Coming home from an overseas trip to find a surprisingly high phone bill is nothing new. But one Australian got the shock of a lifetime when a European trip came with $571,000 in mobile charges.
The bill - which would have been enough to pay for over 285
return flights from Sydney to London - was a nasty surprise that came on
top of an unhappy theft.
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman said the case
occurred after an Australian traveller's smartphone was stolen in
Europe. Rather than dump the SIM card, the thief evidently decided to
phone up a storm that cost over half a million dollars.
The victim's father David took the cause up with the
telecommunications carrier and pointed out that the theft had been
reported to police. Some of the calls had been made to Somalia.
But the telco refused to wipe the record while insisting the full amount be paid.
Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Simon Cohen said the
case was one of 138,946 made by phone and internet users in financial
year 2014. The body will release its annual report on Wednesday morning.
Disputes from customers about being charged extra for exceeding their
mobile internet download limits have become the top topic of phone user
complaints this year. Photo: Glenn Hunt
It shows that the number of complaints about phone and
internet services has reached a six-year low but anger from customers
over excess download charges is on the rise.
The improvement in overall complaints was driven by falls in
complaints about mobile services, which dropped by 20 per cent to 73,518
in financial year 2014 compared to 2013.
SingTel-Optus and Vodafone Hutchison Australia both
experienced substantial decreases in customer complaints that were
raised with the Ombudsman.
"We're seeing fewer complaints in terms of mobile coverage
and mobile faults related we think to the significant investment by
telcos in mobile infrastructure," Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
Simon Cohen said. "So the steps being taken by the industry are
However, disputes from customers about being charged extra
for exceeding their mobile internet download allowance rose
substantially to become the top topic of complaint this year.
"As networks become faster and consumers want to download
more and as phones become better, it's a challenge to make sure there's a
match between the sort of data consumers are using and the
affordability of the plans they're on," he said.
Australian Communications Consumer Action Network chief
executive Teresa Corbin said that customers getting hit with high bills
should consider shopping around, with recent data showing most customers
used 2 gigabytes of data while using plans with caps of just 1GB.
SingTel-Optus showed the biggest improvement, with overall
complaints falling 46.9 per cent from 26,629 to 14,144. Problems with
coverage, disputed bills and poor contract information all fell at the
Optus and Vodafone Hutchison Australia also improved the most
in mobile coverage, with complaints from both companies falling 60.7
per cent and 58 per cent respectively.
But Vodafone Australia's mobile coverage still reaped the
most complaints in Australia despite the fact that it has fewer users
than Telstra and Optus.
The Ombudsman received 8143 complaints about mobile coverage
from Vodafone Australia's 5 million mobile subscribers in financial year
2014. In contrast, Optus' 9.4 million mobile customers made 1623
complaints while Telstra's 16 million subscribers complained 1526 times.
Telstra's overall complaints rose by 1.2 per cent to 58,009
during the financial year but Mr Cohen said the company also added over 1
million phone and internet services to its subscriber pool over that
Mr Cohen said the Ombudsman was working to provide contextual data to better rank the telcos as part of a big picture view.
"There are significantly fewer complaints about Vodafone from
consumers than there were 12 months ago," he said. "But I don't intend
to comment specifically about the proportions against each of those.
"We've been looking to contextualise our data and hope to be
in a position shortly to work with industry to provide that context
around the complaints information in addition to the pure trends."
A spokesman for Vodafone Australia said the fall in network
coverage complaints was a pleasing sign its investments were paying off.
"We know there is more work to be done, and remain committed to improving our customer service," he said.
Fortunately for Australian travellers, the Ombudsman said
efforts by all three mobile telcos to reduce international roaming
charges had helped lower the number of complaints about the issue.
This meant that David's son – and the Somali-dialling thief – managed to get away scot-free.
"The matter was resolved without him having to pay the charges," Mr Cohen said.