A British tourist faced paying one of Britain’s biggest-ever phone bills after thieves stole his mobile and used a sophisticated scam to rack up £15,000 in just two hours.
Mike Clear was pick-pocketed in a Spanish resort and criminals used his number to repeatedly call a premium rate number charging up to £21 per minute.
Trading Standards believe the phone number the criminals dialled was connected to their bank account, which was then pumped full of cash.
Mr Clear says his iPhone was protected by a code, suggesting that the criminals used software to hack his number and use it to make thousands of pounds when it was taken on April 23.
Experts in Britain have told MailOnline it appears to be one of the rarest and most lucrative scams they have ever seen.
For ten days after his trip to Alicante, Mr Clear, who is an advertising executive from London, was told his April bill of £14,780.13 would have to come from his own pocket.
It would usually have been have been around £100.
O2 has now agreed to wipe the debt, and the father-of-one wants his terrifying experience to be a warning to others.
‘I’ve been losing sleep over it. I’ve just moved and we have a young child. I cannot afford £15,000.
‘What I didn’t appreciate until now was that SIM card fraud is as profitable for thieves as credit card fraud.
‘People don’t realise that having their phone stolen is potentially far worse than having their wallet stolen, because there is so little protection in place.
‘We carry our phones round and don’t really consider that they offer thieves a direct route to our bank accounts.
‘There must be plenty of people who think that remote locking their phone when it’s lost or stolen will give them some protection. But it’s a more or less useless security measure, when the SIM can be removed and plugged into the kind of sophisticated kit that will run up a bill for thousands of pounds in a matter of minutes.
‘I am extremely grateful for 02’s understanding and sympathy, and urge other phone users not to hesitate to cancel their SIM if there is even the slightest chance that their handset has been stolen, the consequences of unauthorised calls can be far more severe than the inconvenience caused by replacing the SIM later on.’
Trading Standards say that anyone in this situation should report the phone lost or stolen to the police and their mobile phone company.
A spokesman for the Trading Standards Institute said: ‘A victim would have to ensure that they reported the phone as stolen, and the phone company were notified as soon as possible then the rights of the victim would remain the same as any other fraud – such as card cloning fraud, where by the bank would then reimburse the victim.
‘This money was obtained by deception and fraud and therefore the victim should not be liable for those extra charges
‘Our Lead Officer has not heard of this particular scam before’.
His provider 02 believes the bill is ‘unprecedented’, and stepped in today to wipe his giant debt.
A spokesman said: ‘We noticed an unusual high level of calls on Mr Clear’s mobile account and our Fraud and Security team investigated this.
‘As soon as they’d identified fraudulent activity was happening, the phone was barred. We’ve spoken to Mr Clear today and let him know the charges have been cleared from his account.’