Mystery modem use results in R16?000 bill shock and suspended accounts

2014-07-08 00:00

IT’S been another week of bill shock, but this time it was Vodacom customer ­Sharon Salmon who complained about a mystery R16 000 data bill on her dongle modem.

Salmon said Vodacom had suspended her account on which she usually pays R130 for two gigabytes of data a month, allegedly without warning that its data usage was abnormally high. However, Vodacom spokesperson Richard Boorman said a warning was sent to the SIM card in the dongle.

Salmon lodged a billing dispute with Vodacom, adamantly claiming she had not used R13 975,44 worth of data, which after VAT, itemised billing and a subscription fee tallied R16 088,10 on her March account.

But it was when, despite the dispute, Vodacom cut off services to all her other paid up accounts, including her iPhone, BlackBerry, tablet and a second dongle in June, that she contacted me for help.

“I did not do anything different in March than any other month on my computer. I have had an iPhone Vodacom contract for three years now. I have always updated my iPhone and it has never chased up my account to R16 088,10,” Salmon said.

She said no one else had access to the dongle, making the excessive usage a mystery.

Salmon said she also couldn’t understand why about 16 Gb of data cost R16 000 on contract, while she could have bought the same data for R999 as a prepaid bundle.

Salmon said she had also printed her statement off Vodacom’s website that did not reflect high usage.

“A dispute was logged, and a young guy phoned me and spoke so rudely to me. I never received a report back after that from Vodacom,” Salmon said.

Salmon said she later received a statement indicating high data usage, but with no explanation of how it had been used.

“I am so upset and stressed about this Vodacom dispute. I really wish I could just close my accounts,” Salmon said.

Boorman said 17,5 Gb of data had been used on the device.

“Our systems record the unique identification number of the device being used by a SIM card at any given point and this information shows this is the same dongle modem that Ms Salmon had been using since the prior year,” Boorman said.

“We double-checked that no SIM swaps had been done and that a twin-SIM hadn’t been set up. In short, everything we have points to R13 975,44 worth of data being used via this SIM on a Vodafone K4305 modem,” Boorman said.

He said most of the data had been used, in descending order of quantity, for Apple Updates, Google, Http Generic, Facebook, Http Browsing, Https secure sites like banking, Windows Updates, Gmail, Adobe Updates, Twitter, Dropbox, Gdrive, Linkedin, DNS and Http Video.

On the issue of the high “out of bundle rates” for data, Boorman said: “We buy data transmission capacity on both local and international ‘pipes’. We pay for a certain amount of capacity up front, whether it is used by our customers or not. If we under-provide, the result is congestion, and if we over-provide, we run inefficiently, which makes it harder to bring down costs and prices.”

Boorman said data usage warnings had been sent to the customer.

“We normally insist that these SMSes are sent to the cellphone of the account holder, but in this instance they were sent to the SIM in the dongle. These SMSes would have registered on the dongle management software and can be viewed from the PC, but this isn’t an ideal solution,” Boorman said.

Salmon remained adamant she had not racked up the additional charges.

In the end, Boorman said that given the “exceptional circumstances”, he would request a 50% discount on the data charges. He said the customer’s other accounts had been unlocked.

Boorman advised customers to set a spend limit, which once hit, would soft lock the account and to make sure the account contact number was for a cellphone, so that warning SMSes would be visible. “Prepaid is the other route to manage spend,” Boorman said.

• Send your consumer issues to Lyse Comins at consumer@3i.co.za

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