That’s some wedding present from Verizon Wireless

Megan Murphy gets a huge phone bill from Verizon after her honeymoon in Europe, even though she signed up for its international plan. What went wrong — and how can she fix it?

Question: My husband and I recently got back from a honeymoon in Europe. Before we left, we called Verizon specifically to set up a global plan to avoid any overcharges or astronomical costs.

My husband asked a Verizon representative what plans were available and she informed him that there were only two options. He explained what he intended to use his phone for and she assured him that the greater of the two plans was more than enough for what he wanted to use the phone for.

I called soon afterwards and added the lesser of the two global plans to my Verizon plan/phone, with the intent that we would only use my phone for emergencies. Neither one of the representatives we spoke with outlined details of the plan or made mention of an email they sent, which I never received.

When we arrived in France, I posted 12 pictures to Facebook. A few days later, I received a notification that I had exceeded the 100MB limit and $25 had been added to my plan per the global plan agreement.

I don’t recall whether or not I was on Wi-Fi when I posted them. I thought perhaps it had been a mistake as it was only three days into our trip. Nonetheless, I avoided my phone and only briefly checked my email for any messages regarding my sick father at home, and only when I was certain Wi-Fi was available. Otherwise, I refrained from using the Internet.

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My husband essentially used Google Translate as the primary app for the length of the trip. We had “free” Wi-Fi in our hotels that we stayed in, and my husband – who is very meticulous and was consistently careful about limiting any use of his phone – was still charged over $300 extra on his recent bill.

Last night, we spent a total of 1½ hours on the phone with two different Verizon Wireless representatives. After much back-and-forth, they traced the charges to 10 minutes we’d spent watching a YouTube clip at the airport. We were using the airport’s Wi-Fi. The rep stated that since it was into the next billing cycle, she could not remove any charges.

After paying for a wedding on our own, returning from a honeymoon and attempting to start a future together, we are not in a good financial place at this moment to even pay this bill. Can you help? — Megan Murphy, Chicago

Answer: No one should have to pay a $400 phone bill, particularly if they went through the trouble of signing up for an international calling plan. And yet, they do.

Heck, I’ve had a similar bill with AT&T, my wireless carrier. I started getting the overage messages while I was in Italy, and no one could explain why. Turns out one of my apps — I’m not sure which one — was eating away my precious bandwidth.

The only way to avoid this is by leaving your phone home. You can get a new SIM card or you can get a new phone. (Or you could try something like Google Fi, which promises it has no roaming fees.)

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Roaming fees are a pure money grab, no two ways about it. They don’t reflect a carrier’s actual cost of providing the service, even when you split the fee two ways between the American carrier and the international wireless company and you factor in all the administrative costs. The fact that Verizon didn’t give you the necessary disclosure when you were running over your limit makes this even worse.

Not that you’re blameless. You should have read the fine print in the new wireless plan, and if Verizon didn’t send it to you, you should have asked. These plans are littered with clauses and “gotchas,” and you have to be extra vigilant.

Personally, I turn off my AT&T phone when I cross the border. It’s just not worth the risk.

Although you were responsible for your wireless usage, I think Verizon’s disclosure left something to be desired. I contacted the company on your behalf and it offered you a $125 refund. You and your husband say you’re happy with that resolution, and if you’re happy, then so am I.

This story first published on August 1, 2015.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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