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Sorry, Wrong Number: British Tourist's Stolen Phone Racks Up Five-Figure Bill

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You assume, if your credit card gets stolen when you're on vacation, that the bandit will make a beeline for a local electronic store. And if your phone gets stolen, most of us would assume that the device just gets sold.

But London ad exec Mike Clear discovered a new, dizzying level of travel theft last month when he was vacationing in Spain.

According to a Daily Mail article by Martin Robinson, Clear’s phone got stolen one day in Alicante by pickpockets—lousy luck, to be sure. But the real shock came when his phone bill arrived: the bill, usually about £100, was now approaching £15,000 (about $23,000 Stateside).

As it turns out, the crooks were repeatedly calling a “premium rate” number that cost a whopping £21-a-minute, which racked up the exorbitant bill in just about two hours. It appears the crooks also set up that premium rate number, connected to their own bank account, and just needed to “recruit” phones to help them generate customers.

The article speculated that the pickpockets were also savvy enough to have some software that cracked the security code on Clear’s phone, which he had locked. 'There must be plenty of people who think that remote locking their phone when it's lost or stolen will give them some protection,” Clear told Robinson. “But it's a more or less useless security measure.”

For the first several days after the bill arrived, the story details, wireless provider O2 maintained that Clear was indeed responsible for his lofty phone bill. Happily, after further investigation, the company agreed to forgive the charges. A spokesperson for O2 called the crime “unprecedented.”

The lesson for the rest of us: if your phone ever gets stolen, cancel the phone—and any security code—stat.

See: Finding Lost or Stolen Gadgets.

Illustration by Mark Matcho

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