A recruitment worker has been landed with a £21,000 bill after a thief stole her phone and went on a premium rate spending spree.
Georgia Harris, 23, realised her Samsung Galaxy phone had been taken when she arrived back in Britain after a trip to Barcelona with friends.
She immediately called police and Vodafone to report the theft and visited a store a few hours later to pick up a replacement handset and sim card.
But Georgia, from Worthing, West Sussex, was horrified when staff informed her that the account had been suspended for “suspicious activity”.
They revealed her service had been stopped when the bill totalled £21,183.82 – in just a few HOURS.
Records show the thief had began to conference call a premium rate international number multiple times every minute from 7.52am on the day it went missing.
Georgia arrived back at Gatwick Airport at around 1pm, reporting the theft shortly after.
She said: “I went into the store to pick up my phone and the customer assistant told me that the phone had been locked.
“He looked at the account further and his mouth dropped open. I thought that someone might have used the phone and racked up a bill of hundreds of pounds.
“But then he said it was £21,000. I just couldn’t believe it. I phoned Vodafone and they kept saying that I was liable to the point when I reported it stolen.
“I didn’t realise it was stolen until I reached Gatwick. They kept talking about payment plans. It is such a lot of money.
“I didn’t think it was possible to run up such a huge bill. It is the size of a house deposit.”
Georgia enjoyed a few days in Barcelona to celebrate a friend’s birthday before flying back to Britain on Saturday March 16.
She realised the phone was missing after arriving at the airport at around 1pm and called police to report it stolen.
Later that day, Georgia visited her local Vodafone store, where staff informed her of the huge bill.
She contacted the customer services department on Tuesday and was stunned when a customer assistant insisted that Georgia was responsible for the bill.
Georgia, who bought her phone a year ago, added: “I couldn’t believe the bill was that huge. A couple of hundreds of pounds maybe or a thousand but £21,000 is crazy.
“I just can’t believe they didn’t suspend the account when it began running into thousands of pounds.
“Vodafone said that because I was abroad, it didn’t show up on my bill for 24 hours. I find it hard that a global company in an age where everything is instant can say that.
“I shouldn’t have to pay for their computer system not updating.”
Vodafone has offered to reduce Georgia’s bill by £1,500 as a “goodwill gesture” – leaving her to pay more than £19,500.
A spokeswoman for the phone company said it will investigate the situation and contact Georgia again in a week.
She said: “This is a very unusual case. Normally, the customer is liable for any charges up to the point they report their phone lost or stolen.
“However, this phone seems to have been used as part of a deliberate and organised crime which we will be investigating.
“In this case, we will waive all of the charges raised by this fraud.
“It’s worth remembering how important it is to keep your phone safe, and get in touch with us as soon as you suspect it’s missing.”