Some Verizon Wireless customers who traveled to Israel months ago were hit with massive roaming charges for cellphone usage in Jordan, which they say they never visited. The issue seems to have arisen from customers who were near the Jordanian border and whose phones hit Jordanian towers. The customers told Hamodia that they generally had frustrating experiences when contacting Verizon Wireless customer service, though the company says that it has now put a fix in place so that customers do not receive unexpected charges in the future.
Verizon Wireless offers its customers a seemingly hassle-free cellphone option when traveling internationally: the Verizon Travel Pass, which allows customers to use their regular Verizon phone plan with their own cellphone and phone number for $10 per day per phone, in addition to their regular monthly bill.
“Now your wireless plan travels just like you do,” reads the Verizon Travel Pass ad. “For just $5 a day per line in Mexico and Canada and $10 a day per line in more than 100 countries you can take your domestic talk, text and data allowances with you. You’re only charged on the days you use your device abroad. It’s an economical way to stay connected while you travel.”
But several months ago, after New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind returned from an eight-day trip to Israel, he received a not-so-economical bill of $925.
“At first I thought it was a joke – and not a very funny one,” says Hikind.
The overage charges came from 141 international phone-call minutes, plus nearly 40,000 Kbytes of international data, for calls and texts made from Jordan, a country that, unlike Israel, is not covered by the Verizon Travel Pass.
The only problem? “I hadn’t visited Jordan,” says Hikind. “Not ever.”
Hikind contacted Verizon customer service, which insisted that the bill was accurate. Finally, only after many hours on the phone and escalation to a supervisor, the bill was corrected.
Hikind asked on social media for New Yorkers who experienced similar issues to contact him, and a number of people came forward.
Refoel Silberberg of Monsey is a Verizon customer and frequent international traveler, who uses Travel Pass on all his trips.
After a trip to Israel in October, he and his wife received a roaming bill for data usage in Jordan totaling more than $500, he told Hamodia.
Silberberg called Verizon, figuring that they’d remove the charge quickly. “I didn’t think for a second that they’re going to tell me, ‘There’s nothing we can do about it.’ ”
But that’s exactly what happened, says Silberberg.
“They sent me from one supervisor to another, and after 10 or 15 hours on the phone over two weeks, they told me the most they can do is remove 70 percent of the bill.”
Not wishing to fight any further, Silberberg gave in and paid the remaining 30 percent of the bill, around $170.
Sarah Moskowitz of Boro Park used the Travel Pass for her and her husband’s phones for a 10-day visit to Israel in December. Her next bill contained more than $500 in overage fees, for usage in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, countries she says she never visited. Saudi Arabia does not even share a border with Israel.
“I tried to fight it,” Moskowitz told Hamodia. “I called them many times, but they kept telling me there was nothing they could do because they said I had used the phone in those other countries.”
Verizon tried offering Moskowitz a settlement – reducing the bill by $120 – but she refused.
It was only after she reached out to Hikind’s office – around five months after the ordeal began – that a Hikind staffer was able to get Moskowitz’s bill corrected.
David Weissmann, spokesman for Verizon Wireless, told Hamodia that the company is “aware of an issue affecting a small number of customers using Travel Pass near the border of a country that’s not included in Travel Pass. As we’ve received inquiries, we’ve dealt with them individually.”
Weissmann said that in March, Verizon Wireless made an enhancement to the Travel Pass feature that should ensure that customers do not face surprise bills for roaming data. Previously, customers would simply receive a text-message alert that they are using a tower in a non-Travel Pass country. Now, when a customer’s phone hits a tower in a non-Travel Pass country such as Jordan, “the data traffic gets redirected to a ‘captive portal’ – basically, it is a web page that shows you the rates you will be charged in the new country, at which point you have the opportunity to accept or decline using data in that country.”
If the customer declines the Jordanian rate, he won’t have cell service until he hits an Israeli tower again.
If he chooses to accept the Jordanian rates, he will be charged that rate for any data, such as a text message or email, that hits his phone while it is using the Jordanian tower – even if the phone is in his pocket and he doesn’t actually read the text or email until he returns to an Israeli tower.
For phone calls, there is currently no option to “accept” or “decline” – the text-message alert is the only warning that the customer will incur roaming charges.