There are all manner of misfortunes that befall the traveller abroad; lost luggage, a stolen passport, delayed flights and sometimes accidents. Now, there is another item to add to the list - our mobile telephone bill. The Consumer Council recently received a complaint about a daily HK$120 all-you-can-use data roaming package which ended up costing a holidaymaker in Switzerland HK$16,000 in just one day. Another traveller, visiting Macau, saw her bill hit HK$10,000 even though she had requested the operator to disable the service in advance.
Unlike other mishaps which can be covered by travel insurance, such exorbitant charges, often hidden in the small-print, sting consumers who have no protection. Sadly, they do not appear to be isolated cases. The watchdog says the number of data roaming-related complaints has soared in the first three months of this year. As people travel more and become more attached to smart phones and other wireless communication gadgets, the chance for them to fall prey to such practices will become higher. While the need for consumers to read the fine print of agreements carefully cannot be stressed highly enough, service providers also have a responsibility to explain clearly to customers the potential liability. When users subscribe to a so-called unlimited package, they are placing trust in the service provider, believing they can use it to their heart's content. But instead of getting the service promised, they find themselves paying more when it turns out the service is actually confined to just emails and web browsing, not downloading or streaming. These hidden traps are more than just a question of business ethics. They are misleading. If customers are being deceived, tougher enforcement is needed.
The consumer watchdog has taken a step in the right direction by urging operators to stop promoting packages as unlimited unless they genuinely provide unrestricted usage. Consumers should also exercise vigilance to avoid the shock of a huge mobile telephone bill.