Cell phone “bill shock” could be a thing of the past

via Cell phone “bill shock” could be a thing of the past | Consumer Watch, clarionledger.com, 3/27/2013

What if you opened your cell phone bill to find that your teenager had run up several thousand dollars in texting charges? It has happened. Or what if your elderly father opened his cell phone bill to find that he had gone over his minutes, resulting in hundreds of dollars’ worth of overage charges? It’s happened. By some accounts, it’s happened in one form or another to one in five cell phone customers.

But, thanks to an agreement reached in 2011between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and major cell carriers, “bill shock” may be a thing of the past. Carriers serving 97 percent of the nation agreed to let customers know (usually via text messages) when they are approaching limits which will trip overage charges. Many of these systems are now in place. Carriers have until April 17 to get it all done.

Bill shock is defined as a sudden and unexpected increase in monthly bills that is not caused by a change in service plans. Bill shock can occur for a number of reasons including unclear or misunderstood advertising, unanticipated roaming or data charges, and other problems.

Sometimes, bill shock is not directly the carrier’s fault, such as when a service provider fails to discount roaming charges incurred overseas. But — under pressure from the FCC and members of congress — major carriers agreed to implement the new notification procedures.

I’ve noticed that my carrier has been notifying me more lately, such as when I have reached the end of a free “streaming pass” period for videos.

The new notifications should help keep many consumers out of trouble. However, the FCC suggests these things consumers can to do to lessen the risk of “bill shock”:

Understand your calling pattern for making voice calls, and ask your carrier for a plan that would be best for your kind of use.
If you are an infrequent phone user, consider a pre-paid plan. Because you “pre-pay” for all your minutes, these plans make it impossible to go over your set limit.
Understand what your roaming charges are and where you will incur them.
Understand your options for data and text plans.
If you are going to use your mobile phone outside the U.S. for voice, email, and other services, make certain to find out beforehand what charges may apply. Consumer Reports has some good advice on this topic on this site.
Ask how your carrier can help you avoid bill shock – with phone or text alerts, by letting you monitor your account online, or by giving you other information.
If you have tried to resolve a billing issue with your carrier and can not reach an acceptable resolution, complain to the FCC at 1-888-CALL FCC (1-888-225-5322), orby clicking here.

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