Stolen cell phone racks up $500,000 bill in a single day

Posted at 10:21 AM, Sep 17, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-17 12:21:40-04

(CNN) — Think your vacation cell phone bill is high? Then spare a thought for the Australian hit with more than $500,000 in charges for calls made when his device was stolen in Europe.

The whopping figure came to light in a recent report by Australia’s telecoms ombudsman, who received a complaint about the bill after the customer’s phone provider insisted he pay it — even though he’d reported the theft.

Astonishingly, the calls — including several to Somalia — were made within a single 24-hour period, a fact that’ll do little to reduce concerns about the high cost of roaming charges both in Australia and the rest of the world.

The complaint about the bill was made by a man identified as “David” whose son had his phone stolen during a trip to Europe.

“He reported the theft to local police and to his provider in Australia, but because of the time difference between the continents, the provider recorded the theft as having happened a day later than it occurred,” the ombudsman said in a report.

“Back in Australia, his son’s bill came to more than AUS$570,000 ($517,000) and listed calls to Somalia.”

Huge data charges

The story has a relatively happy ending: after the ombudsman stepped in, the phone provider eventually agreed to waive its demands.

For many of us though, roaming costs remain a major pitfall of travel in an age when we’re all carrying data-enabled device that, unless disabled, will rack up huge charges for overseas internet and email access.

A 2011 report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) identified Australia as one of the most expensive countries for data roaming charges.

Of the 34 nations surveyed, Australia was the seventh most costly country of origin for average roaming charges, behind Poland, Japan, Israel, Chile, Mexico, the United States and Canada. Greece and Iceland were the cheapest.

Mounting anger over the high cost of phone use abroad has led to efforts to rein in phone companies.

In Europe, the European Union has placed a cap on roaming charges for customers traveling within the trading bloc. The European Parliament this year voted to scrap them altogether, pending approval from individual EU governments.

ETNO, the European telecoms industry body, has complained it needs roaming revenues to maintain investment in mobile networks.

Either way, it’s clearly a talking point — just as long as you’re not talking on a long-distance line.

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