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$5000+ Bill Shocks Rise

The number of mobile users slapped with international roaming bills of $5000 or more is increasing, according to Telecommunications Ombudsman TIO Talk publication.

There were 4100 such complaints in 2011-12 – and has doubled in the last 12 months to September 2012.

And although there has been a drop in roaming disputes in recent months, a greater proportion are disputing bills of $5,000 or more.

Consumers and telcos disputed over $8 million worth of mobile roaming bills in the last year.

“Some consumers who travel overseas for business or leisure are returning to telephone bills that are more expensive than the trips themselves,” Ombudsman Simon Cohen warned.

Here are some chief horror stories:

One consumer requested a special plan to make calls during a nine-week holiday to Europe, but instead was slapped with a whopper bill for $148,000.

Another was sent a bill for $38K while using the Internet on his phone aboard which he thought was connected to WiFi, while another had a $18,000 bill for international roaming.

We made 193, 702 complaints to the Ombudsman last year, in total, with poor coverage and lack of information given by telcos also top bug bears.

Read: $59 Plan: Biggest Bill Shock-er of All

Victoria got a right throttling with most new complaints per capita (1.83 per 1,000 people), followed by South Australia, New South Wales, ACT Queensland, Western Australia, while Tasmanians and  NT residents made the least.

The most complaints per capita were reported in Docklands in Melbourne and Sydney’s Parramatta.

Most complaints (57%) made to the TIO are about mobile services, although this dropped by 3% in July-September.

Coverage continues to be the biggest concern of mobile users, rising 4.2% in recent months and comes as Telstra 3G service in Melbourne experienced major issues.

Complaints about customer service, complaint handling and billing have reduced but the challenge will be to keep up this positive trend over the summer months, when demand is high, said TIO.

The continuing usage of smartphones and tablets is likely to increase international roaming usage, the report warns, and being fully informed about roaming charges before you travel is vital.

Here are tips for avoiding high global roaming charges (courtesty of TIO):

Before travelling overseas, we encourage consumers to contact their telco and make sure they are fully informed about all potential costs and charges of international roaming and other international telephone services.

 · Find out the costs of global roaming for voice and data services before using either service.

· Ask whether your telco has products designed specifically for roaming, such as data roaming packs, as these may reduce your overall costs.

· As when buying any product, ask questions to ensure you understand what you are agreeing to and the possible costs involved.

· Even if you have used global roaming previously, it is still important to contact your provider as the costs can vary significantly between countries.

· You can ask your telco to restrict your access to global roaming (if this was previously set up). Also find out how you can turn off global roaming and data settings on your phone.

· To avoid international call charges for incoming calls, you can set an unconditional call diversion to voicemail before leaving Australia. This means that all incoming calls divert directly to voicemail and will remain within the Australian network. Your provider will be able to explain the remote retrieval process and costs to you.

· If you incur a large roaming bill, you should contact your telco to discuss it and ask for more information about how it was incurred. If you believe the debt is not correct and you cannot resolve the issue with your provider, you can contact the TIO.