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Opinion: Stop the Smartphone Swindle says Virgin Media O2 COO Rob Orr

Staff Reporter
May 9, 2024

Stop the Smartphone Swindle: One year of calling for a fairer deal for consumers

Rob Orr, Chief Operations Officer, Virgin Media O2

One year ago, we launched the ‘Stop the Smartphone Swindle’ campaign to demand fairer mobile contracts for consumers.

We exposed how millions of people across the country are paying for phones they already own – a problem costing customers of EE, Vodafone and Three as much as £530m every single year.

Over the past 12 months, the award-winning campaign has been a huge success. From launching an online overpayment calculator, to deploying secret shoppers and even working with a professional pickpocket, we’ve shone a light on outdated bundled contracts, forced industry change and empowered consumers to make informed choices when taking out a mobile phone contract.

Orr: “millions of people across the country are paying for phones they already own”

With the ‘smartphone swindle’ causing millions of consumers to unknowingly fork out for phones they already own, we called on the industry to do three things:

  1. Introduce split contracts to give consumers greater choice over their mobile phone bills.

  2. Automatically and fully roll down customers onto an airtime only plan at the end of their minimum term to stop handset overpayments.

  3. Inform customers once they’ve paid off the cost of the handset at the end of their contracts.

Since lifting the lid on this half-a-billion-pound problem, we’re pleased to have helped drive positive change for consumers. Following the lead O2 set more than a decade ago, today, the three other mobile network providers (EE, Vodafone and Three) now all offer split contracts. This means customers signing up to these plans today won’t be charged for a handset after their contract ends.  It’s good news for consumers and over time, it will help reduce the number of people at risk of overpaying for phones they rightfully own.

But the battle is not over. The other operators continue to resist calls to do the right thing by putting an automatic stop to overpayments for pay-monthly customers and clearly telling customers when they’ve paid off their device. In response, we launched our online overpayment calculator to help empower consumers which has already helped over 11,000 people. This provides customers of any network the opportunity to check if they are at risk of overpaying for their handsets in a matter of seconds. 

Unfortunately, as things stand today, there are still more than 10 million customers locked into bundled contracts with the other mobile network operators that are at risk of overpaying for their phones.

Today, a year after we launched our campaign, we are once again reiterating our calls for the mobile industry to deliver a fairer deal for consumers. That means automatically and fully rolling down customers onto airtime-only plans when their contract ends – a change which could put money back into the pockets of millions of people overnight – and clearly informing consumers as soon as they’ve paid off the cost of their device.

Until this happens, consumers are set to spend hundreds of millions of pounds unwittingly paying for phones they already own.

It’s time to Stop the Smartphone Swindle.

Don’t get swindled. Stop paying for the phone you already own

Remember to: 

  1. Split – your device and airtime wherever possible

  2. Switch – if you are at risk of overpaying for your handset at the end of your contract and don’t have the option to split your bill, switch to another operator

  3. Save – money by being aware of this issue and never overpaying for your handset

  4. Share – tell friends and family if you think they might be paying for a phone they already own


Rob Orr

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