When Carmen Sarmiento decided to get her daughter Millie her first cell phone, she didn’t expect it would leave her with a $1,400 bill after the first month.
“My first reaction when I saw that bill,” said Sarmiento, “I felt sad, like [I was] falling up.”
Although the Peruvian mother of two speaks with a thick accent, Sarmiento said she thought she sent a very clear message at the Verizon store when she requested to add Millie to her cellphone plan.
Sarmiento asked the Verizon sales representative to give Millie the same features as she has on her own phone, including blocked texting.
But Millie’s texting wasn’t blocked, and by the time Sarmiento found out, Verizon had already charged her for thousands of expensive, a-la-carte messages.
“It results in a real high ad-hoc rate, which is significantly more than what you’re paying on your regular plan,” said mobile tech expert Bill Menezes.
Menezes added that all the information users need to keep track of their plan is right at their fingertips.
“The carriers actually provide tools either on the phone or on their Web site where you can see in real time what the usage has been up to that point in the billing cycle,” said Menezes.
Verizon offers free apps like usage meters, which allows users to track texting, data and minutes. Another helpful tool, usage alerts, sends a text when someone has used 50 percent, 75 percent, 90 percent and 100 percent of the available data.
Menezes suggests consumers ask cellphone retailers about the options their carrier provides those on a tighter leash.
For example, parents might consider buying a prepaid phone for children. Since the person in charge of the plan buys a set number of texts or minutes ahead of time, prepaid phone users can't exceed their limit.
Sarmiento thought asking for the “same plan” was cut and dried, but Verizon told her she specifically needed to ask for “blocked texting,” and at first, held her responsible for the entire bill.
“If I’m wrong,” said Sarmiento. “I [can pay] for it. But I didn’t ask to change the plans without my signature.”
The Troubleshooters reached out to Verizon a few weeks ago and, shortly thereafter, the company opted to clear the $1,400 worth of charges. Company representatives didn’t say why they lifted the bill and declined an on-camera interview.
Instead, Verizon sent a statement saying, in part:
“We offer a variety of service plans, the overwhelming number of which include unlimited texts and unlimited voice minutes; however, some customers may still have legacy pay-per-text plans or text bundles of a certain quantity.”
“But my guess is a lot of times people are not aware these exist,” said Menezes. “The carriers don’t really do a good job at promoting them, so it’s a good idea to ask when you’re buying the phone and setting up a plan what tools they can give you to monitor usage and how you can use them.”
If you want to learn more about various apps available through your carrier, consider these options: