Q&A: why is my mother’s mobile phone company holding her to ransom?

Q: My mother is out of contract with her mobile phone provider - so why can’t she leave?

A few months ago, my elderly mother, who has Alzheimers, was targeted by fraudsters pretending to be from Vodafone. I am my mother’s carer and I also have Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA).

The fraudsters called my mum to try to get her to purchase a new handset and contract. I didn’t question it, as she was at the end of her two-year fixed deal. I’d also contacted Vodafone the week previously on behalf of my mother to ask what her options were about upgrading - so I thought the friendly fraudster was trying to help.

Alarm bells rang when they asked for her to send them the one-time passcode. I know that’s not what most companies do so I hung up the phone straight away and called Vodafone to tell them what had happened.

They were sympathetic, however, we felt safer leaving Vodafone for a different provider, so that we could get a new phone number and make sure the scammers couldn’t contact my mother again.

When I called Vodafone to tell them my mother wouldn’t be renewing her contract, they said I couldn’t leave because I had a fraud case ongoing. For the past three months or so, we’ve been paying £30 a month for a contract we don’t use and technically doesn’t exist - just because Vodafone say they are still investigating.

Can my mobile phone company hold us to ransom like this?

A: Unfortunately, yes it can - but only for a reasonable length of time.

I’m so sorry to hear that you and your mother were targeted by a scam, but you have done the right thing.

Spotting the signs is really important for anyone but even more so if you are acting on behalf of a vulnerable person - and thank goodness you were able to step in on your mother’s behalf as things could have got much worse.

No one-time code

As you quite rightly mention, companies will never ask you for things like your full password or any security or one-time activation codes on any accounts. If you are asked for this, it should raise suspicions.

A real company will not mind you hanging up the phone and calling back on a number you are satisfied is legitimate. Best places to find phone numbers are on your mobile phone bill itself. If you’re calling a bank, they tend to print them on the reverse of your debit or credit card. If the caller pressures you to stay on the line, that is a further warning sign.

Holding to ransom - but not for long

While the mobile phone provider can keep you with them for a few days or even a couple of weeks while they investigate, it’s unacceptable that Vodafone has kept you waiting for so long - and that is where you are entitled to a refund. 

Luckily, as an attorney, you were able to successfully intercept the fraud from escalating - and it is another reminder for anyone caring for a vulnerable individual, a Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA) document is really important for protecting loved ones.

For more information about LPAs, contact the Private Client team at Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.

Liz Dalgetty

Liz Dalgetty

Consultant Solicitor & Notary Public

Tel: +44 (0) 1306 502251

Office: Dorking Office

Email: l.dalgetty@downslaw.co.uk