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Cancer patient distraught after legal action threat over phone bill

Mitra Johnston is threatened with debt court over a soaring phone bill going back to 2018 (Photograph supplied)

A woman stung with a massive mobile phone roaming charge more than five years ago said this week that her “brain is on fire” after seeing the charges on her bill almost double.

Mitra Johnston, a 65-year-old cancer patient, said she was stunned to get notice served on her two weeks ago by a debt collection agency from Digicel, her phone company.

Her original charge from 2017 was $3,500 because the country she travelled through lacked an agreement over roaming with her service provider, but Ms Johnston said she was baffled to find additional roaming charges from later in 2018 totalling $3,000.

Her charges have now climbed to $6,469 — a figure Ms Johnston says her family cannot cover.

“There is so much in my heart from all this that I could write a book,” said the senior, whose husband is now their sole supporter.

Ms Johnston was among several people who went public five years ago after their efforts to switch off roaming charges when heading overseas were frustrated — resulting in a string of exorbitant bills.

Digicel: Company worked with customer on roaming fees

Digicel has responded to the case of a women distressed by a huge phone bill, saying the company is “always willing to work with customers who have difficulties meeting their bill payment obligations due to certain challenges”.

Digicel said that in the case of Ms Johnston, “it was no different”.

“Our teams have been in contact with her over the past five years to come to a mutually agreed upon arrangement.

“We have also worked to educate customers about our roaming plans and how to manage their account in order to avoid unexpected fees.”

The company advised customers do the following before travelling:

• Purchase a roaming pass for the respective country or countries they are visiting;

• Set their credit limit to zero, or increments of $250 up to $750, to ensure their bill does not exceed these amounts in the event that they really have to use their phone;

• Turn off data roaming in the settings and find free safe Wi-Fi in the country they are visiting. Additionally, customers can set their phone to airplane mode to block any accidental usage;

• Purchase and use a local SIM in the country they are visiting, or if their device has eSIM capabilities then they can activate a local eSIM plan in the country they are travelling to.

Roaming rates are detailed at the Digicel site online.

She spoke to The Royal Gazette in 2018 when she got hit with the original bill from Digicel after travelling to the Middle East the previous year.

Ms Johnston reported speaking with the phone provider in advance of her trip to the United Arab Emirates — and said she paid to enable roaming on her personal and business phones, only to learn later that the company had no roaming arrangement with the UAE.

Now, beset with medical bills from stage 4 cancer treatment, Ms Johnston admitted not even knowing how much she had paid on the original fee by the time she found out how much her debt had soared.

Her records provided by Digicel for the past five years show roaming charges of $999.99 on June 1, 2018, followed by $1,000 on September 1 and $999.99 on December 1, when Ms Johnston insisted that she had not left the country.

She said a company representative had merely advised her to attend debt court at Magistrates’ Court and get started on a monthly payment plan.

In response to the previous report on customers shocked by roaming fees, a Digicel spokeswoman advised that the company’s roaming passes allowed low rates for certain countries, but that customers would still incur charges for roaming overseas.

The phone provider also warned that roaming charges could be delayed before they appeared on a bill.

• This story has been updated to include a comment from Digicel.