Man Unwittingly Lets Grandkids Run Up $10,000 In Roaming Charges By Streaming Netflix

Doting grandparents know how to keep kids distracted on a family vacation — let’em watch videos to their hearts’ content so they quit whining about visiting boring monuments. Unfortunately for one Canadian man, he wasn’t banking on the roaming charges he’d rack up to stream Netflix in the states.

The New York Daily News says Saskatchewan resident John was on a trip to Phoenix with his family, and when the kiddies started to get bored, he let them use the laptop, outfitted with a wireless card, to watch movies.

Boy, was he surprised when he got the bill from his provider, which was gargantuan due to the constant Internet use and roaming charges.

“It was over $10,000,” he said. “I went, ‘Good Lord.'”

It seems Canadian providers aren’t quick to stick massive charges to their customers, however, as SaskTel agreed to lower his $10,668.38 bill to $1,000 when he called to explain the situation. John’s learned his lesson, and says he’ll fork over the cash gratefully.

Canadian charged more than $10,000 for letting kids watch Netflix [New York Daily News]

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  1. Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:

    Person doesn’t understand roaming charges for data, gets hit with predictably large bill, news at 11!

    Nice of the carrier to reduce it though. Try asking one of the mammoth companies for a deal like that…

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Consumerist readers sees article about roaming data charges, makes not-so-witty “New at 11″ remark. News at 11:30!

      • jeremydouglass says:

        Consumerist.com sees news story at 11 followed by story about the story at 11:30, posts hot trending story to site the following week.

      • Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:

        Haters gonna hate, 24 hour coverage on Fox News!

      • thrashanddestroy says:

        He has a point. How the hell does this even end up in The New York Daily News? If we started publishing articles on any average joe’s incompetence, there wouldn’t be any room for my funnies or crosswords. Perish the thought!

        Anyway…yeah, guy should have known about roaming charges, it isn’t a new concept. Still, very cool of SaskTel to lower the bill. At least there’s a compassionate company out there.

    • Terron says:

      It’s not always cut and dry.

      When I was 12, my mom nearly had a heart attack when we ended up with a $3500 phone bill on our second phone line, used for internet access. Turns out calls to a specific exchange the next town over were considered “long distance”, even though It was maybe 2 miles away. Go figure.

  2. Jeff asks: "WTF could you possibly have been thinking? says:

    “Blame the OP” the first comment on Consumerist story! News at 11:00!

    • mehitabel says:

      I know…it’s truly awe inspiring how many Consumerist commenters have never made a mistake or misjudgment.

      • Doubting thomas says:

        Yes because being able to spot what the OP did wrong means someone is claiming to never have made the mistake. Heck I have made this same mistake, on a much smaller scale, do you know whose fault it was? Mine!.
        As Dr. Ned said it was nice of the carrier to drop the bill down.
        It was a classy move and good PR for the company. However I do not feel that they had any duty to or moral responsibility to the customer to fix his mistake.
        So yes I blame the OP and give kudos to the company on this one.

        • dwtomek says:

          Because implementing a system to warn users of excessive usage bills would be an unreasonable thing for a telco to do? For example, usage for the month hits a cost of $500 and a txt message is sent to the user informing him of this. Bam, no $10,000 bill. That a personal use bill is even capable of reaching $10,000 is ludicrous.

  3. FishtownYo says:

    Wondering if they watched every Dan Aykroyd movie ever or maybe Brian Adams videos. Isn’t that what Canadians do?

  4. exconsumer says:

    “Did the defendant ever say he intended to use the service in this manner?”

    “And what reason did you have to believe that the defendant would be able to compensate you for charges so far outside the scope of your agreement?”

    “Did you do anything to mitigate what you believed to be unintended, outside the scope of your agreement, and beyond your expectations of the defendants ability to pay?”

    . . . asked the defendant’s lawyer, in an alternate universe where contracts between corporations and individuals are treated like contracts between two individuals.

    • Difdi says:

      Outside the scope of the agreement? He signed a plan agreement for a specific service area, with a specified fee for use of the service outside of that area. Then he went and used the service extensively outside of that area.

      The $10,000 charge was completely within the scope of the agreement he had with the company. Shame on him for not reading what he signs.

      • exconsumer says:

        Well, sure, that’s the way the general public is trained to think about contracts. You sign something, and that’s it; you’re locked in, forever and ever, amen.

        But that’s not really how it would go down in court, at least between two individuals. If it was just a contract between you and I, and I pulled what SaskTel pulled, the court would have some serious questions, and rightly so. That international roaming charge is clearly a punitive one. The contract is not built for that (in fact, I bet SaskTel has another contract for international customers with a lower rate). So why did I allow that particular account to be penalized over and over and over? Especially after I checked your credit, and probably have an idea about whether or not you’ll really be able to pay that amount. You could argue that I have a duty to mitigate damages and that I did not take them. The judge or jury may not agree, but you wouldn’t be crazy to make that argument. These kind of things are rarely as open and shut as we’re led to believe. If they were, I doubt SaskTel would have reduced what they were owed by 90%.

  5. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    Well yeah that’s going to happen sometimes when people buy and use technology they can’t understand.

  6. Fast Eddie Eats Bagels says:

    I wonder if they’ll send him a 1099C for the rest of the balance.

  7. Coffee says:

    …agreed to lower his $10,668.38 bill to $1,000 when he called to explain the situation. John’s learned his lesson, and says he’ll fork over the cash gratefully.

    Oh, how well they have us trained.

  8. AnxiousDemographic says:

    The real problem is that carriers don’t provide a billing limit. If consumers could specify a maximum billing for cutoff, this wouldn’t happen. Credit cards have a credit limit, why can’t a phone bill have limit? Even an opt-in limit would be great.

    • ajaxd says:

      And then the next you would hear whining “my car broke down in the middle of nowhere and they just cut off my service right there”. My understanding is that for roaming you may not get instant usage updates anyhow so you may rack up 10K in fees before triggering any alerts.

      • Jules Noctambule says:

        Yeah, somehow I imagine that disallowing a customer to dial an emergency number might be excluded from that. Just guessing, you know.

        • TheMansfieldMauler says:

          What emergency number do you dial when your car breaks down? I hope you aren’t calling 911 for that. How is the telecom supposed to know what an “emergency number” is? Are they supposed to keep a listing of every tow truck operator in the world?

          • Talmonis says:

            I dunno man, if we’re talking the Mojave desert in the summer, or The middle of the woods of Minnesota in winter? I think at that point it’s 911 time. You know, before you die.

      • OutPastPluto says:

        …because clearly it would be too hard to exempt emergency services from such an account freeze. It’s like they farm out product design to the local kindergarten.

      • Dr. Shrinker says:

        Your car breaks down and you want to stream movies on Netflix?

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Is real time billing information available when roaming internationally?

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Yes it is. If nothing else, your phone is tracking that information. More likely, that information is readily available in realtime by your carrier.

      • Herbz says:

        Of course it is! (or at least semi-realtime (i.e. 30 second delay or so))

        Billing info isn’t tracked by your phone, but by the towers. The towers relay info constantly… such as “does this phone have access? It does? OK, start tracking how much data it uses”
        If it wasn’t, I would just have my phone send that I never use any data or minutes.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          I always assumed there were delays with international roaming. When I travel abroad, I usually just buy a new sim card. It’s been several years but the last time I didn’t do this and just used an international package through Cingular, there were a few instances where the billing took over a full cycle for all of the roaming charges to finally make it back to me.

    • balderdashed says:

      Cell phone companies engage in plenty of despicable shenanigans. But as long as it’s fairly easy for a consumer to monitor his cell phone usage, I see no reason Verizon, AT&T, etc. should be required to protect consumers from their own negligence and/or laziness. If we’re going to ask cell phone companies to safeguard our wallets with spending limits (opt-in or otherwise), why not ask other businesses to do the same? Perhaps I should be able to set a spending limit with Amazon each month, and when I’ve reached it, they should cancel my next order. Or, to protect me from shock when the check arrives at a nice restaurant, perhaps I should set a spending limit when I walk in the door, so the waiter can cut me off when I’ve reached it. Ridiculous, of course. But so is the notion that it should be somebody else’s job to protect us from our own irresponsible behavior.

      • Kate says:

        It’s not exactly a hard function to add, if you were responsible company, it would be a service to make being responsible a lot easier for your customers.

      • Baron Von Crogs says:

        This its opt in, a tool for customers who want to track their usage.

  9. SiddhimaAmythaon says:

    there is no reason for US and Canada to have the same massive roaming charges as say China. ATT and SaskTel most likely have enough people doing it on each other network to just cancel out each others charges,

  10. SerenityDan says:

    Oh come on, I’ve hate blaming OP but “I didn’t realize I’d get charged for roaming while visiting a different country” really? Really? Were you born yesterday?

    • Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

      Nope…just Canadian…

      • Englishee Teacher says:

        To be fair, he’s from Saskatchewan. Up here you can drive for like 10 hours and still be in the same area code.

        • aaron8301 says:

          But I think WHEN YOU GO THROUGH US CUSTOMS, you should know that your CANADIAN cell phone is roaming.

    • anchorworm is really sick of Minnesota weather says:

      I agree. Even staying in this country, I know to be careful with my phone up near International Falls, MN. Whatever signal I get is likely to be off of a Canadian tower with corresponding international roaming fees. When I head up there fishing, the phone stays off unless it is an actual emergency. If I drive 10 miles South, however, I can stream Netflix to my hearts content.

  11. ovalseven says:

    until your heart’s content

  12. maxamus2 says:

    Yeah, cause $1,000 doesn’t hurt.

  13. maxamus2 says:

    Then again, if I was stuck with my nephew’s on vacation, it would be worth $10,000 to keep them away from me.

  14. ElDiablo says:

    Sounds like dad doesn’t need to schedule vacations with the kids anymore. Just let them sit at home watching movies on their iThing.

  15. TheBigWhiteWolf says:

    But it’s $1000 Canadian money, so that’s like $75 US, right?

    • EricS says:

      Nice try, but the joke doesn’t work anymore: The Can-US exchange rate is almost exactly 1:1. Yes, our “bank crisis” screwed our economy that badly.

  16. weave says:

    I just got back from Mexico and had pre-purchased 325 megs of data for $100. No package would be $20/meg. I can see a discount being given for buying buckets of data but seriously… 30 cents/meg pre-purchased vs $20/meg if not? In both cases, the carrier is being charged the same amount from the foreign operators. Why is one so much more expensive than the other? As in, insanely so?

    • thedarkerside.to says:

      Often no money changes hand in those cases anyway. They have peering agreements and at the end of the year they just exchange the numbers.

  17. rambo76098 says:

    All I have to say is… DURRR. What did you think was going to happen? Anyone with even half a brain knows international data roaming is pricey as hell. And that Netflix uses a TON of data.

  18. Weekilter says:

    Are people really that naïve to give someone a computer or a smartphone without knowing that whoever they give their device to can rack up huge bills? Stupid.

  19. dirtrat says:

    Pay the bill DEADBEAT!

  20. PortlandBeavers says:

    That ended up being essentially a free $1,000 to the phone company.

    • guspaz says:

      Except that SaskTel probably had to pay that much in roaming charges to the US carrier, so it isn’t SaskTel getting a free $1000.

  21. Hemera says:

    I really can’t believe he handed his laptop over to his grand kids and let them stream movies without checking to see what the roaming would be. Not that I’m saying I would have known it was going to cost 10 grand, because I wouldn’t have, but I would have checked the terms. You just know out of country roaming will be a rip off, even if you don’t know how big a rip off exactly.

    That said, it was very nice of the carrier to cut him a deal. And I’m sure he’ll be a loyal customer for years now, just because they let him out of a bill that he probably couldn’t have paid anyway, so I bet it was still profitable for them.

  22. thedarkerside.to says:

    The only reason that was so painless for him was because it was SaskTel, which is still, to my knowledge, a crown corporation, meaning it’s owned by the Government of Saskatchewan.

    Good luck trying this with Rogers, Bell or Telus.

  23. guspaz says:

    OK, so I’m in Montreal, reading about a guy from Saskatchewan, and the charges were racked up in Phoenix, but I’m reading about it in a newspaper from New York?