Lena Ip says her 92-year-old mother was distraught when she saw her monthly Fido mobile phone bill balloon to 18 times the normal amount in just one month.
“She felt hit by a rock,” Ip told Global News in an email asking for help.
Ip’s mother, Yuk Ling Wat, lives in a long-term care home in Scarborough. She relies on her phone to communicate with others, including her daughter in West Palm Beach, Florida.
In 2019, Wat agreed to a two-year contract with Fido, a subsidiary brand of Rogers. The monthly bill included the cost of a wireless device, phone service and air time, and a flat-rate long-distance plan allowing her to call distant family members in China inexpensively.
Her total bill in July was $56.50. But the following month it had skyrocketed to $1,059.94.
Wat had actually spent less time on the phone but paid dramatically more in August.
When the two-year contract elapsed, the “long distance promotion” on her account, which included 1,000 international minutes, was no longer in force, according to the company.
A Fido/Rogers spokesperson told Global News that Fido sent out three notices to Wat: in April, May, and June of this year.
“We always want to be clear and transparent with our customers and whenever a promotion is set to expire on a customer’s account we inform them multiple times before it ends to make sure they have significant advance notice,” a spokesperson told Global News by email.
Ip says her mother faithfully pays her bills on time but was not made aware of any pending changes to her account that would increase the charges.
The same $5 flat rate international calling plan is still offered by Fido.
Global News mystery-called Fido’s customer service to seek out a mobile phone device, cellular service, and flat-rate long distance plan to China for a senior.
A customer representative assured the caller that there was no cause for worry: he said there would be no increase in price at the end of the contract.
In fact, he said the price would be reduced because the phone would be paid off in full by then.
The representative said there was no reason anyone should fear their bill would go up at the end of the contract.
But Ip says her experience reveals a different story.
“We talked to seven managers…they (told) us they don’t agree to anything,” Ip told Global News.
“It felt like we were talking to a wall for several days,” she said in an interview from Florida.
Each wireless provider has its own terms and conditions on phone plans.
Global News contacted the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) for an interview to discuss how wireless carriers are expected to handle a contract ending, especially pertaining to seniors.
The CWTA, which speaks for the Canadian wireless industry, acknowledged the Global News request but did not provide comment.
Originally, Ip said representatives insisted her mother pay the higher bill over time. She said a payment plan was unacceptable in the circumstances.
“Does Rogers prey on uninformed customers? Especially the elderly?” she asked.
Eventually, after more calls and persistence, Rogers reversed the high bill.
“We added an international preferred rate to reduce further long distance charges for the customer,” the Fido/Rogers spokesperson wrote.
Questioned about the apparent unfairness of charging someone more for long distance when a discounted plan exists, the company acknowledged the concerns raised by Global News.
“We know this is an issue for some of our customers and are working to put a solution in place that when a promotion ends, we can move a customer to a suitable in-market plan without them needing to contact us or make the change themselves,” a spokesperson told Global News.
Ip expressed worry that other Canadian seniors could run into unforeseen problems like her mother did, especially if they have no one overseeing their monthly wireless accounts.