The telecommunications giant Vodafone has been heavily criticised by industry watchdogs for instructing a debt collection agency to recover a bogus debt from an old age pensioner.
Fraud leads to debt collection
It emerged last week that despite Vodafone earlier accepting that fraudsters had purchased a mobile using the pensioner’s name and address details, before running up a large bill, they still engaged a debt collector to recover the outstanding account from the pensioner.
The debt collectors chased the 70 year-old female pensioner who lives alone for a bill of over £600 for the purchase and use of a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, leaving her concerned and worried.
The scam which is becoming more and more widespread began with the delivery of a parcel to Muriel George’s Dartford home in late January 2015. Within minutes of accepting the parcel and before opening it, Muriel received a telephone call from the fraudsters saying they were from the courier company and that the parcel had been delivered to the wrong address. When they said someone would call round and collect the parcel later it sounded genuine, as she was not expecting a parcel and knew it did not belong to her.
Debt recovery agency instructed
The parcel was collected later that day by a man riding a motorcycle and Mrs George thought that would be the end of the matter. However, a month later she received an invoice for the monthly phone rental and data use of £157. When she contacted Vodafone they immediately confirmed that a fraud had taken place and that her identity details had been used by the fraudsters. Despite the admission of fraud, Vodafone’s accounts department continued to demand payment of ever increasing amounts from Mrs George. Eventually the account was passed to a debt collection agency who then contacted Mrs George demanding payment of £612 in rental charges, data charges and recovery costs.
In a statement Mrs George’s son, Derek explained: “We have letters from the fraud department at Vodafone acknowledging the fraud and stating we are not responsible for the bills, but the accounts department appears unaware of this. The letters all seem to be computer generated and there is no communication between departments.”
“We have spent hours on the phone to Vodafone speaking with managers from all departments and they just pass us on to someone else. The accounts department just said they cannot comment as the account has been transferred to an external debt recovery agency.”
Industry watchdog intervenes
Following intervention from industry watchdog Mobile News, Vodafone instructed the debt recovery agency to cease recovery action and have written off the debt.
A Vodafone representative released a statement saying: “We would like to apologise to Mrs George, not only has she been victim to fraud, but she has also been treated very poorly in our attempts to recover a debt she did not owe. We will ensure she is not contacted again by either our accounts department or the debt collection agency. We will also make sure that the incident is not recorded on the credit file of Mrs George.”