Questions of cash: 'They billed me for calls I didn't make'

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Q. Late last year my mobile handset stopped working. I asked T-Mobile for an early upgrade, but it said this was impossible until one month before the end of my contract in January.

Q. Late last year my mobile handset stopped working. I asked T-Mobile for an early upgrade, but it said this was impossible until one month before the end of my contract in January. Instead, I took out a contract with Orange and traded in my old phone for £100. But I cannot be certain that I removed the SIM card.

I tried to cancel my T-Mobile contract, but could not do so before the end of the term. I did report that my phone was no longer used by me. A few days later, I received a bill from T-Mobile for £229 for calls I did not make. T-Mobile suggested I contact the police to enable me to launch a civil claim. I notified the police and they issued me with a crime number, but they now say the investigation was unsuccessful. I have since been billed by T-Mobile for another £70, but it has said that I don't need to pay this.
CW, London.

A. T-Mobile has agreed to meet half your losses and is waiving £115 on top of the £70. "T-Mobile is taking a loss on this," points out a spokesman. The company says, with some understatement, that it is important not to leave the SIM card in a phone when trading it in. SIM cards should also be destroyed, not thrown away.

Q. If I receive an unsolicited e-mail that apparently comes from a bank asking for my security details, I am told to delete it, because it will be fraudulent. So why is it OK for banks to make unsolicited calls to clients, in which they ask for security information? HSBC has done this to me, but I have refused to provide the information. It probably only wants to sell me a product.
MA, by e-mail.

A. Criminals might piece together sensitive information from unsolicited calls to help them commit identity theft. But where banks do make calls they must ensure they know the identity of the person they are talking with before discussing account information.

HSBC confirms it does make these calls, but says there are valid reasons - for example, if it has noted suspicious activity on your account which may be the result of fraud.

The bank adds that it will only ask for some types of information and will never request your personal identification number (PIN). HSBC suggests customers who are worried should insist on phoning the bank back on a trusted, publicised number.

The Financial Services Authority says it is up to banks to determine what security measures they have in place when phoning customers.

Q. In December I rented a car from Budget at Geneva airport. The car had a full tank of petrol and was returned by me with a full tank of petrol. But two weeks later, I was billed, including for refuelling. I have written to Budget in Switzerland, but without reply. Should I pursue this through my credit card company?
MC, Cheshire.

A. Budget has conceded it was in the wrong. It apologises "profusely" over the error and tardy response, and is reimbursing you fully.

Q. I'm a 30-year-old teacher and I paid into the Teachers' Pension Fund for two years. I'm concerned the fund is being changed, with the retirement age moving from 60 to 65.

I no longer trust this fund as I feel the Government may change other aspects of it in the future. I would like to withdraw from the scheme and have the amount I have invested refunded.
ML, by e-mail.

A. The Government has now entered into negotiations with public-sector trade unions, which might result in plans for a later retirement age being shelved. But Donna Bradshaw, a pensions specialist at independent financial adviser IFG, advises you not to be blinded by your anger. Even if you do now have to retire at 65, the Teachers' Pension Fund remains an extremely good pension scheme, she says.

"You may not think it now, but if you continue in teaching, you will realise that the Teachers' Pension Scheme is an excellent scheme and will continue to be so, even with the planned changes," Bradshaw says.

"The proposed changes will only affect benefits accrued after the new rules come into force and any existing entitlement will remain unchanged.

"Your scheme benefits are very generous and they are guaranteed to increase each year, in line with the cost of living. Not only that, your employer also contributes to your pension; in fact, the employer contribution is currently 13.5 per cent, which is more than double your contribution of 6 per cent. Leaving the scheme would effectively be like giving yourself a pay cut of the same amount."

If, despite this advice, you decide to opt out, it will be costly. If you have pensionable service of two or more years, you can opt for a preserved pension or to transfer to another pension arrangement.

If you have less than that, you would get a refund of your contributions, plus interest at 3 per cent a year, but this would also be subject to deductions. You would lose your share of a payment to the Contributions Agency to pay back your entitlement in the State Second Pension. Plus there would be a standard tax charge of 20 per cent. In addition, any employer contribution paid on your behalf would be lost.

Q. I have had terrible delays trying to open my Abbey Postal cash individual savings account (ISA). Abbey lost my original application, which included proof of my identity. How can I be certain that an Abbey employee has not used this for identity theft?
EB, Bath.

A. Questions of Cash continues to receive readers' complaints about Abbey's poor handling of Postal ISA applications, which exceeded its expectations. This is a problem that we have written about previously.

Abbey says it has now resolved the problems. The bank is adding £75.30 to your ISA balance to compensate you for lost interest arising from the delay. But we regret that despite numerous requests for reassurance, we have been unable to obtain a satisfactory response about your concerns over your lost paperwork and proof of identity.

While Abbey says that it has complete confidence in its staff's honesty, it failed to answer our repeated question of what happened to the applications lost under the weight of the initial response.

* Questions of Cash is pleased to receive readers' letters, by e-mail to cash@independent.co.uk or The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS. We cannot guarantee to respond to all letters and do not provide personalised advice. Please do not send original documents.

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