Our man [formally] of Amsterdam

Dear Grant, my name is Joy and I’ll be assisting you with your inquiry
November 16, 2009, 23:29
Filed under: Amsterdam, Travel

Below is a direct copy of an email trail between Optus (a mobile phone and Internet service provider in Australia) and myself. The first entry (that is, my initial inquiry in mid September after about 3 weeks away) should put you in the picture. There are 7 exchanges from Optus over many, many, many weeks, all from a different person each time. Not a single word has been edited, omitted, added or disguised to protect the identity of the innocent.

It’s worth reading, if you’ve ever been shocked by an outrageous or unexplained balance on an account, be that your credit card, bank statement, phone or utility bill. There may even be a moral to the story … but you’ll have to read each entry and make it all the way to the end to work that out. Fix a drink and sit down; it’s sometimes a long and bumpy ride in the world of corporate customer care. For the record, the disputed amount was just under $1000 (when my regular monthly spend is about $60).


Dear Optus, we have a problem.
Take a look at my history of usage and you’ll see something unusual for the last bill (# 0438 361 772).
Yes, I am overseas with the iPhone diverting all calls to voicemail. I have never accessed voicemail from overseas.
I have never made a call from it either here in the Netherlands – where I’ll be for most of my time away – and you can see from the statement the limited number of SMSs I’ve sent.
I never access email or use the Internet from the phone.
So I’m wondering what all these Roaming charges are??
Can you please explain. But before that, terminate all services, including whatever this roaming stuff is, but keep the number active. I have switched off the phone permanently, never to be used until I return to Australia in March next year.
But we need to sort this outrageous charge out, as I’m sure you understand.
Thanking you in advance for your prompt explanation.

Grant Doyle


We have received your billing enquiry, and will get back to you within 5 working days.
As always, thanks for choosing Optus.

Kind regards,
The Optus Billing Team

Dear Grant

My name is Joy and I will be assisting you today with your International Roaming enquiry.

I can see that the charges on your account are not in relation to calls that you have made but rather voicemail, text and GPRS.

If a received call is diverted to VoiceMail because you do not answer or because your phone is busy, you will also be charged the international call rate for the applicable zone to divert the caller back to your VoiceMail box in Australia.

A review of your account shows that the majority of roaming charges are for GPRS data usage when accessing the internet with your iPhone.

These GPRS charges can also be accrued if you have automatic downloads in place such as Push Email.

As requested I have removed the Roaming features from your service and you will no longer be able to access international roaming. If you wish to change this please let us know and we can reactivate the feature. Your number will remain active and your monthly service fee on the $39 iPhone plan will remain unchanged unless you tell us otherwise.

Please note, roaming charges may take up to 3 months to appear on your statement as we rely on the overseas carrier to forward the details to us. This could mean you will still have some charges billed to your account from the period when the roaming was active.

While using International Roaming, your account would be billed according to the fees and charges for the overseas network you are accessing at the time. The rates charged depend on the network you access in each country. Details are available by visiting www.optus.com.au/autoroam.

I can confirm that the account charges are correct, it is not possible for charges to be passed onto your account other than by the use of your SIM card. Our representative has noted on your account 21 June 2009 that you were advised of the charges when activating roaming.

I can see that you have had your iPhone with Optus since August 2008 and your $39 cap plan has been a good choice for your normal usage.

I trust this information is of assistance and provides you with a solution to your International Roaming enquiry.

For further enquiries please reply by email or contact our Customer Care Centre on 133937 or if overseas on + (or the international exit code) 61 2 8082 5678.

Yours sincerely

Web Servicing Team


Thank you Joy,
A couple of points:

The phone was set up to automatically divert to voice mail, so as not to incur such fees. I can’t recall ever accessing voicemail in the 5 weeks I’ve been away. There is no need because the updated voicemail message says to contact me via an email, due to my extended absence.

These GPRS fees: I don’t have push email (whatever that is?), or automatic downloads set up, never have. I live online via my laptop due to my full time studies here in the Netherlands, so I have NEVER used the iPhone to do this. So why the charges now? No such charges occurred while I was using the phone in Australia, and as I’ve done nothing to the settings, why does it supposedly happening now?

These are the things I need answers to.

The iPhone was never intended to be used here while I’m in the Netherlands studying anyway. I bought a pre-paid SIM soon after arriving to use with an old Nokia handset I brought with me from Australia, and this works perfectly well for the few local calls and texts needed.

I use the iPhone primarily as a portable music player and travel alarm. That’s it. And you can see this from the statement, given the minimal texts I’ve actually sent from it.

So I hope you can still see my frustration and concern at these excessive charges. As indicated earlier, this account will not be settled with these ‘unknown’ fees.

I have turned the phone off, and never to use again while away. This is a major inconvenience, as you can understand, due to the reliance I have on many of the iPhone’s functions, apart from the actual phone.

So Joy, why and how were these GPRS charges accrued to my account when I did nothing to activate such a service?

Appreciate any other telecommunication insights you can add in resolving this very worrying matter.

Thank you again for your kind and considered response. Until next time …

Kind regards,

Grant Doyle

Dear Grant

My name is Alex and I will be assisting you today with your International Roaming enquiry.

I am sorry to discover that you have some concerns regarding your most recent statement, and I welcome the opportunity to clarify the issues you have raised.

Upon reviewing your account, you have not been charged any voicemail charges on your latest invoice. Please refer to page four of your latest statement, and you can see a $0 value next to your voicemail deposits.

After investigating the GPRS details you have supplied, I can confirm that these charges have been recorded and billed correctly. GPRS charges can only appear on your statements if the phone is turned on.

Please refer to the following settings where the iPhone automatically connects to GPRS, settings can be found at:

Setting > General > Network > Data Roaming > ON/OFF
iPhone Operating System 2.0 – Settings – Email – Fetch New Data – Set Push to OFF
iPhone Operating System 3.0 – Settings – Email – Fetch New Data – Set Push to OFF

For further information, please refer to your iPhone user guide which can be found online at the apple website.

Once again, please accept my apologies for the inconvenience caused and l hope this information has been of assistance to you.

I trust this information is of assistance and provides you with a solution to your International Roaming enquiry.

For further enquiries please reply by email or contact our Customer Care Centre on 133937 or if overseas on + (or the international exit code) 61 2 9342 5678

Yours sincerely

Web Servicing Team


Hi Alex,
Thanks for the update.

As I understand it, and believe me, I’ve done some research on this in the last week, data roaming can only accrue charges if you actually browse with Safari mobile, try to access Gmail or use other such data services from the iPhone. Yet I’ve not done any of these the entire time away, when the outrageous fees were apparently billed.

This is my confusion and continuing frustration. Maybe you can clarify the situation?

The push mail settings you explain below were already off, have always been off; as I never have, nor will have, any need to automatically fetch data. I performed this manually on occasion in Sydney. So how is it the phone may have gone into Push mode without me altering the settings?

This is my confusion and continuing frustration. Maybe you can clarify the situation?

Thanks in advance. Oh, Alex, one more thing: I seem to recall the account is due for payment in the next few days. I won’t be paying in full, as already mentioned. Certainly these contentious GPRS fees will be deducted.

So how do we avoid the ensuing ‘late payment’ reminders of increasing veracity until we resolve this accounting matter?

Again, thanks in advance for your prompt response.


Dear Grant

Thank you for your response. My name is Hayley and I am appreciative to be assisting with your account charges enquiry.

As previously advised, the GPRS charges incurred whilst roaming are correct and do need to be paid. I appreciate the concerns you have raised, however Optus are not able to remove these charges.

We are more than happy to assist with a payment plan if you require this, and our friendly Financial Services team can be contacted on 1300 300 418 for assistance.

I am pleased that you are now aware of how these kinds of charges can result when you are travelling, and if there is anything further we can educate you further on, simply respond to this email and we will be glad to clarify for you.
I have been reviewing your last few accounts and would like to let you know that you can keep a closer eye on your usage using the free iPhone usage application. The application is great because it is free to download and use.

With this new and exciting application Post Paid mobile customers are able to;

-view your unbilled usage for eligible iPhone plans
-view your last four bills
-pay your bill via credit card

If this application is of interest to you please visit the Apple website of www.apple.com.au or the App store on your iPhone for more information, or send us a reply and we can assist with any questions you may have.

For further enquiries please reply by email or contact our Customer Care Centre on 133937 or if overseas on + (or the international exit code) 61 2 8082 5678.

Yours Sincerely

Web Servicing Team


Hi Haley,

What happened to Alex and Joy, I wonder?
I don’t really see anything new in your response Hayley.
The specific questions I’ve outlined have not been addressed at all.
Can someone look into this, perhaps?

Also, I would like you to reactivate the global roaming on my phone. I think Joy informed me at the outset that she managed this, so I’m guessing you can switch it back on. I want to test something, before taking this conundrum further.

Also, as I asked in the last email, what happens with my overdue account (for non payment of the GPRS charges)? I would expect you put some hold on the letters of demand and any threats before the issue is fully resolved to the satisfaction of both parties. And Haley, we’re not there yet.

Looking forward to meeting more of your team.
Please let me know when the global roaming is back on.

Thanks in advance for your prompt response.

Kind regards,

Dear Grant

My name is Wilson and I will assist you with regarding your concerns surrounding your Optus Mobile account.

I am sorry to hear of your ongoing billing difficulty, and I can appreciate the concerns that you have raised.

Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience caused in relation to the different respondents to your web enquiries. This is due to Optus responding to your enquiries in a timely manner. I can assure you our Web Servicing Team representatives review all contact notes to ensure your enquiries are addressed appropriately.

If customers wish to dispute any mobile charges on their mobile account, it is in the customer’s interests to pay any invoices in a timely manner. As unpaid accounts can incur Late Payment fees and collections process.

If the dispute outcome has determined mobile charges have been billed incorrectly, the necessary credit adjustments are applied on your mobile account accordingly.

In the event you are unable to make full payment, Optus is more than happy to discuss any payment arrangements with you.

I have extended your current balance of $755.23 which was due on the 7th October up until the 20th October. If you do require more time than this please contact our credit services team on 1300 300 418 to make a payment arrangement. They are available from 8.30am until 7.00pm Monday to Friday, and from 9.00am until 6.00pm Saturday (AEST).

As requested, I have reactivated Optus AutoRoam on your mobile service.

The roaming feature does not incur any additional access fees, and allows you to access networks from a large range of both popular and more unusual destinations.

While overseas you will be charged for outgoing calls and SMS from your service, as well as any incoming calls. You can view details of these costs, as well as the available AutoRoam destinations by visiting www.optus.com.au/autoroam.

These charges will be itemised on your monthly Optus account in Australian Dollars however as we rely on the overseas carrier to forward the details to us they may take up to 3 months to appear on your statement. These calls and messages are not included as a part of the included value of your current rate plan.

When travelling between countries and regions, you may need to complete a manual network selection to ensure your handset maintains a connection with the local mobile network. Normally this option is within the ‘Networks’ or ‘Settings’ area of your phone’s menu, however further information on how to do this can be found in your handset user manual.

As you have been informed of the billing charges surrounding Optus AutoRoam.

I can confirm Alex and Joy have been very helpful in providing assistance with deactivation advice to turn of data settings on the Apple iPhone handset.

After checking our systems, I can confirm the mobile charges have been billed correctly and stand as valid.

I trust this information is of assistance and provides you with a solution to your billing enquiry.

For further enquiries please reply by email or contact our Customer Care Centre on 133937 or if overseas on + (or the international exit code) 61 2 8082 5678.Yours sincerely

Web Servicing Team


Thanks Wilson,
The one question I asked at the very start of this has not been addressed by you or any of your colleagues in all this correspondence.

What and how does a phone start to pulling and pushing GPRS data without any change in the phone’s settings? This is the issue at stake, it seems.

No such ‘pushing/pulling’ was active while the phone was in use in Australia. I do nothing to the settings, not that I even know how, I switch on the phone in the Netherlands, use it for a handful of texts (and do not change any settings), only to discover on my first bill while away the $700 plus of such charges. Please explain, is all I ask.

And for the record, it’s not a matter of not being able to pay. So the October 20extension is not warranted, but thank you nonetheless.

I am asking that the account be put ‘on hold’ or something until the matter has been resolved. So intimidating threats from you of late payment fees and collection services doesn’t help our reconciliation relationship, don’t you agree?

And just out of interest, hypothetically speaking, what happens to someone’s outstanding (unpaid) balance if they instigate actions with the telco ombudsman? Surely, that account is put on hold, or something similar, while the matter is sorted one way or the other. Surely you wouldn’t be sending late payment penalty notes or threats of collection services until the issue had been adjudged?

Maybe I’m wrong?

So 2 questions in this email. Could the next respondent please address those.

Thanks in advance for your prompt response because I’m sure you want to clear this query from your active list as much as I do.

Grant Doyle

Dear Grant

My name is Alison and I will be assisting you today with your enquiry regarding data roaming charges billed to your service.

I am happy to provide further clarification of these charges and how they vary when you travel overseas.

iPhone handsets have a setting which allows your handset to automatically roam and search for a Wi-Fi network where ever you are located. When in Australia, your national roaming and internet connection is automatically covered under the data allowance for your ‘yes’ $39 iPhone rate plan. Therefore, you may not have noticed that it is continually roaming for a data network.

When you travel overseas, if you do not turn the automatic data roaming setting off, your iPhone will continue to roam and automatically search for and access a Wi-Fi network where ever you are located. As you are overseas, this is no longer a national charge but rather, an international data roaming charge and not covered under the national data allowance provisioned in your plan. Therefore, your iPhone is continually accessing International data roaming and accruing data charges not covered under your standard plan.

When using an iPhone overseas, it is important to leave the setting for Data Roaming on the default which is ‘Off’. To change the International Roaming Data setting you go to Settings > General > Network > Data Roaming Option. You can set this to On or Off as you like.

Underneath this setting, there is a warning message which says ‘Turn Data Roaming off when abroad to avoid substantial roaming charges when using email, web browsing and other data services’. As the iPhone constantly uses data, switching this setting away from the default of ‘Off’ to ‘On’ results in the iPhone working in exactly the same way as it would when using your home carrier, Optus.

With regard to your query concerning your account status and payment in a situation where charges are being investigated or disputed, I can advise that, as per Optus billing terms and conditions, it is your responsibility to ensure that your account status is kept up to date. In the event of an outcome where it is deemed that charges are billed incorrectly, your account will be credit or adjusted accordingly once the dispute is resolved.

We do understand that there are circumstances where charges may not be able to be paid by the due date. In this instance, we recommend you contact our Credit Services team to make a suitable payment arrangement.

They can be contaced on 1300 300 192 and are available from 8.30am until 7.00pm Monday to Friday, and from 9.00am until 2.00pm Saturday (AEST).

Please note that failure to make a suitable payment arrangement, or to pay in full, may impact you on any future credit applications made within Australia. As a credit provider, Optus refers unpaid accounts to mercantile agents for resolution. If necessary, outstanding accounts may be advised to the credit reporting agency, Veda Advantage, for noting.

I trust this information is of assistance and provides you with an answer to your query concerning data roaming charges billed to your service.

For further enquiries please reply by email or contact our Customer Care Centre on 133937 or if overseas on + (or the international exit code) 61 2 8082 5678.

Yours sincerely

Web Servicing Team


Hi Alison,

Sorry I haven’t replied sooner but I’ve been away; first, Paris, and most recently in Bruges, where the chocolate is very good.

You say:

“If customers wish to dispute any mobile charges on their mobile account, it is in the customer’s interests to pay any invoices in a timely manner. As unpaid accounts can incur Late Payment fees and collections process.

So it’s pay up first and then we’ll sort out the dispute later? This doesn’t seem a very equitable relationship at all. Which has been part of my issue from the outset.

The other issue is this. After having spent many minutes on your help desk phone line prior to departing in order to work out what to do with my account etc during the impending 7-month absence, at no time did the Optus employee advise to switch the default date roaming off, which you seem to belatedly mention below. If someone didn’t know about this, then how are they expected to action the best settings. This seems to me to be a glaring omission in your advice to me prior to departure.

Beyond this though, your explanation doesn’t make sense. If my iPhone in Australia, ‘picks up’ a WiFi network, why is that data charged to me, when I’m ‘piggy backing’ so to speak, off the WiFi provider’s network? That’s nothing to do with me proactively and directly downloading email to the phone (or browsing) over the Optus network, which I fully expect to pay for. And which I have not attempted once since being overseas.

My home has a secure wireless network. The iPhone accesses this because of the password being set up. And I can surf the web on the phone via this network and not incur any charges because it’s piggy backing off our Bigpond wireless network? Right?

The same thing applies at my university library. If I so chose to use my phone there for email or web browsing, it utilises the university’s network, not my Optus account? Right?

So how is the Starbucks cafe in Amsterdam any different if my iPhone ‘picks up’ their free WiFi network for customers? If I did do this, the phone is simply ‘piggybacking’ off the Starbucks provided network; nothing to do with Optus or the partner carrier in the Netherlands.

This is my dilemma. And I don’t think we’re at the bottom of it yet; what do you think?


Dear Grant,

My name is Kylee and I will be assisting with your enquiry today.

In regards to the charges you incurred while travelling please be advised that Data Roaming from your iPhone must be turned on by yourself.

As per the terms and conditions of the yes iPhone $39 plan you receive Free access, browsing and downloads in Optus WiFi hotspots. Within the terms and conditions it also states that the plan does not include International Roaming. As International data roaming and accruing data charges are not covered under your plan you have been charged for this access.

In the event that a customer has a billing dispute Optus does recommend that they continue to pay charges not being queried on their account. A protection can then be placed on the account to prevent any Financial Services action on any charges in dispute. Should you wish not to make payment on the charges you are querying you certainly have that option. However on this occasion, Optus is confident that the charges have been billed correctly and your iPhone would have provided you a warning prior to accepting data roaming ability.

Optus appreciates the opportunity to clarify this matter for you.

For further enquiries please reply by email or contact our Customer Care Centre on 1300768453 or if overseas on + (or the international exit code) 61 2 8082 5678.

Yours Sincerely

Web Servicing Team


Hi Kylee,

Thank you for the prompt response.

However, I think it a bit presumptuous you suggesting that clarity has been provided with your email.
The confidence displayed in assuming that I was informed of all such data charges and ramifications for the default settings of an iPhone were most definitely not provided in the half hour or so I spent on the phone to the Optus help desk prior to my overseas departure.

I think there is an onus on Optus to fully inform customers of the potential that I seem to have  inadvertantly experienced through no active fault of my own. This is not ignorance on my part, nor deception on yours. I believe now that there is a more thorough duty of care expected of Optus, specific to the iPhone, in these very common and general circumstances.

It is for this reason that I wish to put a hold on, or protect, that outstanding amount of my account, pending further inquiry and investigation on my part. The financials:

I paid today all other non-GPRS data fees for the latest account due 06 November. That was $67.19.
This still leaves a total amount outstanding (and in dispute) of $957.43, by my records. It is this amount/component I want to ‘quarantine’ until a resolution is arrived at to the satisfaction of all parties. This you suggest in your email, seems possible.

Kylee (and all your colleagues I’ve met this past month or so), I realise and fully appreciate you have an important job to do, and that you work with templates to achieve strict outcomes. This is to be expected. But you must also appreciate my situation, to display a modicum of empathy, for this customer, which I acknowledge must be a mammoth task, given the vast Optus customer base.

So, in the short-term, please advise what I need to do to put the disputed amount on ‘hold’ or protection, “to prevent,” as you say, “any Financial Services action on any charges in dispute,” despite the confidence you express on behalf of Optus is being absolutely and unequivocally in the right.

Oh, one final thing: As a freelance journalist (you might have guessed from the nature of my writing? but I shouldn’t be so presumptuous), I’m working on a consumer interest story related to this very issue. So in the interests of professional courtesy, I will be quoting many of the responses from yourself and your colleagues in the proposed article. If Optus has an issue with this, could you please direct me to the appropriate media people for further discussion.

Thanking you again in advance for your prompt response to my 2 queries:

  1. How to protect or put on hold the disputed amount
  2. Direct me to your media people or general counsel if Optus has issues with me quoting freely from our correspondence in my proposed article.

Kind regards,

Dear Mr Doyle,

Optus Ref N#: 1883228

Thank you for your correspondence, regarding the billing of International Roaming Data charges and Optus Customer Service. Optus welcomes your feedback and the opportunity to address your concerns. Firstly, I would like to apologise on behalf of Optus for any distress or inconvenience that you may have experienced in connection with this matter.

Optus constantly strives to be our customer’s best service experience and it is of concern to us to hear that your expectations were not met by Optus in this instance. Optus Customer Service Representatives are trained to resolve the customer’s query on the first contact where possible and Optus sincerely regrets that your enquiry was not handled in an appropriate manner. I have forwarded your concerns to the Management of Customer Service.

As a Gesture of Goodwill and without admission of liability Optus will waive the current balance of $957.43 on your Optus Account Number 86357776000170.  As you have been advised the Data Component and International Roaming features have been removed from your service as such you should not receive any further charges for International Roaming Data. Please note that currently your account reflects a nil balance.

Should you have any further queries or wish to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to contact myself on 0280859082 or via return e-mail.


Paul Newman



How do you survive going through life with such a famous moniker? Sorry.

Anyway, I am extremely humbled by this outcome. Contrary to some of the earlier responses by your colleages, this was never about the finance or inability to pay, but rather, me seeking a thorough explanation of what happened, and how?  All my subsequent inquiries merely sought this clarification.

And if that had occurred promptly, efficiently and transparently, then I most likely would have paid the charges, and learned a very costly lesson.

So I sincerely thank you for this good news. My faith in Optus has been partially restored, but rest assured, though I am only a small-spend customer, I shall be an advocate for your brand.

Good luck and thank you again.


Grant Doyle


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Oh my, we’ve all been there with Optus in some fashion but that’s the most entertaining take on it!

My profound sympathies to you for acquitted (financially at least) of something you didn’t actually do.

PS: Are you *sure* you didn’t make up all those different names ??

Comment by Jan

I assure you all the names are original. Including the last guy. If you’d like, I can forward the email trail. 😉

Comment by Grant Doyle

Hi, I read with great interest your questions to Optus. I am with vodafone and had an almost identical experience to the tune of $3,000 on my last OS trip (10 days). They cut my phone off in the middle of a business trip – even thought the bill wasnlt even due. That is extortion. I had to pay an outrageous bill well before due date in the middle of a business trip otherwise they would cut off the phone (yes, they did cut it off 24 hours later.) The trip cost me $30,000 and I generated no business from it because I couldn’t use my phone because of a bill that was 2 weeks away from even being due. This is absolute extortion. I have been a long standing customer with Vodafone and often paid my bills months in advance, so needless to say I was disgusted. The next thing I noticed in your emails was your very logical question of “why, if using wi-fi, would there be such charges”. I can attest that I have just learned these lessons all over again. This trip my phone has had global roaming switched off. I have also, hardly used my phone – yet the bill ended up being over $1,000, and being even MORE careful on the next billing cycle (using my phone almost never) I have clocked up $300 in less than a week. How can this be?? How is a person meant to communicate in business internationally if this type of international scam is allowed to go on. The only alternative is to unlock the phone and use local sims everywhere. But if we can get the calls locally on a local SIM at such a cheap rate – aren’t our providers meant to be accessing those same rates and just adding on a service fee? This is the BIGGEST impediment to the ‘global village’ I have seen and a huge scam.

I was also interested at the change in attitude from Optus as soon as you told them your are doing a story on the subject. It is disgusting that it has to come to that just to not be subjected to strongarm extortion tactics. It is the only industry I know of where you pay up or else, whilst resolving very legitimate concerns as a customer.

There is other technology coming out soon I hear where you will be able to pay just $99 a month and the calls never go over this rate – ever. The company has had a rocky ride and I’m not recommending them – as I’ve been “waiting till next week” for the release for over 3 years now (buzzirk mobile through a company called e-verge). I hear the phones are out now, so might be worth a 50th look. I swore to Vodafone the second the technology comes out I will be telling as many people about it as possible for their extortion techniques. And here we are 🙂


Matt Fisher

Comment by Matt

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