5 On Your Side

Apex Woman Sends SOS Over Text Messaging Bill

Posted May 10, 2005

— You used to be able to look at your phone bill and if you saw a strange number, you could easily pick it out. You cannot do that when instant messages are transferred to your cell phone. There is no way for people to verify the charges, which is why one mother was furious about her daughter's cell phone bill.

Julie Bourdeau said her daughter's cell phone bill was 137 pages long and had a total of over $700.

"I've never seen a bill that big," she said.

Bourdeau said her Cingular Wireless bill should be about $80, based on the package she bought for herself and her teenage daughter. After a closer look, Bourdeau quickly realized most of the extra charges are for text messages to her daughter's phone.

Three or four that were placed in the same minute were from AOL Instant Messenger. Bordeau immediately questioned her daughter, who admitted she sent and received some messages, but not that many. Bourdeau called Cingular, canceled the text messaging feature and questioned the charges.

"They all try to look into it and they all come back and say, 'The billing department says no. They're valid,'" Bourdeau said.

Bourdeau is frustrated because the company will not tell her who sent the messages.

"All they'll say is they're incoming from AIM," she said.

Cingular credited Bourdeau $328 as a "courtesy." Bourdeau said she was still frustrated, not only with the partial refund, but also because like many parents, she does not understand how AIM works.

"All the kids know, but I've never instant messaged myself," she said.

Bourdeau called Five On Your Side. Cingular told Five On Your Side that they do not know who sent the messages. They just know they came from AOL and what time they came in. AOL said since Instant Messenger is free, they don't track messages. However, while the service is free, every time a message goes to your phone, the cell phone charges kick in.

After calls from Five On Your Side, Cingular went way above and beyond and credited Bourdeau more than $900 for two months of charges. Bourdeau said she is thrilled with the credit, but now she has a message for parents.

"Do not sign up for text messaging or data wireless transfer," she said.

Cingular told Five On Your Side that text messages, whether they come from another phone or an Internet instant messenger, cost 10 cents each -- no matter how short the message is.

You should be aware of the charges and of your plan. Some plans include a certain number of messages for a flat fee. The easiest thing to do is to not allow them at all.

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