hitting lawyers, Lovell White Durrant, and PR company Fishburn Hedges, downloaded copies of the material on our website). Nice.

The Daily Telegraph (whose lawyers are more powerful than mine) were happy enough to call Cellnet's top-up scam "Steal-as-you-go phones" when they publicised this website.

Background

BT Cellnet (now trading as O2) deliberately allowed anyone to use anyone else's debit or credit card numbers to top up a pre-pay phone, with complete impunity. Cellnet simply took the money from thousands of victims' bank or credit card accounts, (including mine, no fewer than three times), without proper authorisation, and with absolutely no identity check. They fell back on a specious argument that their authorisation procedures had been agreed by the banks. This was disingenuous, because the authorisation they were referring to was that between Cellnet and their Merchant Acquirer, and purely there to protect Cellnet against cards which are over their credit limit or on a hot list. Cellnet relied on this confusion over authorisation, and a public perception that credit card fraud is an inevitable fact of life, to fob off their victims ; and, even more reprehensibly, to fob off the media. This was typical of a very messy and cynical PR exercise which BT and their associates ran to try to discredit my campaign.

BT Cellnet refused point blank to compensate their victims for their loss and inconvenience, and when the victims complained they were treated abominably, and even threatened with legal action (we have copies of letters and e-mails showing this). Cellnet's serial fraud against me and my company prompted this Internet campaign, to assist other victims and draw media attention to Cellnet's disgraceful behaviour. They refused to cooperate with victims, or the Police, in tracing the fraudulent phone user, leaving people exposed to repeated theft. Cellnet preferred instead to protect their dishonest customer.

You can still click on these links to read a précis of the appalling story, and visit our media page for newspaper articles, and TV and radio programmes about the O2 / Cellnet fraud, prompted by our website. The other material, including dozens of e-mails and letters, remains available on request.

And what about O2?  Oh dear. The "oxygen of publicity" backfired on BT Cellnet. In French, O2 is pronounced "Odeur"!


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