Pretoria - It’s a bit of a no-brainer, really. Increase the limit on pre-teen girl’s cellphone spend 15-fold, and her parents are going to be landed with an unexpectedly high bill. Here’s how the service provider made that happen...
As many a cellphone bill shock story in this column has illustrated over the years, it doesn’t take much to run up a horrendous bill.
For that reason, many people ask their service providers to impose a call or bill limit on their accounts.
What most don’t realise is if that limit fails, and a high bill results, the service provider takes no responsibility and expects you to pay up, regardless of the circumstances.
In other words, those limits are not guaranteed.
And as one reader discovered to his detriment, if you have a data “cap” on your contract, that doesn’t mean your access to further data will be blocked when you’ve spent that amount. It means you will be charged even more expensive “out of bundle” rates once you’ve used up that monthly bundle.
The “cap” is an allocation, not a limit, as the term implies.
But it was indeed a bill cap of sorts which Paul Rossouw imposed on his 12-year-old daughter’s cellphone, which falls under his contract with Nashua Mobile.
“It was nothing special – 100 anytime minutes and a soft-lock if it goes over R50,” he says.
It started out well; the first two months went as planned, with the phone being soft locked – incoming calls and messages only – when her bill hit R50.
Last month, Nashua Mobile sent the following message to the girl: “Dear valued Customer, due to your account being in such good standing, your Call Limit was adjusted to R769. Should you not wish to increase it, please reply ‘No’ to this SMS.”
Schooled by her father to ignore cellphone spam, she didn’t respond; nor did she show that text to her father. And then, yes, you guessed it, her spend the following month went a lot over R50. In fact, the total bill was more than R1 000.
“So, I went through her phone and came across that SMS,” Rossouw said. “Since when can a lack of reply be regarded as a ‘yes’?
“I hate to think how many other parents have been caught by this.”
It is illegal, and has been for many years, to expect a consumer to proactively turn down an offer, failing which it will be assumed they agree to it. It’s called negative-response marketing.
I took up the case with Nashua Mobile, asking how many of its subscribers had been sent that SMS, and what percentage of them had their limits unilaterally increased after failing to respond.
“Why was that SMS not sent to the account holder’s account, in this case the father, Mr Rossouw?” I asked.
“The fact that it was sent to the phone of a 12-year-old creates the impression that Nashua Mobile was taking advantage of a young girl who was very likely not to respond, not realising the repercussions.”
Responding, chief operations officer Barry Venter said the company reviewed its customers’ spend limits every three months to protect both them and the company “based on affordability”. Increasing or decreasing such limits was only done on accounts with limits imposed by the company, he said.
“Customers with their own imposed limits – they pay for this service – we do not include in the exercise as they prefer to have a lower limit based on their own requirements.”
The SMSes were sent to cell numbers “and we are not in a position to understand exactly how these are applied and used within his or her environment”, he said.
“We do provide the customer the opportunity to let us know, should he or she not be interested in the upward adjustment, but for the downward adjustments we do not provide the option, as we would put both the customer and Nashua Mobile at risk.”
But Rossouw said he had applied to have the R50 limit imposed on his daughter’s line. The amount was not determined by Nashua Mobile.
“Just because I pay my account does not mean they can give me more credit. They have no insight to my ‘affordability’. They adjusted the call limit from R50 to R769. How do they calculate that?
“That is 15 times my original set limit – definitely not affordable.
“To me this is recklessly dishing out credit,” Rossouw said.
Back I went to Nashua Mobile, and it was then that the company conceded it had made a mistake.
“We were at fault,” Venter said. “The call limit in question was loaded as a Nashua Mobile imposed limit and not a customer requested limit.
“We have rectified this on Mr Rossouw’s account and we have also reassessed and changed our communication that is sent out to our customers regarding the call limits.
“Going forward, if a customer does not respond to the SMS communication that we send out regarding increasing their call limit, we will not proceed, but leave the limit as is,” he said.
“We would like to apologise for the inconvenience.”
Rossouw has been refunded the bill which resulted from increasing the limit on his daughter’s account. - Pretoria News