A CHARITABLE student came home from an African aid mission to find herself owing £3,600 after her mobile phone account was targeted by thieves.
Distraught Bethanie Thompson had gone to poverty-stricken Tanzania for two months to teach first aid and French, only to come home and discover someone had racked up an enormous debt on her phone.
The 19-year-old had her SIM card, a small chip that goes into phones and allows them to connect to mobile networks, stolen and scores of calls were made to African numbers without her knowledge.
Her network provider, 02, originally refused to clear the debt, but then halved it to £1,800 as a “goodwill gesture”.
Bethanie’s four-month battle has included asking for help from foreign secretary MP William Hague and Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, who has communicated with the family and O2’s chief executive asking him to investigate.
The bill has now been wiped completely after the Hartlepool Mail contacted the company.
Bethanie’s mum, Pam Thompson, 48, of Greenbank Court, Hartlepool, told the Mail: “We had given up hope. But the Mail has sorted it out, and we are so relieved.
“It is awful for a 19-year-old to go through that. We were threatened with being blacklisted and with bailiffs over something we had no control over.”
Bethanie, who is currently studying law and French law at Edinburgh University, believes the SIM card must have been stolen from her bag when she arrived in Africa.
She had taken it out of her phone on the advice of workers with charity First Aid for Africa, who told her to use a Tanzanian SIM as it would be far cheaper.
The former English Martyrs School and Sixth Form pupil is said to have seen someone rummaging through her things shortly after she arrived. But when she checked she did not realise the tiny card was missing and thought nothing had been stolen.
That meant she never reported it missing, and only realised the calls had been made on her £12-a-month contract when she headed home.
An 02 spokesman said: “As per our policy, as long as a customer reports their phone lost or stolen, they will not be liable for the charges, in accordance with our terms and conditions.
“We do monitor accounts and we will take steps to contact customers if we become aware of unusual activity. But we can’t guarantee being able to bar the phone quickly enough if it isn’t reported.
“This is due to a number of factors, including the time it may take for call records to reach our billing system. This is why our terms state that the customer is liable for all charges and must report the loss or theft of a SIM card straight away.
“We do, however, look at incidents on a case by case basis and we will be in touch with Bethanie to offer her a further gesture of goodwill.”
Mrs Thompson, who is married to Paul, 51, who builds horse boxes, has been told the bill will now be written off and said she is “delighted common sense prevailed in the end”.
The housewife, who is also mum to English Martyrs pupils Anthony, 15, and Adam, 14, added: “It has been such a difficult time. My daughter is a student and can hardly afford next month’s rent, never mind this massive bill.
“Now she can get on with her studies and put this behind her.”