Help! Verizon’s “global” plan overcharged me

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Lisa Littlewood is overbilled by Verizon and it won’t adjust her invoice. Why not?

Question: I’ve recently run into an issue with Verizon Wireless that I’m not sure if you can assist with.

I’m a purchasing manager for a British online tour operator but I’m based in the US. I travel internationally fairly often and always purchase Verizon’s $25 global data plan for 100MB. It auto-renews when you hit the 100MB. At most I have reached $100 in global data and that was during a two-week business trip to the UK.

I recently traveled to the Bahamas for a conference and arrived on June 11th and departed on June 15th. After being there six hours, I started receiving texts from Verizon advising that I had reached $100 in global data.

Concerned, as this was quite odd, I contacted their global support team to try to determine the issue. The only resolution they could offer me was to remove all the applications from my phone after I explained to them that my background data is always turned off. Removing apps defeats the purpose of having global data. The person I spoke to was to call me back and never did.

Once I received one bill with an additional $250 in global data charges, I contacted Verizon to find out where the issue was and for them to reduce the charges, as they were unable to assist me when I raised the problem. They were going to raise a ticket to research and contact me within a week. I never received a call. I received a text from them promising they’d be in touch within the next week. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know they didn’t.

So I called Verizon again yesterday and spent nearly two hours on the phone explaining the situation to two people, one of whom was a supervisor. A supervisor offered me a $50 credit, which I really don’t find acceptable. I’m willing to pay no more than $100. I refuse to pay my bill until this is resolved. I am at a loss as to where to go next.

I’ve been a loyal Verizon customer for 15 years, even when there are carriers out there like T-mobile who offer free global data and offer more cost effective plans — and this is the thanks I get? I will not be a Verizon customer much longer after this, I just want to get this issue resolved. Can you help? — Lisa Littlewood, Philadelphia

Answer: You were being overcharged for your international data, no doubt about it. And I know because the exact same thing happened to me on a recent visit to Europe — the warning texts, the big bills, the obtuse call center employees. Only with me, I was dealing with AT&T. It took months to get my international bill sorted out.

The fix, at least for me, would have been to find a more reasonably priced SIM card. But if I’d known then what I know now, I would have turned my phone off and left it off for the duration of the trip. European hotels do have Wi-Fi, and you can do almost everything from a laptop that you can do from a phone these days.

Looking back, it’s difficult to know what was causing my data overages. Was it something on AT&T’s end, or an app that I’d installed on my phone? There’s no comparable data drain when I’m using the phone in the States, but then again, I’m grandfathered into one of AT&T’s unlimited accounts, so it’s not something I even pay attention to. Apps on your smartphone will automatically synch in the background and then there’s Siri, who becomes a little data piggy when she’s giving you driving directions (such as they are). Needless to say, 100MB can get sucked out of your phone very quickly.

You did the right thing by responding to Verizon’s texts, but its solutions were impractical. When you’re traveling overseas, you should always have a plan “B” for staying connected (a tablet or computer) so that if your phone blows up or is stolen, you’re not out of touch with the rest of the world. That would have been the time to push the button on plan “B.”

In terms of resolution, I think a brief, polite written appeal to a Verizon executive might have been helpful. Refusing to pay your bill? Probably not so helpful. The company would have just sent the bill to collections, and you don’t want that.

I contacted Verizon on your behalf. Verizon agreed to apply a $150 credit to your account, which you’ve indicated is an acceptable resolution.

Does Verizon make it too difficult to fix phone bill errors?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • PsyGuy

    Everybody makes it difficult to correct phone errors, or excessive billing, please note I did not state “over billing”. I used to have this happen a lot, until i got tired of it and devised other solutions. The real problem is that local carriers are as much at the whim of the overseas provider as you are. In the vast majority of data cases, there isn’t anything to research, the overseas provider is just passing on the charges, which can be whatever the overseas provider wants to charge, with your plan carrier adding on some administrative costs and some profit. There is little regulation about what constitutes “data”, in my experience its location services (GPS) that’s handshaking your location constantly, through cellular data network. Its easy to turn off data roaming and on my iDevices, and fixed my problem.

    Incidentally, the “local sim” option isn’t always an option, some countries (Japan) wont provide you a SIM card or give you even a prepaid plan without a residency card. Sure you can rent a SIM/phone at the airport but the rates are about as bad as just using global your international/global plan through your provider.

  • Bill___A

    100 megabytes is not a reasonable limit for smartphones. It is difficult to believe that 100 megabytes could last two weeks.
    Nowhere does the OP say how much data she actually used.
    Chris’ solution is correct as far as getting a local sim card,,but that doesn’t work in restrictive countries like Italy.
    As for hotels in Europe, some have good internet, some have very bad internet. I am in a hotel in Scotland. 0.43 mb/s upload and 0.05 mg/s download. That’s pretty much completely useless. I am using a device that is getting data by a local sim card. 10 gigabytes for about $25.
    Turn the roaming data off. It is far too easy to use 100 megabytes.

  • backprop

    It should be very simple to see, at least approximately, how much data one actually used and compare it to the charges as a starting point. Otherwise, it’s not clear at all that she was overcharged.

  • MarkKelling

    How much data does the bill show was used? Not the dollar amount, but the bytes, and how does this compare to the last trip byte count. Has the LW ever been to the Bahamas with this specific phone on this specific plan? A new phone may have different data usage than a previous one. Important questions to determine if this was an overcharge.

    The other thing that could have happened is that the rate for the global plan was not applied and the charge was for roaming rates. Happened to me once with AT&T. They were able to correct it with minimal effort on my part once I convinced them that since they charged me for the international plan that meant I was on the international plan and should be charged at the international rate.

  • MarkKelling

    Depends on how you use your phone if 100Mb is enough. I get by on an average of 300Mb a month at home. But then I am not constantly on texting and playing videos and so on. I use WiFi for that. My last trip to Europe which was for business and lasted 3 weeks I used 145Mb.

  • BMG4ME

    The issue is the data plan not the billing resolution. Clearly they do a good job of resolving issues. My concern is the 25 dollars for 100mb which is lousy value.

  • EvilEmpryss

    If the bill were to show a high data usage (beyond what could be accounted for by GPS or background apps) is it possible that her phone was hacked and being used as a carrier for other signals? I seem to recall this kind of thing happening at the last Olympic Games, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be a possibility at other touristy locations. I *think* all it takes is having wifi active, though I’m no tech expert.

  • Alan Gore

    Data roaming is probably the worst deal in IT. If you do sign up for a global cell plan, be sure to make it voice only. You can then use local WiFi to get data access.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Agree that $25 for 100 mb is a poor deal, but given the non-local SIM-card alternative? It’s a cheap solution compared to the other money I’m spending on a trip.

  • emanon256

    Strange, it said I already voted in this poll, maybe it was a reused poll?

  • emanon256

    It’s odd that the data would be used in one location, and not an other, I would be curious to know if the OP did anythgin differently, or was using different apps. It sounds like the OP had an iPhone since she mentioned background app refresh. One thing I like about the iPhone is that it will tell you how much data each individual app has used, and can can shut off each apps access to cellular data on an individual basis. That still doesn’t help that one month “iPhone Services” used 300mb on my phone, and I am still unsure what that means.

    I recommend a pre-paid SIM or shutting data off and only using WiFi for international travel.

    My hunch is that something on her phone was using that much data and she just didn’t realize it. And turning off background app refresh doesn’t stop apps you are using from using data. And as a side note, I once watched a 44 minute TV show on my phone using NetFlix, and it consumed 800Mb of data.

  • emanon256

    Actually there is an app that you can instal to monitor data usage, compress data, and shut you down when you are near your limit. I’ve never tried it, only heard about it. Anyone have experience with it?

  • Laura616

    Portable wifi devices are a good option – unlimited data for about $7 a day. They can be ordered online and picked up on arrival. Tep Wireless provide a good service, there are also other companies. I travel to London 3-4 times a year and have used them a few times.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Yes, it is. I sometimes use the same poll again. (“Are airlines evil? Yes/No”) Kidding. We all know the answer to that one.

  • Annie M

    The same thing happened to me on my last trip to Mexico- and with ATand T. They changed their plans and when I added what I thought was the same plan with unlimited texts I also started getting overage messages. When I called to discuss they told me they changed their plans and no longer have the plan I always used to get. I don’t even use my phone overseas as I make my calls through Magic Jack. I will also keep my phone off going forward, it anyone needs me they can email.

  • MarkKelling

    I will have to look for that. Sounds really useful.

  • MarkKelling

    Or someone sent emails to her that had huge attachments that were downloaded in the background.

  • http://gspirits.com/ Zod

    You don’t need to turn the phone off when traveling internationally, you just need to turn off cellular data. You can still use Wi-Fi. I’ve done this in the past. I tried the purchasing a SIM for temporary use but that is a hassle. Sometimes the hotel will advertise free internet but when you get there, you find out it’s wired internet. For this I carry a small Wi-Fi router that I plug in and use when I’m in the hotel. On one trip I had a room over the pool area and my Wi-Fi reached nicely outside.

  • VoR61

    While I do not profess to understand all things data, I have asked our cell provider many questions as well as doing online research and lots of testing.

    A number of apps for phone and data are available. We have used DroidStats to monitor both data and voice, but there are some that monitor data only. In the testing I did I was able to confirm a number of things.

    1. Data can be sent/received over 2G, 3G, or 4G. Voice calls and texts use 2G. On our phone (android), you have to set the phone to “Use 2G only” (saves battery). This feature has been useful in areas where the phone can’t find 3G/4G (if you can call, this option is slow but useable if needed).
    2. Data MUST be enabled for apps to send/receive. They won’t just use 2G if it’s available.
    3. Background data with auto-sync will cause those apps that use/need this feature to update data behind the scenes. News and Weather is an app that requires background data to be enabled, but auto-sync (same screen used to enable background data) can be off.
    4. Apps that are set to auto-refresh (by the user) may or may not require background data to be set. 1Weather is an example of this.

    So, the only way to ensure that data is not being used is to disable data. Airplane mode will work of course. However, Power Toggles is a highly useful app to create a widget that toggles data (and much more). But that’s only part of the solution. Disabling Background data is essential (if you don’t want surprises on your bill) and works IF you don’t use any apps that need it. For that reason, our standard is that any app MUST be useable with data disabled. For each app we’ve wanted, there has been one that meets this criteria. Examples: 1Weather, GateGuru, WikiDroid, and USA Today Offline Reader.

    My daughter was experiencing high data usage until I instructed her to a) disable Background Data, b) turn off auto-refresh for all her apps, c) install Power Toggles and use it to disable 4G. She now has more control and her data usage (10G shared) has shrunk significantly.

    And using only apps that work offline lessens data usage as well and is more convenient in my opinion.

  • William_Leeper

    Fully agree. In most overseas countries, the network performs “handshakes” at a 5-10 minute interval. This is a legal requirement in many countries so that emergency services has access to recent coordinates should someone call in an emergency.

    While it does use data, the benefits are very real, and in 2015, this will start happening here in the US.

  • William_Leeper

    The story said her data was 100M for $25, and the message said she had exceeded $100 not 100 Mb.

  • Ian Parrish

    One of the real issues here is that the basic prices charged are insanely out of proportion with the cost to provide the service. Think about your local service currently in the US….you’re probably paying no more than $10/GB for your data, and part of that charge is going to subsidize the huge discount you got on your phone in the first place.

    Now Verizon charging $25/100 MB means that it’s charging $250 for 1 GB, or 25 times more than what it charges to provide data locally. Someone here is making an absolute killing on international roaming…and it’s probably both the provider where you’re traveling and Verizon or AT&T. In the loan industry, crazy markups on interest like this are called usury, and it’s illegal. This kind of predatory pricing should be too.

  • emanon256

    I was staying at a hotel long term once that only had wired internet. I brought a router with me as well. Didn’t reach the pool though :)

  • MarkKelling

    I pay $40 for 1Gig a month. That was the best deal for a single user with my smart phone I could find anywhere in the US when I signed up a year ago. Please tell me where you only pay $10 for the same in the US and I will move to that network.

    But I do agree with you that the $25 for 100 Mb charge is way out of line.

  • emanon256

    My iPad has the option of $20/1Gig on Verizon month-to-month. I have never activated it, as I have always found WiFi.

  • Alan Gore

    I saw the same problem.

  • Suzy Seraphine Kimel

    I have been with Verizon for many years – and often wonder why. When I was new to the cell phone world, I received a huge bill that made no sense. Pages of calls, all from a phone # not mine, to places I have never called or been. My legitimate bill was on page one, but all that followed was just wrong. It took many calls and hours and accusations by Verizon that I had allowed this other person (in PA; I live in FL) to be billed via my account. They insisted that I knew her and had OK’d the arrangement. I even called the number and spoke to the woman, who had no clue that itemized copies of every call she made were being sent to me. She hadn’t bothered to realize she wasn’t being billed yet. So much for her privacy and so much for my plan. It took 3 months to get rid of her charges. And nary an apology from the V.

  • Bill___A

    That makes it even more clear that the roaming price plans are not realistic. One can burn through 100 mb pretty easily and some people can burn through a lot more.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I doubt that handshaking takes much data.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Great minds think alike. With wifi service and/or routers for wired internet bridges, you can do most things with your mobile phone overseas by just popping around wifi zones. Set up skype or google+ or another service for telephone and you’re good to go.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    There are apps/features on many smartphones to help you monitor data usage. My colleage claims that he set up his android phone to cut off after it reached his monthly limit.

    My guess is that if the OP’s phone started to suck up data seemingly more quickly than usual, it may be because the carrier was deciding to “ping” her. Her phone may be set to allow the carrier to run a connectivity check and perhaps the regional carrier was being “chatty.”

    Personally, unless I plan to live somewhere for at least 6 months, I would just turn off normal cell phone functionality and go with wifi and pay for a skype type service for telephone. You can forward your home phone number to then go to a skype assigned number and the cost is a few cents a minute. If you’re staying longer, get a friend to add you to their plan and give you a sim card. You wouldn’t stay in a country for 6 months without friends, would you?

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Handshaking should be done at the voice/carrier level and not the data level as charged by the plan. In theory, if you run no apps, then you should see zero data usage.

    One cool thing for the woman to try might be to turn off all apps on the phone, contact the provider, and ask how much data is used. Then turn them back on and see how much gets used up at a zero baseline.

  • The Original Joe S

    It does take a lot. My Thai SIM got drained out while I was back in the Empire while the phone was turned on and not being used for ANYTHING. I had to shut off data access. My phone co in Bangkok refunded the money. Nice people.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    How do you know it was handshaking and not some app running in the background? Just curious.

  • The Original Joe S

    Because I got the phone from Fred Flintstone, and there was nothing on it to be running except handshaking. I looked. Zilch.

  • BubbaJoe123

    There’s a key piece of info missing here: how much data does Verizon say you used? How much does your phone say you used? Is the issue that you were getting charged more than $25/100MB, or that you think the MB used are inaccurate?

  • Theo Park

    Am I mad for thinking that going unconnected for a few days on holiday might not be such a bad thing? Of course people might still need access for work etc. but other than those cases the best solution might just be to soak up the place you’re in the old fashioned way!