Teen Hit with $6,000 Bill After Using Facebook During NYC Vacation

Elise Solé, Shine Staff

Casey Snook, a 14-year-old girl from England, unknowingly racked up a $6,000 phone bill by uploading photos to Facebook while on vacation in New York City, according to a story published Friday in the New York Post. 

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During the five-day trip with her mother, Kate Snook, Casey snapped photos of the Empire State Building, Times Square, Grand Central Station, and Central Park. Eager to share her travels with her friends, she uploaded the photos to Facebook. But since Casey hadn’t blocked her “data roaming” function, all that time spent on the Internet added up.  

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According to the Post, the family only found out about the phone bill only when Casey’s father, Victor (whose name was on the cell phone account), called Kate to tell her that the UK phone company Orange had made a massive withdrawal on his bank account 

Casey, Kate, and Victor could not be reached for comment; however, Kate told the U.K.’s South West News Service, “When I heard about it, I felt physically sick. Casey was very upset and embarrassed and I was in tears. She was only using it for the normal teenage stuff, updating her friends with what she was up to and this and that.”

The Post reports that Kate and Victor have arranged a payment plan to settle the bill but claim that Orange didn’t provide their daughter with a clear warning signal that she was incurring such charges or attempt to contact Victor. Says Kate, “I can’t believe that a company would let a bill which is usually [$75] get up to that level,” said Kate.

In a statement to Yahoo! Shine, an Orange rep wrote:

“We know our customers want to use their smartphones while on holiday without the worry of a big bill at the end. That’s why we offer a number of services, such as roaming bundles, which allow travelers to use data overseas and control the cost. All Orange customers have a number of protections in place — customers are even automatically opted-in to a roaming data cap, which limits their charges to £49 ($74) for a set amount of data. Customers receive warning texts to alert them of their data usage and we have an app that helps them monitor data usage, and opt in to a data bundle if needed. The customer received numerous text alerts, which updated them on the roaming costs for the USA, and also updated them on their data usage. Once they had reached the limit of their data bundle, the customer actively opted out of our roaming data cap so that they could continue to use data, effectively removing the inbuilt protection from large data roaming bills.”

However shocking Casey Snook’s phone bill is, according to Todd Dunphy, co-founder and president of SaveLoveGive, a company that analyzes customer's cell phone bills and recommends personalized plans based on individual lifestyle, it’s all too common.

“Roaming data is such an abstract concept, and it’s confusing to everyone, whether you’re a teenage or an adult,” Dunphy told Yahoo! Shine. “Phone carriers are doing better at informing customers of the high costs of using their phones abroad but unfortunately people are still being hit with sky-high bills.”

You can still use social media, says Dunphy, but be smart about where and when you’re checking in, posting photos, and tweeting.

Before you leave on your trip, contact your phone carrier and tell them where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone. Most carriers have international plans for purchase that include calling, texting, or using the Internet, said Dunphy. You may not be able to precisely anticipate how often you’ll use your phone, but a customer-service rep can tailor the plan to your anticipated habits. You can also use the tools on your carrier site to view your usage patterns. Otherwise, if you know for sure that you won’t be using your phone, simply turn off your phone’s roaming data by clicking on “Settings,” “General,”“Cellular,” and “Data Roaming Off.”

When you get to your hotel, log on to your hotel’s network, so that you’re able to use the Internet. To get there, go into your “Settings” function, and choose “Wi-fi,” and make sure the switch is set to “On.” You’ll know it’s working when you can’t see the 4G or 3G logo at the top of your phone’s home screen. “You might have to pay to use the hotel’s Internet, but it’s a lot cheaper compared to what it would cost if you didn’t use Wifi,” said Dunphy. Also, Just because you’re on the hotel’s network, it doesn’t mean you’ll stay on. If the Internet connection is shaky, you could get bumped off the network and default to your own (that's why it's key to turn off your phone's international capability). If you want to make a call while using the hotel's network, download a third party app like Skype so that you can use the Internet to call.

After you return from your trip, let your phone carrier know you're back. “If you bought an international package and didn’t use all your data, you can ask them to adjust the bill to reflect what you used,” said Dunphy. Instead of calling, you may want to use its customer service chat function. “That way, you’ll have a record of your conversation,” he said. And make sure to turn off any international features you bought so that the phone company doesn’t continue to charge you. 

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