AFTER arriving for a two week holiday of a lifetime in Mauritius Joanna Rubins and her husband were napping after the long 10-hour flight.
While they were sleeping their 10-year-old daughter Siena used their mobile phone to keep amused, playing on viral video app TikTok.
She created a short 15 second long video but wasn't aware that the game was quickly racking up data charges on her parents phone.
Quickly text messages began popping up from their phone operator Vodafone, but Siena dismissed them as she was engrossed in her game.
As soon as Joanna, 42, who lives in Millhill woke up and saw text messages on the phone she knew something was wrong.
In just under an hour Siena has managed to spend £5,000 in international data charges.
“I nearly had a heart attack. I felt sick,” Joanna told The Sun.
“I thought it was a mistake.
“I didn’t go mad because it wasn’t her fault.
“I couldn’t enjoy my holiday. How can you when you’ve got a massive bill. It ruined it.”
“Siena was really upset, very frightened and didn’t understand what was going on”.
In Europe phone firms are banned from charging customers more than it would cost to use their phone in the UK for calls, texts and data thanks to EU rules.
But outside of the EU there is no cap on charges that phone firms can levy.
Vodafone offers free roaming at no extra cost in 48 destinations – but not Mauritius.
The phone network charges 60p per MB of data used while in Mauritius and since Siena had used 1GB of data the couple were baffled at the shockingly large bill.
The usual €50 cap on international roaming charges applied by Vodafone has been suspended on the phone, which was mostly used for her husband's work.
How to avoid huge holiday mobile bills
KNOW YOUR LIMIT Under Ofcom rules mobile firms must cut off your data connection once you’ve used £40 to £50 of data per month, wherever you travel, unless you choose another limit. This varies between providers. They must also alert you when you reach 80 per cent and then 100 per cent of your data roaming limit. They should then stop the data at 100% unless you agree otherwise.
TURN OFF DATA ROAMING This is the safest way to avoid charges, unless you want to leave your phone or tablet at home.
KNOW YOUR NETWORK Before you travel check what the roaming charges are and if there is a way to cut the cost while you’re away.
USE FREE WI-FI Find local hotspots such as hotels, cafes and restaurants.
It meant that there was no limit on what Vodafone could charge and Siena didn't understand what the warning texts were saying.
It comes as holidaymakers are warned about huge phone bills abroad by comparison website uSwitch.
It says that Brits abroad could easily spend £100 a day in many non-EU countries due to roaming charges.
Today it warns that destinations such as Morocco, USA and Turkey can be expensive for travellers.
As soon as they were back from holiday they contacted Vodafone about the bill but they were only offered a paltry £100 off the £5,000 total.
“Lots of people including our friends have been caught out before,” Joanna added.
“It’s ridiculous to offer £100 off.”
“Obviously Siena shouldn’t have taken the phone but I don’t understand why they didn’t stop it from happening”.
It wasn’t until the family contacted The Sun that Vodafone changed its mind and refunded the full £5,000.
Joanna added: “It’s the greatest relief ever to have the bill wiped.
“We were so happy. Bless Siena, she was so relieved as well as she’d been feeling guilty about it.
“It was the best news ever The Sun stepped in but I feel so upset for other parent’s who aren’t as fortunate.”
Customers are told about costs via text when they arrive. It will also inform customers via text if they’ve exceeded their data limit and if they are using additional data and how much this costs.
A spokesperson from Vodafone said: “Mauritius number of holiday destinations that sit outside these 152 Roam Free or Roam Further destinations.
“The customer in question manually removed the data cap that we put in place and therefore opted out of receiving warning texts.
“The data costs incurred were in line with other operators in the market.
“We advise all customers to check their mobile data settings when they’re abroad and set their spend limit at a sensible amount that is proportionate to the amount of data that they use.
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