Paying the price for automatic updates

Tue, Jul 17, 2012, 01:00

YOUR CONSUMER QUERIES:AFTER YEARS of happily using a standard mobile phone, Robbie Doyle’s wife swapped it for a Vodafone own-brand, Smart 2 phone last January.

On the plan she was on, Vodafone Perfect Choice 50 gave her 50 minutes to call any network, any time as well as 50 texts to any network at any time. “Her usual monthly bill was between €35 and €40, paid by direct debit,” he writes. “She doesn’t use the internet on this new phone and is not into Twitter or Facebook.”

The average monthly bills from February to May climbed to around €55, Doyle adds. “The alarm bells went off for us when we saw June’s Vodafone direct debit was €71.64. We went online to check the bill details, as we had opted for paperless billing.”

In the “Call details” section, all the couple could see under the “messages and data” section was charges for something titled “live.vodafone.com Live!”. They were appearing on the bill at all sorts of times, including early morning. Each occurrence was a charge of 80c and amounted to €24.26 in June’s bill. As my wife knows that she doesn’t use the internet, we went back through all her other bills since she got the smartphone and found similar charges dating back to February amounting to a total of over €54 from February to May.”

They rang Vodafone and were told that these were add-ons that she had “signed up to” in her service agreement. Basically, all the Android apps on her phone constantly update automatically, incurring a charge each time of, usually, 80c per occurrence.

“This has amounted to €78 extra on my wife’s bills since she got the smartphone,” says Doyle.

He says that while he knows “it’s buyer beware and if she signed a contract agreeing to this, so be it. However, she is adamant that she was not informed specifically that the phone had an automatic app updating system that would incur extra charges. It was only when we rang Vodafone last night that they switched off this system centrally.”

Doyle says he had already gone through her phone to see what was running and, sure enough, there were almost a dozen apps on automatic update mode, constantly connecting to the internet and incurring regular charges. “Maybe we were naive but I wonder how many other smartphone users are incurring these charges unaware.”

Coverage issue with Vodafone

STAYING WITH Vodafone, Brendan Moriarty emailed us over an issue he has had with Vodafone coverage for almost two years. “It started when I switched from pay-as-you-go to a pay-monthly business plan. My problem is not just where I live but wherever I travel to,” he writes.

His phone consistently drops calls, cannot send text messages, cannot make or receive calls “and sometimes I don’t know people are trying to reach me until I meet them”. On other occasions he “cannot hear the other person or the other person cannot hear me. It was bad enough to try to run a new business with a phone like this, I am now back at college and use my phone quite a bit.”

He says he had his iPhone unlocked with the intention of switching to another network but was advised (off the record) by Carphone Warehouse that other providers are worse than Vodafone in his area, plus all his friends and family are Vodafone customers so it would cost more to switch. “I am now so frustrated as I am paying for a service that has been a very bad service. I just want a mobile phone line that will work. I know other people/family members that have mobile phones with Vodafone and some have good and bad stories to tell about coverage but none as bad as me.”

He says that when he was in Carphone Warehouse, “the very helpful guy told me that sometimes phone numbers (lines) need to be removed from the network and then put back up and that he has come across similar problems before and this has solved it for another customer from a different network provider. He also advised that the other networks lease the equipment from Vodafone to provide the service so that’s why it would not benefit me to switch.”

He told Vodafone customer care that this option was suggested to me “but again I have got nowhere with them”.

He outlines all the steps he has taken with the company to date. He has complained to Vodafone customer care by phone/email/in store countless times. His phone was sent away and replaced once. He has been told to turn off 3G. He has been told that a cell is down. He has been told that his problem has been fixed but when he asked what the problem was he couldn’t get a straight answer.

“I am getting nowhere. I don’t know what to do now to escalate the issue with Vodafone. I don’t get anywhere with them and I am just being fobbed off by them.”

Bank less than direct over debit

A READER called Angela got in touch with us to share a pretty negative experience she had with Permanent TSB last week.

“A direct debit was presented to my account last Monday – being without the funds to cover it (architect – ’nuff said) and the bank, of late, refusing to cover any expenditure where there is insufficient funds (including a Laser payment at the supermarket, where I attempted to sting them to the giddy tune of €2), I expected the debit to be returned unpaid and my account charged with a €10 fee for their time and trouble.”

She accepts that this is not an ideal scenario “but in times when robbing Peter to pay Paul is becoming an Olympic sport, it was a necessary evil which would have meant one late payment on one account but kept my current account in credit and my everyday funds available”.

What actually happened was the bank paid out the direct debit, despite there not being sufficient funds in the account to cover the payment “forcing me into an unauthorised overdraft for which I will now incur charges. I did not ask for this facility, I did not want this facility and I am now overdrawn by almost €100 and cannot access what little money was in the account to cover food and bills.”

She contacted the bank and asked them to return the direct debit, as they had done – “oh, every other time there was insufficient funds but they said it was not possible. When I said that they had returned direct debits before, they replied that from time to time they would let some payments go through and that they were doing me a favour by saving me the €10 returned direct debit fee.”

She wonders would it be too much to suggest that banks are forcing customers into unauthorised overdrafts, “without their knowledge or agreement, in order to impose charges and bring some much needed capital into their coffers – effectively, squeezing existing customers to balance the shortfall in new business?

“Have you heard similar stories from your readers?” No, but we’d like to.

Difficult to digest...

A DUBLIN reader contacted us about a rather special offer she saw in her local Tesco recently. “Last week I picked up McVities Digestive biscuits on special offer,” she says. These two packets of 500g biscuits had a special price of €3.29.

She writes: “I then noticed 500g packet of same biscuits cost €1.59. I thought there must be a mistake so I brought both the double pack and the single packet to the check-out and asked a pleasant operator if he would check the prices – which he did.” The prices were indeed correct.

She asked why the double pack was 11 cent dearer than the single pack, “and his response was, wait for it – perhaps it is the cost of the extra packaging! Do Tesco think that we are all very silly?”

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