/ Be ultra-careful with your mobile phone in Spain from now on

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Toerag - on 05 Oct 2017
I work for a small UK mobile network operator. In the past fortnight we have had 2 instances of a customer on holiday have their mobile stolen in Barcelona. Within minutes their SIMs have been removed from the phones and inserted into a different device and used to funnel calls to multiple obscure international destinations. How many calls you ask? How about over 1100 calls at a rate of over 20 a minute in one instance! They have bills of literally thousands of pounds. The exact mechanism for the scam is very sophisticated and automated - we're talking about multi-jurisdiction organised crime here. We've seen it done before with business phone systems on landlines, but the use of mobiles is new. As a network operator it is very difficult to counter this level of sophistication and a victim's only reliable defense will be to report the loss of their phone to their network operator ASAP (before reporting the theft to the police) so they can disable the account. The rewards of the scam are so lucrative I can foresee it spreading rapidly throughout Europe and the rest of the world. If we've had 2 customers affected then a major network such as Vodafone or Three must be getting hundreds of customers falling victim to this, so please look after your phones, use decent PINs/swipe patterns and use a pre-pay if possible.
Hopefully someone on here will benefit from this warning!
matthew jones - on 05 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:

Know a guy who got stung by this scam. He refused (politely!) to foot the bill because he reckoned, rightly imo, that tele company should have some system for freezing massive outlays, like banks do if your card appears somewhere odd or with multiple withdrawals. My bank sends sms, ironically not a good system if some thievin' git has nicked yer phone however...
Epic Ebdon on 05 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:

This is one of the reasons why I like to have a pre-paid phone. Ok, so I might have £40 on it at a time, but it should at least stop me having massive liabilities. For personal use, I can't really see me ever wanting a contract with a phone - for me, I found it worked out more expensive, with more commitment and bigger potential liabilities.

I am surprised though that phone companies do not have systems in place to hinder the worst excesses - I realise that, like bank card fraud algorithms, there's a trade-off to be had between picking up fraud and not causing an alert for every transaction, but 20 calls per minute sounds like a spike that should be picked up. Would there be anything to stop a company putting a cap of, say £100 "off plan" spending per month on a £30 per month contract, after which, you have to call customer services to allow you to make more calls? It might not make money for the phone companies, but it would feel like a way to limit customer liabilities, as well as to reduce funds going to organised crime.
Andy Hardy on 05 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:

If you've had your phone nicked, how do you contact your network operator? OK from home I have the landline, if I was abroad on my own I'd be goosed...
Rigid Raider - on 05 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:

Is this why Samsung have made it impossible to open the Galaxy S7 and remove the SIM?
djwilse - on 05 Oct 2017
In reply to Rigid Raider:

Some Samsung phones are also fitted with an anti-theft, Mission Impossible style self destruct.
Steve Perry - on 05 Oct 2017
In reply to djwilse:

> Some Samsung phones are also fitted with an anti-theft, Mission Impossible style self destruct.

My S7 Edge is.
Fiona Reid - on 05 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:
Many thanks for the advice, following the recent posts re. robberies from cars at Costa Blanca supermarkets and my own experience having a car robbed in Tenerife, Spain is starting to become a less than appealing destination. We'll be out there in November so car will be always left with one of us babysitting it or obviously empty, parcel shelf removed, glove box open, nothing left in it. Phones will be carried up routes or locked in apt safe! What a truly crap world we live in


Just to check, if your phone phone and sim have pin locks set up will you be okay? or can they bypass that stuff too?

Also, my contract has a £50 maximum spend per month, does this scam get around that? or will you be okay if you have a limit set?
Post edited at 19:45
Toerag - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Fiona Reid:

> Just to check, if your phone phone and sim have pin locks set up will you be okay? or can they bypass that stuff too?

I don't know unfortunately, other people within the business have been speaking to the customer.

> Also, my contract has a £50 maximum spend per month, does this scam get around that? or will you be okay if you have a limit set?

You should be OK with a limit, it's up to your service provider to enforce that. You could always check your Ts &Cs in case roaming spend isn't included - if the foreign network does 'realtime' roaming using the CAMEL protocol you'll be fine, if they simply send through the call records every couple of hours you may be at risk of making calls beyond your limit until the call records get transferred.
drysori - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:

I'm always curious about how lucrative these scams are. How exactly do they make money from it?

In the case of credit card fraud there is a genuine cost to insure, but for mobile phones is there a real "cost" to the network of a phone being used in this way? I ask because there are always those stories of someone in this situation who hasn't reported it in time and has a huge bill that the network are demanding be paid, when presumably the network aren't out of pocket to the tune of the fraudulent bill, if that makes sense.
Toerag - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Epic Ebdon:

> I am surprised though that phone companies do not have systems in place to hinder the worst excesses - I realise that, like bank card fraud algorithms, there's a trade-off to be had between picking up fraud and not causing an alert for every transaction, but 20 calls per minute sounds like a spike that should be picked up. Would there be anything to stop a company putting a cap of, say £100 "off plan" spending per month on a £30 per month contract, after which, you have to call customer services to allow you to make more calls? It might not make money for the phone companies, but it would feel like a way to limit customer liabilities, as well as to reduce funds going to organised crime.

Yes, there are automated systems in place (which is how we shutdown the customer's phone before they reported the theft), however they can only work on thresholds (e.g. calls per minute /call minutes per hour) and one man's 'normal' activity is another's 'ruined holiday' activity. For example, a high-flying executive may be on business in Spain but have to spend all day on a conference call to Timbuktu. Most people would class a 6 hour call to Timbuktu whilst roaming as bonkers but for him that's normal and he doesn't want to get cut off after an hour by an anti-fraud measure. In addition some roaming inter-operator call record transfer is not in realtime so it's possible to run up a bill before the call records get transferred and the alert thresholds are crossed. The criminals are getting smarter all the time and the ability for threshold-type defences to trigger is decreasing all the time. This is something new and not all network operator's equipment or billing systems have the ability to deal with it effectively yet. For example, it's possible for us to set a global anti-fraud measure for one type of fraud, but we can't set it for individual customers. We adjusted its sensitivity the other day and promptly killed some customers' service because their 'normal' usage is completely different to 99.5% of other peoples.
Toerag - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to drysori:

> I'm always curious about how lucrative these scams are. How exactly do they make money from it?

We believe it's either 'revenue share' or 'short stopping'
Revenue share - the criminals set up a premium rate number in a dodgy country where they get paid for every call received (think of a Big Brother vote line whereby it costs you 50p a call and the TV company get 5p of that from BT or whoever owns the number.) They then use nefarious means to get people from around the world to dial that number (historically by hacking business telephone systems) and pocket the revenue share without spending money on making the calls.
'Short stopping' - an unscrupulous network operator charges other networks cheap rates for obscure destinations 'send us your traffic for Timbuktu between 2&4am when our network isn't busy and we'll only charge you 5p a minute instead of the 10p that Vodafone international will' They then point the calls at a tone/ announcement/music on hold instead of passing them onto the Timbuktu network and pocket the 5p a minute. Because they use obscure destinations callers don't really complain and it doesn't get picked up by the calling operator for some time. when they complain to the short-stopping network they just shrug their shoulders and say a downstream operator had a fault.

> In the case of credit card fraud there is a genuine cost to insure, but for mobile phones is there a real "cost" to the network of a phone being used in this way? I ask because there are always those stories of someone in this situation who hasn't reported it in time and has a huge bill that the network are demanding be paid, when presumably the network aren't out of pocket to the tune of the fraudulent bill, if that makes sense.

Yes, the recipient carrier or roaming network will make a charge to the calling network. This may actually be higher than the retail cost - for example, many networks charge their customers flat rates for foreign countries eg. we might charge 50ppm for all calls to Timbuktu. We get charged different rates by our carriers depending whether calls are to landlines, mobiles, or premium rates. With the standard call mix we make money, if someone is caning calls into a Timbuktu premium rate number we lose money.

Trangia on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Fiona Reid:

> Many thanks for the advice, following the recent posts re. robberies from cars at Costa Blanca supermarkets and my own experience having a car robbed in Tenerife, Spain is starting to become a less than appealing destination. We'll be out there in November so car will be always left with one of us babysitting it or obviously empty, parcel shelf removed, glove box open, nothing left in it. Phones will be carried up routes or locked in apt safe! What a truly crap world we live in

Spain has been a dodgey destination from a crime angle since I first started going climbing there in the 1980s. And before than in the 1960s, my late sister had an unpleaseant experience when travelling in Northern Spain with another girl and they were stopped at a police road block miles from anywhere by two policemen, who having checked their passports and car documents tried to chat them up, but then started trying to touch them, but when the girls resisted their advances it all turned nasty. They were saved by another car coming along which stopped, and managed to get back in the car and drive off.

Twice I have had a hire car broken into once whilst I was climbing on Puig Campana and once whilst stopped outside a car show room where we were within 50 yards of the car. We never heard a sound but returned to find the passenger window smashed and my then wife's handbag stolen. Because it contained our money and her passport, we had to spend a day going to the nearest British Consul, as well as having to return the hire car to exchange it. Journeys of several hundred miles. Then we had to attend the police station and pay for an interperator. All very time wasting and costly.

The Spanish police were not friendly, and uninterested.

I've also been stopped for no reason by police, who then demand to see all your documents. If you aren't carrying the car documents, and/or your id (passport/Driving lince) you get a fine. They can be very pedantic.

I also have had a Gipsy in southern Spain try to grab my shopping bag as I walked from a Supermarket to the car, which resulted in a scuffle before they ran off. For a time I owned a holiday home in southern Spain. Fortunately we were never burgled but neighbours were, and break ins are common.

You definitely need to be alert when in Spain. Never ever leave you phone (or anything valuable for that matter) on the table if you are sitting outside a cafe having a coffeee or a drink. I know people who have suffered from grab and run incidents.


Epic Ebdon on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:

Very enlightening - thanks for the reply. Timbuktu seems like quite the business hotspot for you guys ;-)
tripehound - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:

My Tesco mobile account has a limit of £5 overspend after I have reached my monthly call limit. I don't know if that prevents this type of scam though?
Toerag - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Epic Ebdon:
> Very enlightening - thanks for the reply. Timbuktu seems like quite the business hotspot for you guys ;-)

It's normally Algeria / Tunisia / Seychelles / central african countries / eastern europe. Timbuktu isn't normally implicated, but everyone knows it's a long way away so makes it easy to explain
Post edited at 11:26
phizz4 - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:

This has been one of the most useful postings on here for a very long time. Thank you.
dread-i - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:

You have mail.
Mike Hewitt - on 06 Oct 2017
Over the last decade, Spain seems to have become very bad for thieves targeting tourists, especially Barcelona and along the coat to the south of the city. There are websites dedicated to revealing the scams that criminals use to target tourists, check them out before you travel, so you know what to look out for. Number one rule, don't look like a tourist.
Neil Williams - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:

Always walk around Barcelona, particularly La Rambla, with your hands in your pockets. I’ve never known anywhere with such a pickpocketing problem, which the Police seem uninterested in doing anything about, which leads me to suspect that they are in on it.
Bjartur i Sumarhus on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Neil Williams:

I was mugged on La Ramblas. In fairness to them, it was a very gentle mugging. I left a bar very drunk in the early hours, suddenly found myself surrounded by 7 or 8 individuals who ransacked all my pockets then suddenly dispersed. I lost my wallet and some cash, but they didn't attack me which was a bonus.
Toerag - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to dread-i:

> You have mail.

as do you
Fiona Reid - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:
Many thanks for replying

I'll check whether the limit applies to roaming with my provider shortly. In light of this thread I think I might take the absolute minimum of stuff to Spain and take my 10 quid payg mobile when at a crag with my normal one left locked in the apt safe.
Post edited at 15:37
MG - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:
That's interesting.

Not aimed at you, but overall it seems unfair to me to clobber customers with huge bills unless they have been obviously negligent. Despite the difficulties you outline, companies will have much more potential to monitor and react quickly to illegal use.
Post edited at 15:24
Trangia on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Toerag:
I would add that my son works for a South African mining exploration company. Last year he went on an extended business trip all over the world stopping off at some pretty out of the way Third World airports with low security and baggage handling technology, including very poor African, Asian and South American countries. His luggage was never tampered with until he was in transit through Madrid (A First World European country!??) where his hold bag was broken into and a lot of stuff stolen.
Post edited at 15:31
Fiona Reid - on 06 Oct 2017
In reply to Trangia:

I was aware of issues in various Spanish places, have previously followed all the advice in Mallorca leaving nothing in view/ in the car etc etc.

Our Tenerife theft took place in Decathlon car park near La Laguna. Nothing left visible but climbing rucksacks in boot whilst we popped in to Decathlon - other half managed to go on holiday with 2 tshirts so we'd good to buy a few more. The car was in the underground car park maybe 20-25m from the main escalator into the shop. Car park busy, well lit etc, plenty other cars etc. We were away probably around 20 minutes. On return to the car we opened the boot, everything gone except the prickly pear I'd picked at the crag! The boot was locked when we left and when we returned, no damage done to the car. Neither us or the police know how they managed it, my suspicion is they had keys, or some means of getting in. The car was VW Polo.

The police didn't seem surprised and implied we were lucky we'd not been relieved of everything at the supermarket as that seemed to be the normal modus operandi. It didn't seem like theft from Decathlon car park was common though. Many folks had lost wallets passports everything. We lost all our climbing gear and my phone and camera. Thankfully we had both our wallets and my partners phone. It put somewhat of a downer on the holiday as that was day 2 but our insurers were great and we made the best of our remaing holiday. We didn't buy any more gear there so just went walking including a stunning day on Teide

The police said it was likely we were targetted as the car had hire company stickers etc. Sadly removing hire stickers isn't always possible as many are completly stuck on and won't come off without damaging paint etc. That was the case in Tenerife.






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