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Old Jul 28, 09, 8:49 am   #1
 
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Question Huge cell phone charges

There have been reports in FT and elsewhere of people inadvertently running up cell phone charges in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, especially when traveling internationally. I don't understand how this is possible, probably because though I have an international cell phone, I never use it for much except an occasional voice call or text message -- it's almost always turned off.

Can someone explain to us novices how it's possible to rack up such huge charges without realizing it?

Is there any way to protect yourself from this?

If you have a netbook or laptop connected to the internet via the cell phone network, does the same risk exist? Any protections?

Thanks for any enlightenment.
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Old Jul 28, 09, 9:00 am   #2
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If your phone is set to automatically check for email, you can run up hundreds of dollars in data download charges.
The way to avoid is either to disable the automatic checking of email, or to sign up for an international data plan.
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Old Jul 28, 09, 9:32 am   #3
 
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And if you leave the phone on and haven't disabled call forwarding (voicemail), every call that you don't answer will be charged for a minute of roaming... and if you have things like Google Maps, Gmail, Google Sync, etc., turned on... the list goes on.
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Old Jul 28, 09, 9:32 am   #4
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Sometimes the rates to make calls using your phone in a different country can be as high as $13/minute or more. Have a 30 minute business call you have to take? Later you have another call that can't be missed? I have had a $2000+ phone bill from a 10 day business trip in India. Since then I have get local prepaid SIMs for every country I visit.
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Old Jul 28, 09, 9:34 am   #5
 
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This same risk exists with the data cards for the various networks. Although the cards work in other countries, they all incur roaming charges which are outrageous in many cases. I had an work issue while on vacation in Mexico and was using my data card for a number of hours only to come back to a bill of a couple of thousand dollars, more than the entire vacation.
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Old Jul 28, 09, 9:49 am   #6
 
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I've always checked with my carrier before any Int'l trips for an Int'l plan that will cover the countries I will be in so I don't have any surprises waiting for me when the next bill arrives.
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Old Jul 28, 09, 10:36 am   #7
 
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Verizon played a nice trick on me... My US air card connected fine in Canada, and it even said "Verizon Wireless Network". Turns out I was roaming, didn't know. 892$.

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Old Jul 28, 09, 10:42 am   #8
 
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I'm glad this has never happened to me although I've been all over the world. That was the very reason why I didn't get an iPhone and I've never slipped in my 3G data card in my laptop. My phone is an HTC Touch Cruise and I have never incurred more than $2 a day despite using e-mail on my cellphone (separate from SMS, I know).
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Old Jul 28, 09, 11:57 am   #9
 
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That's one of the sticky points with having a GSM phone when traveling abroad (outside of US/Canada). You'll be roaming internationally, and a call may get forwarded to your voicemail if you don't answer.

However, most likely you'll be charged twice: once from the home switch to the "visitor's" switch, and another from the visitor's switch back to the home switch to route to your vmail.

The lowest-cost solution would be to keep your phone off after you take off for your int'l flight, so your phone is not recognized as roaming. Then, upon arrival, buy a local SIM card to make your calls, and give your contacts your local temporary number. The advantage is many foreign networks do not charge for incoming calls; the obvious but minor inconvenience is having to deal with an extra phone number.
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Old Jul 28, 09, 11:59 am   #10
 
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If you're offshore (cruise, working, whatever) you can incurr a profoundly nasty surprise if you use your cell phone.

Thats offshore as in ocean/sea/gulf ... as opposed to a Cayman bank account or customer service department in India.
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Old Jul 28, 09, 12:10 pm   #11
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vunder31 View Post
If your phone is set to automatically check for email, you can run up hundreds of dollars in data download charges.
The way to avoid is either to disable the automatic checking of email, or to sign up for an international data plan.
E-mail is pretty small. My phone only downloads text until told otherwise and each e-mail is only a few K. I'd have to e-mail quite a bit to spend more than $100 or be gone for quite a while.

Don't forget kids who use cell phones as alarm clocks and get 100 texts at international rates every night.
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Old Jul 28, 09, 12:11 pm   #12
 
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even if you watch it, it can come out off and they bill you, but indeed one can often at least the first time, get them removed.

A friend of mine went to china a while ago, bought the international plan, for 100MB of data for X$. He cleared his data record on the iphone before leaving, and tracked it. He used to phone and racked up usage on the iphone at least of 93MB. Well, when he got back, AT&T said he had used 230MB of data and billed him like 900$ extra. He said no, I have a screen shot of the phone, with a time stamp etc. "you TOLD me to watch my usage via the phone screen and I did" They reversed the charge.

It is just another example of what I think is a price TEST. They'll put a number out there and SOME people will pay. Most people don't track it and have no idea how to argue the point.

Buyer beware.
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Old Jul 28, 09, 1:12 pm   #13
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Downloading e-mail may be small, but checking every two or three minutes at $15 a minute with a one minute minimum connection each time will add up very quickly. You need to be aware, if your phone has a data plan, that you are not doing stuff like that constantly without even knowing it.

Another way some people get hit (though they pretty much don't do this anymore) is if they are taking a cruise. They think they are roaming on the islands network for some amount of money, but instead are hitting the cruise ship antenna at $5 or $7 a minute. Most ships shut their towers off in port, but you can still hit another one passing by depending on where you are.

The way some people do it with out realizing it is they don't understand the rates they are paying when they make or receive a call. At $13 a minute, a ten minute call to check and see how everybody is costs you $130. Make a couple of those a trip, and it's through the roof.


Like anything else money related, the easiest way to get around it all is to know what the rates are before you use the phone.
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Old Jul 28, 09, 3:13 pm   #14
 
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Very true. Roaming rates on the cruise ships are quie high. Tmobile charge $4.99 while the remaing major US carriers charge $2.49.
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Old Jul 28, 09, 3:33 pm   #15
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ntamayo View Post
Then, upon arrival, buy a local SIM card to make your calls, and give your contacts your local temporary number. The advantage is many foreign networks do not charge for incoming calls; the obvious but minor inconvenience is having to deal with an extra phone number.
You can also switch to use something like Google Voice / GrandCentral and just put in your local SIM number to ring. That way people dial the same number as usual, but will get you at your new local temp number. You can also make rules that allow only "important" calls to be put through. This is assuming you gave your contacts your Google Voice number instead of your actual cell number.
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