Bill Shock on Mobile Services
A recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) survey indicated that 30 million Americans (one in six mobile phone users) have experienced "bill shock," a sudden and unexpected increase in monthly phone bills that is not caused by a change in service plans.
Unfortunately, mobile service providers don’t always provide consumers with the tools needed to monitor and control their usage or give them complete information concerning the tools that are available.
Mobile devices have become more and more complex, and consumers have had to navigate more complex plans, choices, and bills. Some consumers complain to the FCC, and their database of consumer complaints gives a window on the types of bill shock consumers’ experience.
Several causes that account for large numbers of consumer complaints:
- International roaming charges that consumers run up without realizing it, which can add up to thousands of dollars.
- Charges that accrue when consumers exceed the limits on their voice, text, or data plans, and begin accumulating high charges at a per-minute rate.
- Unexpected charges when a phone is used with Wi-Fi in “airplane mode.”
- Charges for mandatory data plans that are included with new phones and plans without the consumer being aware.
- Taxes and other fees of which a consumer was not aware.
- Confusion about promotional rates, plans, and billing – including unclear or inconsistent guidance from salespeople and customer service representatives.
The FCC recommends these strategies to avoid bill shock:
- Understand your calling pattern for making voice calls, and ask your carrier for a plan that would best be suited for your kind of use.
- If you are an infrequent phone user, consider a pre-paid plan. Since you "pre-pay" for all your minutes, these plans make it impossible to go over your set limit.
- Understand what your roaming charges are and where you will incur them.
- Understand your options for data and text plans.
- Before traveling abroad, you should contact your provider to learn about the wireless charges that may be applicable while abroad. You should also learn about other options including VoIP (Internet calling), calling cards and buying a phone oversees.
- Ask how your carrier can help you avoid bill shock, with phone or text alerts, by letting you monitor your account online, or by giving you other information.
- If you have tried to resolve a billing issue with your carrier and cannot reach an acceptable resolution, you can file a complaint with the FCC. You can contact the FTC Consumer Center, toll-free, at 1-888-CALL FCC (1-888-225-5322), or file a complaint here.