Imagine the surprise on Celina Aarons' face when she tore open her cell phone bill and found out she owed $201,005.44. Unfortunately for the Florida woman, the bill was not a mistake, as one might be inclined to believe when discovering a phone bill saying you owe more for a month's worth of cellular service than you do on your remaining mortgage.
This is the sort of thing that's possible with roaming charges and international data fees, and if you're not careful, you can subject yourself to a severe case of bill shock. But before anyone rakes Ms. Aarons over the coals, understand two things. First, the system is flawed and bills like this should never happen. And second, it was her goodwill that got her in trouble.
You see, Ms. Aarons has five brothers and sisters, 7 News explains. Two of her brothers are deaf and can't talk, they can only make sounds. They were born that way. Figuring they have it rough enough as it is, Ms. Aarons got one of her brothers a cell phone and added him to her plan.
The trouble began when her brother spent two weeks in Canada. While vacationing, he didn't think to turn his data roaming off, so when he started firing off text messages and downloading videos, the charges began to rack up. There were several charges totaling more than $1,000 and $2,000 each, and when all was said and done, the final bill came to over $200,000.
Unfortunately for Aarons, the law isn't on her side and it's her responsibility to pay a monster bill that she can't afford, never mind that it's "like paying a nice house right now based on what houses are going for." Aarons' beef with T-Mobile over this bill is that they never contacted her about this bill, though they did text her brother on several occasions.
"Wouldn't you let me know as the primary holder and they are saying, 'No we respect your privacy.' What privacy? That is my account," Aarons says.
This is exactly the type of situation the FCC and CTIA are trying to thwart. While this is an extreme example, a study commissioned by the FTC in 2010 found that one out of every six Americans have experienced bill shock. To prevent these situations from happening, there's new regulation on the table that puts the onus on wireless carriers to keep customers informed when they're about to go past their data limits or be blindsided by international roaming charges.
In the meantime, Aarons has a big bill to deal with, though T-Mobile
threw here a very big bone by reducing the charge all the way down to $2,500 and giving her six months to pay it off.