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How to pre-empt bill-shock

Smartphones are catching out consumers with massive bills caused by automatically downloading data. That’s expensive even on home turf, but if you’re abroad, it can turn an enjoyable trip into a nightmare, says Nashua Mobile’s CEO MARK TAYLOR.

Golf is an expensive hobby, but it cost one man almost R1-million even though he was nowhere near a green. That was his cell phone bill after an app to analyse his golf swing kept running when he travelled abroad, scoring an exorbitant case of bill shock.

Here are a few trips to keep your cellular bill down:

Stamp out subscriptions

When you download a ringtone, you probably ignore the fine print warning that it’s a subscription service with a regular bill. Many only cost R5 a month, but some cost a scary R20 a day, and that’s a mighty expensive piece of music. ‚”Before you use your handset to purchase anything read the fine print,‚” Taylor says. Check your bill, and if you’ve signed up for something by accident, unsubscribe immediately.

Overseas and overpriced

International roaming soon inflicts horrendous bills. ‚”Data can cost up to R200 per Megabyte and when smartphone apps continue downloading content abroad it can give you a nasty shock,‚” says Taylor. Before you travel, ask your service provider to set an affordable limit. Better still, switch off data roaming via the settings menu in your phone. You can always switch it back on in an emergency. Then look for free wi-fi networks in coffee shops and upload your data for nothing. Your phone normally defaults to using a wi-fi network even if your GSM option is still switched on, but you will need to log on to the wi-fi network first. If you need to make local calls at your destination, buy a local Sim card when you arrive.

Don’t bungle the Bundle

Smartphone users must buy a suitable data bundle, otherwise automatic downloads made by devices including the Samsung S3 and iPhone5 can easily cost R2 000 month. ‚”A smartphone without apps is pretty boring, but the apps you download update automatically. If you’re on a budget set it to not update automatically, and only do it when you can get onto a Wi-Fi network,‚” Taylor says.

It wasn’t me…

If a thief grabs your SIM card, he can run up massive voice and data bills within hours. Report and block a stolen phone immediately. But Sim cards can be stolen from cell phones or least cost routers without anyone realising until the bill arrives. Make sure those devices are secure and have a call limit set on the Sim card to prevent fraudulent use.

Switch the apps off

Ensure that you close apps properly when you are not using them. These include apps such as Facebook, Twitter, weather updates apps, live sports apps, GPS/location-aware apps. If not logged out completely, the apps continue to run in the background and can use up a lot of your data. For certain GPS apps, download the country specific maps while in South Africa to assist with costs. Ask your Service Provider for a spend limit to be placed before travelling to ensure there are no nasty surprises when you return.

Incidents of bill shock are increasing at a great rate but there are things you can do to alleviate it.

* Read Arthur Goldtuck’s article on tips and tools to avoid bill-shock here.

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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