Tess Nichol is the Consumer Affairs reporter for the Herald.

Kiwi stung with nearly $3000 worth of roaming charges after phone stolen on holiday

Sam Hensley, 21, had his phone stolen and thieves rack up nearly $3000 in roaming data charges while on holiday in South Africa. Photo / Supplied
Sam Hensley, 21, had his phone stolen and thieves rack up nearly $3000 in roaming data charges while on holiday in South Africa. Photo / Supplied

A Kiwi traveller is "gutted" after thieves stole his phone on a holiday to South Africa, racking up nearly $3000 in roaming data charges.

And Sam Hensley's troubles aren't over, with Vodafone so far refusing to wipe the fees or even let the young glacier guide work out a reasonable payment plan to pay back the costs.

He has been told he must pay the full amount back by May 12 to avoid incurring overdue fees, but even with a 20 per cent discount the 21-year-old does not know how he can pull together more than $2000 by that date.

A travel insurance claim should come through soon but that would only knock another $550 off the bill, he said.

Hensley was on holiday with family in rural South Africa last month when a bag containing his passport, camera, wallet and Samsung Galaxy S6 cell phone was stolen out of the back of their car.

Believing his pin-protected phone would prevent the thieves from being able to use it, Hensley "naively" decided to wait until he was back in a major city with cellphone reception and internet access before informing Vodafone of the theft.

After arriving in Durban four days later, Hensley checked his emails to discover charges of $2881 for data roaming had been added to his bill for March to April.

In his eight years as a Vodafone customer Hensley had never spent more than $40 in a month, he said.

Hensley, a Franz Glacier guide, said he did not earn much money and didn't know how he would pay it back within the time given by Vodafone. Photo / Supplied
Hensley, a Franz Glacier guide, said he did not earn much money and didn't know how he would pay it back within the time given by Vodafone. Photo / Supplied

"It's pretty gutting actually, just knowing you haven't made the calls but you have to pay for them."

Hensley said he understood the phone was his responsibility, but he had been hoping Vodafone would show some leniency due to lack of communication networks hampering his ability to report the theft earlier.

"If I had a credit card stolen, I could go to my bank and say 'hey, these weren't my purchases'. I don't know why this isn't the same for phones."

Hensley works full time as a glacier guide at Franz Josef, but he did not make much money and said the Vodafone payment options of either $460 a week for five weeks or $230 over ten weeks were beyond his financial means.

"I'm left with the inevitable fact that this bill will go to collection services, which will cost me points on a credit rating later in life."

He had been calling Vodafone frequently since returning to New Zealand but said so far he had not managed to get anyone to agree to a realistic time frame for paying the bill.

"It's been pretty useless."

He had been able to provide South African police reports and case numbers about the theft and had hoped that might make a difference.

"I think there should be some circumstances where ... there should be options to provide police reports and case numbers before they make blanket assumptions about the bill, that I lost it and I didn't call, therefore it's my bill."

A Vodafone spokeswoman said it was likely the thieves had swapped Sam's SIM card, meaning even though his phone was pin-protected they could rack up roaming charges.

"We track unusual activity and as a result the team caught this and had actually put a stop to it before Sam contacted us to report the stolen phone."

Vodafone recommend customers consider taking out insurance to protect themselves from mishaps while travelling, she said.

"If anything does happen, and they're able to get in touch ASAP, we can make sure they don't get stung for unexpected charges.

"Our team have already offered Sam a discount on the charges but we are happy to chat to him again to see how we can help him out."

Advice for travellers

Avoid taking your phone overseas but if you have to, do the following:

• Use a local Sim card bought from the country you are in.
• If you stick with your New Zealand provider, contact them to deactivate roaming before you leave.
• If your phone is lost or stolen, inform your provider straight away. They will be able to bar your Sim and stop calls and data.
• Inform the local police department and get an incident report.
• Use the security lock code, or PIN feature, to lock your phone. This will make it less valuable to a thief and deny them access to personal numbers stored on your SIM card - although it does not prevent the SIM from being used in another phone.
• Check your travel insurance, so you know what you are covered for, before leaving NZ.

- NZ Herald

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