Texts erode more than your credit balance

Thu, Jan 26, 2012, 00:00

I ONLY REQUIRE that a mobile phone be capable of sending and receiving calls and text messages, so I use a basic pay-as-you-go type. For 12 months, my former network provider, Vodafone, gave me no trouble. But our once-happy relationship ended badly.

Every weekend, I would top up my phone by £10 or £20, making sure the balance didn’t dip much below £15. I made my first big mistake in August of last year, by stupidly (and greedily) accepting a package that offered multiple minutes of phone time and numerous free texts. I promptly lost £10 on the deal, because I could never quite figure out how to use it to my benefit.

This was entirely my own fault. I know little beyond the basics of mobile phones, and should have stuck to the usual straightforward arrangement. I filed the £10 loss under “seemed like a good idea at the time” and thought no more about it, for a short while.

Approaching the end of the next month – and for the last five or six days of every month thereafter – I began receiving about 20 text messages a day from Vodafone, reminding me that it was time to renew my package. During these periods, I seemed to be spending more time deleting texts than using the phone.

Then, late last November, Vodafone started sending texts to warn me that my balance was running low, and I should top up. When the first of these arrived, I had £18.53 of credit, and was worried that my latest payment had somehow registered on the phone, but not with the company.

Very soon, I was receiving about 25 top-up reminders an hour between 6pm and 9pm every night, and another 30 over the remainder of the day.

That’s when I made another big mistake, and rang Vodafone’s customer services. As my phone was registered in Britain, and I was ringing from the Republic, I mentioned this when I eventually got through to a nice-sounding Scottish woman.

“Okay, sir,” was her non-committal reply, which should have forewarned me.

I explained my problem to her, against a background staccato of beeps from the steady stream of text messages arriving at my end. She hummed and hawed a bit, before leaving me on the line while she sought advice.

A full 13 minutes later, she returned to tell me that I should text “STOP” in reply to the next message.

That it had taken her so long to come up with such a non-technical-sounding solution didn’t matter, just so long as it did the trick. But of course it didn’t. In fact, things got much worse. I followed Ms Vodafone’s advice, and almost immediately began receiving about 40 messages an hour – every hour. Now I was getting really angry: if these had been calls to a landline, they would amount to serious harassment.

I wondered darkly if the Scottish lady had left me waiting while she went to tell a colleague to up the ante a bit. Oh, how they must be laughing to themselves, I thought. I idly checked my balance. The call to customer services had cost me £8.20.

That was it, time to change service provider. This led me into another set of problems. Initially, I wanted to retain my phone and number, and just buy a new SIM card from a different company. This, I was told, would have to entail Vodafone unlocking my phone.

The young lady in the Vodafone shop – I won’t say where, because she played only a minor role in this saga – greeted me with a beaming smile, which immediately froze when she learned what I wanted. She dismissed me with, “You’ll have to go to our website”, dropped her head, and busied herself shuffling papers.

I duly checked the website, and, after my experience with the young woman in the shop, decided it would be better to ring customer services again – this time from a landline – rather than rely on them e-mailing me back when they learned what I wanted.

I eventually got through to a Scottish man in customer services who told me it would cost £20 to have my phone unlocked, and, as I had only £13.14 in phone credit, would I like to give him my bank card details to make up the rest.

I tried explaining that the only reason I hadn’t £20 in my phone was because Vodafone had taken more than £8 off me the last time I rang, but he refused to understand.

I refused to pay them anything, and sulked and suffered on for a week or so, receiving hundreds of texts every day, while I ran down my remaining credit.

My daughter finally tired of the situation – or of me moaning about it – and in the run-in to Christmas bought me a new phone from 02, with an Irish number.

Thus far, the service has been great, and, as it happens, remarkably cheaper. Let’s hope it stays that way. I think the trick might be to try not to draw attention to myself.