Troubleshooter: Shocking cell phone bill

October 20, 2009 9:00:00 PM PDT
After being shocked by his daughter's $400 cell phone bill, Ronald Michael e-mailed iTeam Troubleshooter Diane Wilson for help.Michael said he was used to paying $20 a month for his daughter’s prepaid plan. He said if his children were good, he rewarded them with air or texting time. It they were bad, they didn’t get any additional minutes or texting.

Each month he would pay for the plan, so when he saw more than $400 worth of charges, he though it must be a case of identity theft. But he learned otherwise.

Michael keeps up with modern day technology when it comes to his teens and their cell phones.

“It was a way for us to stay in touch, and if they did something bad the phone was taking away,” Michael told the Troubleshooter.

He purchased both of his teens Virgin Mobile prepaid phones since the phones don’t require contracts.

“It grew to them enjoying text messaging and that was a 30-day plan for $20,” he explained.

Each month Michael said he would Top-Up. For Virgin Mobile that means buying air time or texting time for your phone. He said when time would run low, he would Top-Up and buy his children more air or text time.

But topping up took on a whole new meaning when he noticed $431 worth of Virgin Mobile charges on his credit card.

“I contacted the bank they immediately canceled the credit card,” Michael said.

Thinking it was a case of identity theft, he reported it as fraud. He quickly learned the charges were valid.

Michael said he called Virgin Mobile and when he couldn’t get a clear answer about who authorized the charges, he turned to the Troubleshooter.

“It seemed like we were in a dead end, and a friend said call the Troubleshooter,” he said.

A representative with Virgin Mobile said the $431 worth of charges happened because Michael registered his credit card and allowed for auto Top-Up, which allows one to approve an automatic bank charge back to the registered credit card.

So when Michael’s daughter Haley’s airtime was running low, she received a message on her handset. By hitting a button, she was able to authorize charges to the registered credit card on file each time she received a message that she needed to Top-Up her account.

Haley admits getting the texts, but she said she didn’t know what it meant.

“I thought it was just a mistake,” she explained. “I didn't think it would go on my account. I just pressed okay, because [it] says no way to cancel out."

Michael said he never knew he registered a credit card. He thought he was just purchasing prepaid minutes.

“Common sense tells you I'm not going to pay $150 a day versus less than $20 a month,” he said.

Fortunately for Michael and his daughter, Virgin Mobile understands the financial burden and agreed to refund the entire $431 worth of charges. The company also placed Haley’s account into the Top-Up Card Only. That means nothing will automatically be charged to her father’s credit card.

Instead, a Top-Up card must be purchased.

Michael is thankful for the refund and is glad he finally got answers to why he was billed more than $400 worth of charges.

“I think I'd still be calling and talking to a representative over and over,” he said.

Virgin Mobile also discovered that some of the charges were used for third-party content and now have blocked Haley’s account from being able to download that content.

Virgin Mobile sincerely regrets any confusion that this incident may have cause the customer.

This is a warning to all parents. A representative for Virgin Mobile said they see this happen often as many parents automatically register a credit card onto a teenager’s account without realizing that means his/her child can authorize additional Top-Ups on a credit card via their handset.

In order to avoid unnecessary charges, you should avoid registering a credit card and use Top-Up cards or buy a plan to truly control their child's spending on a prepaid account such as Virgin Mobile.

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