Home > Personal Finance > Stolen Cellphone Racked Up $500K Bill in One Day

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A recent story about a stolen cellphone highlights one of the most frustrating things about being a consumer: When you’re the victim of theft, you often have to fight like crazy to be made whole.

An Australian man complained to the country’s telecom ombudsman that his son was being held responsible for a $500,000 cellphone bill after the phone had been stolen in Europe and used for expensive calls and data, according to CNN . Despite having reported the theft to local police in Europe and his carrier in Australia, the complainant’s son received a bill for $570,000 Australian dollars (about US $517,000).

How to Avoid Paying for Theft

According to the ombudsman report referenced in the CNN story, the cellphone carrier eventually waived the charges to the victim’s account, but it took a little battling to make that happen.

In this case, the victim had seemingly done the right thing: He reported the theft to local authorities and his cellphone provider, but apparently, the time difference complicated the matter, allowing the thief to rack up an impressive number of charges. In a matter of 24 hours, the thief had placed a smattering of phone calls (some of which were made to Somalia) and used enough data to generate the six-figure bill.

Astronomical cellphone bills aren’t limited to victims of theft. Many consumers find the terms of international cellphone use confusing, and if you don’t understand your cellphone carrier’s price structure for call and data use abroad, you’ll likely come home to a bill with more digits than you usually see. Before you take your phone on a trip, make sure you understand how you’ll be charged for use. Ignorance won’t get you out of a bill.

Theft is another matter, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy to get out of paying the charges. The best thing you can do when you notice your phone — or wallet, purse, credit cards, etc. — has been stolen is to contact whatever businesses hold your accounts and cut off services to the thief.

That may seem like a sufficient way of stemming fraud, but you can’t stop there. Follow up with your cellphone carrier (or credit card issuer) to make sure no one is using your account, and if unauthorized use occurred, dispute it.

It might be frustrating, but you have to keep after service providers to ensure you’re not held liable for fraud. It’s better to aggressively tend to the issue, rather than hope the initial contact takes care of the problem, only to receive a shocking bill later. A massive, unaffordable bill could end up with a debt collector, which could seriously damage your credit standing.

It’s always a good idea to stay updated on the status of your credit reports and credit scores and address damaging errors as they occur. You can get monthly updates on two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

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