Sarah Vining with Lucy Owen - On The Case
Sarah Vining from Cardiff thought she was fine to use her phone abroad, but her trip ended up costing more than she’d imagined.
When Sarah's husband was booked to perform at the Las Vegas Science Festival the couple were keen to turn the trip into a working holiday, but the freelance marketing consultant and mum-of-two needed to make sure she had her phone with her at all times.
Sarah said, "A couple of days before I left I phoned Orange to check whether there would be any particular issues involved with taking my iPhone to the US. And the person at the other end assured me that everything would be normal really."
While abroad Sarah kept in contact with her family and work clients using Skype and emails, and occasionally updated her Facebook. Using the free wi-fi in the hotel and a mix of her iPhone and her laptop she thought her usage was normal.
But when she got home she was in for a big shock when a bill for £848 arrived. And that was only bill part one.
Sarah said, "I hadn’t realised that that only covered my first two days in Vegas and that bill part two would actually take the whole amount up to £2,500."
She had been caught out by data roaming charges. Little did she know her phone had been using different mobile networks while she was abroad and her internet service and applications, like email had been updating every second it was on, sending the bill sky high.
And when Sarah tried to sort it out with Orange it seemed there was no solution but to pay the bill.
She said, "To be honest they weren’t particularly sympathetic at the beginning. I was crying, begging and pleading and the only kind of option they offered us was the opportunity to transfer to their collections department where we could pay a ridiculous amount of money each month until the bill was paid off."
It seems Sarah is not the only person to get caught out by this. Mark Lovesey, from Risca, also ran up a bill of just under £2,400 with Orange after taking his Blackberry on holiday to Florida.
Tom McLennan, from Which? says this is a growing problem when people take their smart phones – those are the ones with internet access – abroad.
He said, "It’s primarily the new smart phones...that are not only designed to make calls but also used to download files, used to Skype, used for social networking. Many of the aps that people download and use these days automatically update. Each time they update they use data that costs you money."
This can also be the case for iPads and other tablets which use data to update applications. And the bills can be very expensive depending on where you travel in the world.
Tom said, "In Europe they’ve placed caps on the amount of usage you can have. Once they hit that allowance it stops so the customer, inadvertently, never spends more than 50 Euros."
But outside of the EU it can be a different story as there are no caps and the bill can soar, as Sarah and Mark saw.
Tom says you need to be clear about all of this before you step on the plane this summer. He said, "I think the first and foremost thing is to contact your network operator.
"Make sure you are aware what data costs are going to be, if you are unaware turn off your data roaming on your device ensuring that it’s not downloading data when you don’t want it to - that can be usually done in the network settings of the device.”
Orange have said they are committed to giving customers transparency when it comes to data roaming rates and they advise customers to call customer services or check their web site before travelling abroad to find out about the charges and services available.
They say that iPhone users specifically should ensure data roaming is switched off.
Orange is also investigating Sarah's specific incident and have told her she will only have to pay £337, the cost of a 500 MB Global Data bundle for the USA plus the calls and texts she made while in the States. They have offered the same solution to Mark Lovesey.