T-Mobile and Mistral Telecom Ltd - what's the connection?
So how many customers had their contract information sold off by a rogue T-Mobile employee to cold callers? According to the company, "hundreds of thousands" - T-Mobiles believes the details were traded for 15 months before they became aware of what was happening. But while the ICO prepares its case against the employee suspected of selling the data, there's still no word about who paid big sums of money for the information.
We asked for your experiences of receiving cold calls from mobile companies seemingly uninvolved in your T-Mobile contract. Here's what Bitterwallet reader John had to say:
"I've been getting pestered by these two outfits for the last three years between November and February, depending on when [these businesses] think my contract is up:
Free Upgrades (I think): 01132031377
New Logic Communications: 08450020012
Neither took any heed of my repeatedly asking them not to call so I just hang up on them now. When I challenged T-mobile about stopping the calls they blamed a third party, which was not possible as all my upgrades have been direct or their own stores.
Answering the calls from New Logic with "Hello New Logic Communications. I'm not interested in a Vodafone contract. Thank You." was excellent fun. "How do you know who we are?", "You've not heard my sales pitch yet?" and "F*ck off you tw*t" were some of my favourite replies from them."
Obviously neither John nor ourselves are accusing either company of paying for private data, but since we're what we laughingly refer to as a consumer blog, we're keen to investigate any claims of cold calling. Let's take Free Upgrades, for example. Companies House has no records of a company with that name, but the WHOIS information for freeupgrades.co.uk is publicly available, and together with the phone number places the business on a trading estate in Leeds.
The story takes an interesting turn when you look at their website. Free Upgrades is a single page with contact information for three service providers - no offers of upgrades, not even contact details for themselves. This hasn't always been the case, however - Google cached the previous version of the page which shows it to have been an operational business with information and contact details. When did Google capture this page? Last Wednesday. For whatever reason, Free Upgrades have taken their website offline in the past seven days:
A Google Search for Free Upgrade's number reveals dozens and dozens of complaints on WhoCallsMe.com, which provides forums to allow consumers to comment on cold calling. Some of the many comments on the site include:
T-Mobile said that they are a company called Free Upgrade. It is strange indeed that they are calling mostly T-mobile customers with contracts that are due to end. How did they get that info and do they stop when you sign up.
I am yet another T-Mobile customer with a soon to be renewed contract and received a call from this number. At first I didn't listen carefully and assumed it was T-mobile calling... Eventually it dawned that this was not the case and when I queried this with him he became much less chatty and very pushy, the only way to stop him was to hang up. I phoned T-mobile customer services to ask whether they had authorised this call, they denied all knowledge and said they did not pass on any customer details.
Have just entered into the remaining days of my contract with T-Mobile and started getting these calls.
This number is calling me about once a day at the moment. I'm a t-mobile customer just coming up to contract renual.
Had numerous calls from these on my t-mobile contact number, which were silent when i answered, then i mainly rejectd them over 2-3 weeks. When i finally answered and got to speak to someone they knew i was due an upgrade passing theirselves off as t-mobile, surely illegal as they are not but a third party in Leeds?
I dont accept their calls, but they're driving me nuts. I've noticed there seems to be a common denominator here, T-Mobile and the fact several people say their contracts are "soon up for renewal".
If you read through every complaint in that thread, the majority of posters independently identify themselves as a T-Mobile customer approaching their date for contract renewal. The thread was started just over a year ago. The cached version of the Free Upgrades site provides a company number for Mistral Telecom Ltd, the parent company to Free Upgrades. Here's another thread about a different number used by Mistral for cold calling, and again the commonality throughout is T-Mobile. It includes this comment:
I have just rung to gain info as to where they have obtained my number, to which they stated it was provided by T-Mobile. Strange because I work for T-Mobile (Senior Management Level) and we do not share any info with external companies, especially a competitor...
Another website that lists cold caller complaints also shows entries about another phone number belonging to Mistral Telecom, and when you search for that number in whocallsme.com, you won't be surprised at what you discover.
Now, again we'll point out that we are simply investigating a claim of cold calling presented to us by a T-Mobile customer, during which we've discovered claims by several dozen individual consumers that they received cold calls from a series of phone numbers operated by Free Upgrades and Mistral Telecom. Those making the claims over the past 13 months independently state they are current T-Mobile customers - no other service provider is ever mentioned - and many are reaching the end of their contract. All of this suggests some sort of business connection between T-Mobile and Mistral, since the latter may be considered to show a preference for customers of the former, yet many consumers have contacted T-Mobile to be categorically told they do not share customer information. We also note a trading website operated by Free Upgrades has been taken down within the past seven days.
Anything else to add? Oh yes, a small aside. Julia Forte lives in North Carolina and is the owner of whocallsme.com. Earlier this year, Mistral threatened to file a defamation action in the UK against Forte's ISP - it's a practise described by clpblog.org as "libel tourism" – the practice of bringing libel claims against US defendants in foreign courts, where the First Amendment and other provisions of US law that protect free speech (and in this case, Forte's right to run the website) are not recognised.
According to the site, the service provider almost buckled until they were offered a pro bono defense against the action, at which point they challenged Mistral to enforce the action in the US. All seems to have gone quiet since then.