Beware of Virgin Mobile’s Immutable Credit Limit

A couple of month ago, over Easter, I was puzzled, by a cryptic SMS from my operator, Virgin Mobile, letting me know that I was “approaching my agreed limit.” Not sure what they were referring to, and because we had been travelling past past the Blue Mountains that very day, with my trusty phone working as a GPS navigator, more for fun than need, I assumed I was getting close to my monthly 750 MB limit.

I was wrong. As it turned out, I was getting close to a never-agreed-upon forcibly-set-despite-my-requests credit limit of more than $350 on top of my monthly $25 fee. As it turns out, to “maximize the allowance completely” (I’m still not sure what it means, any suggestion welcome) without letting us “be hit with a massive bill at the end of the month,” Virgin enforces a limit of what one owes them, and cuts outgoing communication once it is reached.

This is a very commendable goal, and it would surely work but for two problems. First, this credit limit is based not on the monthly fee, (expressed in real hard dollars, R$, getting out of my pocket, 25 of them) but on the included usage (expressed in something akin to Virgin brownie points). For an added dose of confusion, and despite not having any link to real money, this included usage is also counted, at Virgin and many operators, in the same unit, dollars. I get 190 of what I will call fake dollars, F$, for R$25. Surely 25 is not equal to 190, so these two unfortunately like-named units are not the same. This becomes a problem when Virgin happily add up fake dollars, decides you have to pay them, and asks for real dollars. That’s a 7600% gain for them. Well done.

Second, once having discovered the speciousness of the entire business. it turns out that the customer has absolutely no say in what the limit is set at. Nobody can change it as it is “set to the correct amount.” Correct for Virgin, I’m sure…

As the icing on the cake, Virgin also seems to take pride in not warning their users when they reach their included quota, and only deems it appropriate to inform their customer about anything when the incurred debt is starting to loom close to this credit limit.

“Please help me create debts for you.” should be their motto.

So what follows is a summary of the email exchanges to get this charge I didn’t even know about reduced, and my credit limit lowered. It took putting the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman (TIO) in the loop to get a half satisfying answer (fee waived), and a rather lame excuse for not changing the credit limit (computer says no).

Well, I won’t be renewing my additional data plan. I can’t use it for fear of going above without warning. What is it good for then?

Where the credit limit is adjustable

The background to this story started with having global roaming enabled. A rather painful story of its own, but irrelevant here. Then, a helpful Luís first mentioned this credit limit. Surprisingly, it was set incorrectly and, even more so, Luís was able to change it!

From: Virgin Mobile Australia <[email protected]>
 Date: Fri, 2 Dec 2011 13:33:29 +1100 (EST)

[…]

I also noticed that your credit limit is incorrect.

Here at Virgin Mobile we don’t want you to be hit with a massive bill at the end of the month so we put a monthly credit limit on your account. The credit limit will take into account any amounts you have already been billed (but haven’t paid yet) plus any unbilled amounts.

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t go more than $250 over your included monthly talk & text. We’ll send you text along the way to let you know when you’ll be approaching your monthly credit limit too. We send these at approximately 75%, 90% and 100% of your agreed credit limit.

Here are the details of your current plan:
* Plan name: Fair Go $29 BYO
* Minimum spend: $29
* Included talk & text: $190

We set your credit limit at $250 above your included talk & text. Therefore your credit limit should be set at:
* $440

I have adjusted it accordingly.

Where the credit limit cannot be changed

I do not want to receive a $440 phone bill. Ever. I don’t even understand how this limit is calculated. I don’t really care, I want it lowered. So I let Luis know about that, hoping he can help.

To: Virgin Mobile Australia <[email protected]>
Date: Fri, 2 Dec 2011 20:16:20 +1100

[…]

> I also noticed that your credit limit is incorrect. Generally
> speaking, you shouldn\222t go more than $250 over your included
> monthly talk & text. We\222ll send you text along the way to let you
> know when you\222ll be approaching your monthly credit limit too. We
> send these at approximately 75%, 90% and 100% of your agreed credit
> limit.
> Here are the details of your current plan:
> \225 Plan name: Fair Go $29 BYO
> \225 Minimum spend: $29
> \225 Included talk & text: $190
> We set your credit limit at $250 above your included talk & text.
> Therefore your credit limit should be set at: \225 $440

Is it real dollars or fake marketing dollars? Does it mean that in the
worst case scenario I would end up paying $440, or just $67 (440*29/190)?

In the former case, I’d rather have this set to a much lower limit, say,
$100.

Bad luck, despite having just changed it, Luis cannot change it.

From: Virgin Mobile Australia <[email protected]>
Date: Sat, 3 Dec 2011 17:15:17 +1100 (EST)

[…]

With regard to your credit limit question, lets say for example that you have your approximate unbilled charge was $200. The included talk and text for your Fair Go $29 BYO plan is $190. The charge would then be $10 ($200 – $190) + $29 = $39.

Unfortunately, we cannot lower the credit limit as every Member is given a $250 allowance on top of their included talk and text.

The answer not being very clear about what this limit actually does, and rather clear on the impossibility of changing it, I moved on. What I wanted at this stage was international roaming. I got it, eventually, once I was back and didn’t need it anymore. That’s efficiency! But I digress.

Where the credit limit gets hit

A few month later, just after a trip to the country, with my phone use as a GPS navigator, I received a cryptic message telling me that I was “approaching my agreed limit.” The discussion with Luís being past, I didn’t think much of it, and assumed I was getting close to the end of my data plan. It wasn’t unreasonable considering the trip, and the fact that it was close to the end of the month. When I wanted to confirm that, I first notice that the figure I owed had one more digit than usual, and the bill was not available. I assumed a computer error, and reported it to Virgin.

Customer By Web Form (Olivier Mehani) - 09/04/2012 01.27 PM

Hi,

I’ve just been issued a bill of more than $350 for my usage for March. This is a Fair Go $19 plan with an extra $5 for 500MB.

There surely has to be an error in the bill, as my usage hasn’t varied from the previous months, where I was fitting within the allotted credit. Also, I watched my data use more closely this month as I went slightly over the quota last month (without receiving any notice about that at the time), and made sure I didn’t go over.

Unfortunately, I cannot access my bill to identify the error as the link leads to an empty page. I can access previous bills fine, though.

Please check and correct the issue.

Ok, I got my plan wrong, but this is because, having registered on the web, I got a R$10 discount. The answer clarified this, and also exposed the naked truth (0.2¢ per KB; that’s 1¢ per 5KB, and R$2 per MB; that’s 16¢ for this page) about when warnings are actually sent, and when it is not considered reasonable to expect one.

From: Virgin Mobile Australia <[email protected]>
 Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2012 11:38:09 +1000 (EST)

[…]

I understand that the situation has been very frustrating for you and I sincerely apologise.

According to our records, you’ve signed up for Fair Go $29 BYO. This plan has a data allowance of 250 MB. You have also added a fixed data plan of 500 MB.

It appears that you have been charged with approximately $326.51 for excess data usage. Your bill can’t be viewed online but you can try to access it again within 24-48 hours. Virgin Mobile is using a digital network which is extremely reliable and unlikely to make an error so rest assured that all charges are correct.

Please note that 0.2 cents per Kilobyte applies for excess data charges.

[…]

Please be advised that we don’t send a notification or alert if you have exceeded your included data. We only send text notifications if you’ll be approaching your monthly credit limit. We send these at approximately 75%, 90% & 100% of your agreed credit limit. For more details on this & what exactly a credit limit is, please check out this link: http://virginmobile.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/197/kw/credit+limit

A couple of exchanges ensued, while I was trying to access my bill, and fix this credit limit matter.

To: Virgin Mobile Australia <[email protected]>
 Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2012 12:07:05 +1000

[…]

In addition, why am I allowed such a huge credit? I previously asked for
clear explanation about what this credit was, and particularly which
unit it was in (either fake marketting dollars, or real hard ones),
which I didn’t receive (rest assured that I know bitterly understand
what this is, and how it is counted), and, at the same time, asked for
it to be reduced it to something reasonable, which was obviously not
acted upon (see ticket #XXX).

> Please note that 0.2 cents per Kilobyte applies for excess data charges.

Why did I not receive any information when I supoosedly started incurring
excess data charge?

> If you have used the internet on your phone, you need to make sure
> that you have properly logged off or disconnected from the session
> (internet service) to avoid further charges. Also, there may be an
> application on your phone that triggers automatic internet connection
> at the said time. I would suggest that you contact the manufacturer of
> your phone for further assistance (standard call charge applies). Here
> are the manufacturer contact details:
> http://virginmobile.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/264/kw/imei/r_id/100671

I have, reasonably, and I made sure to monitor the less-than-precise
gauge available on the website. Last I checked, I was still below 50%
usage. As I already mentionned, I had an excess charge last month, and
made sure I didn’t go over this month. This included disabling a couple
of services on my phone, and making sure that both international and
national roaming.

> Please be advised that we don’t send a notification or alert if you
> have exceeded your included data. We only send text notifications if
> you’ll be approaching your monthly credit limit. We send these at
> approximately 75%, 90% & 100% of your agreed credit limit. For more
> details on this & what exactly a credit limit is, please check out
> this link:
> http://virginmobile.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/197/kw/credit+limit

This may explain why I didn’t receive the first notification, is there
any way to activate this service? However, I never reiceived any
notification about 75% and 90% either.

> To avoid exceeding your data allowance, you may monitor your data usage online. Simply:
> \225 Log-in to our website: www.virginmobile.com.au
> \225 Click on the BILL PREVIEW tab on the left-hand side
> \225 Go to VIEW YOUR MOBILE INTERNET DATA USAGE

Is it possible to get a *detailled* view? The new month has started 4
days ago, and I am already 30% into my usage. Considering my phone was
ouh of battery most of that time, I really have trouble believing this.

I got a bit mixed up with what I actually owed there (was it 75% of my limit, or 90%?), but I didn’t have any detail to actually know at the time, and the big friendly gauge on their user account pages is all but helpful.

A tasteless copy’n’paste reply came telling me how they couldn’t change the credit limit.

But it’s only when I could eventually access the bill, some 4-ish days later, that I realised what the problem really was. Above the 250MB included in my plan, and the extra 500MB I’m paying a monthly R$5 for, I had used an extra 160MB. As we just learnt, I shouldn’t have expected any sort of warning when I started doing so, and didn’t get one. Blissful ignorance. But costly. As I argued in one of the follow up emails, that’s having to pay 13060.40% more (considering my entire monthly fee, with added data plan) for 21.33% extra usage. A bit pricey…

So I offered something I thought was reasonable, where everybody would get their money worth.

To: Virgin Mobile Australia <[email protected]>

[…]

It appears my consumption was 160MB over my limit of 750MB. There
doesn’t seem to be any way to acertain whether I incurred this or not
and the data excess seems reasonable, so I won’t argue this point

However, with respect to the outstanding $350.87, let me propose the
following:

Considering that,
1) I was not properly informed at the time of this credit limit,
2) Despite my asking for it to be lowered regardless, this hasn’t been
acted upon, and
3) I didn’t receive any information from you when I started generating
debt
I will,
1) Pay my normal monthly $24.9 charge,
2) Top it up with an extra $5 which it would have costed me, had you
informed me on time, to increase my data plan for that month from 750M
to 1000M, which would have covered the excess,
3) Demand that my credit limit be lowered to $20, and
4) Expect the matter to be settled.

> In relation to the credit limit on your account, this is pre
> designated by our billing system according to the plan you have. To
> explain further, here at Virgin Mobile we put a monthly credit limit
> on your account. The limit takes into account any outstanding charges
> (bills you haven’t paid yet) plus unbilled usage charges from the
> current month. To help you manage your credit limit, we\222ll send
> you texts when you reach 75%, 90% & 100% of your maximum amount, which
> as a general rule is $250 over your included monthly value. Please
> note, delayed charges (such as Global Roaming) may cause you to
> unexpectedly exceed your credit limit without a prior warning. If you
> do exceed your credit limit we temporarily bar outgoing services.
> There are occasions that you may not be able to receive the initial
> 75% and 90% notifications. This would be due to bulk unbilled usages
> that hit the account in one go which has a possibility of surpassing
> the 75% and 90% threshold.

To *really* help me manage my credit limit in the future, make sure I
receive messages when I approach my *agreed quota* rather create debts
on my behalf without informing me until after it is done.

> Unfortunately, we are unable to modify the current credit limit on
> your account as it is already set to the correct amount.
> Modifications can only be made with the credit limit if it is
> incorrectly calculated or during a rate plan change.

I do not really care what you think is the correct amount. The correct
ammount for me is $20. Please set my credit limit to this amount. I
will not accept an answer telling me that “computer says no.”

At this point, let me make extremely clear that I am not happy with
Virgin, both for the way my previous international roaming request and
this problem have been handled. I moved away from Optus for reasons not
as concerning as this. I am considering contacting the
Telecommunications Ombudsman if this doesn’t get solved quickly by
taking this bill down to the reasonnable amount it would have been had
you informed me on time about the status of my account.

Following up on this email, I got a phone call. Early. So early that I didn’t answer, as I was in bed. It’s for the best anyway, as I prefer dealing with those matter by mail. It gives me time to think, and sometimes to calm down. And I got another email.

From: Virgin Mobile Australia <[email protected]>
Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2012 08:51:28 +1000 (EST)

[…]

I tried calling you but unfortunately I’m only getting Voicemail. Anyway, regarding the excess
data charge, since we value you as a Virgin Mobile Member, we may waive half of your excess
data charges ($163.26) as a once-off credit. Should you agree to this, please reply to this
email and the credit would be reflected on the next bill.

Regarding the credit limit, we are unable to change it. All Virgin Mobile Post-Paid Members have a pre-determined credit limit. For more details please check this out: http://virginmobile.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/197

It was a good start, offering to waive half of the extra charge. However, as it was still higher than what I would have paid, by getting a new data block, if they had given me fair warning, I decided not to accept it.

To: Virgin Mobile Australia <[email protected]>
Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2012 11:09:13 +1000

[…]

> I tried calling you but unfortunately I’m only getting Voicemail.

Yes, I did have a missed call this morning. I apologise for this.
However, it’s easier for me to deal with this by email, as I can manage
this when I’m not busy with more important things.

> Anyway, regarding the excess data charge, since we value you as a
> Virgin Mobile Member, we may waive half of your excess data charges
> ($163.26) as a once-off credit. Should you agree to this, please reply
> to this email and the credit would be reflected on the next bill.

I appreciate your offer, and I’m glad we are making progress, however it
is still unacceptable to me for the following two reasons:

– It doesn’t solve my short term problem as, because of a lack of
timely (if at all) information from Virgin, I would have to pay about
3200% of my usual data fee for a consumpion of about 21% of the
normal quota. Arguably, it’s better than the initial 6500%. You’ll
find however that my initial proposal to back-pay for a 1G data plan
for March had me pay “only” a 100% more than my usual charge for the
same 21% excess consumption. Still overshooting, but acceptable.
– It doesn’t solve my long term problem as my credit limit is still set
to this unreasonnable amount despite my request to have it pinned
down to a reasonnable $20 on top of by monthly fee (for a total of
$45). You haven’t mentioned anything about this.

Where ladders are climbed

So the ladder game started.

From: Virgin Mobile Australia <[email protected]>
Date: Mon, 16 Apr 2012 16:18:37 +1000 (EST)

[…]

I have escalated the issue to my manager and unfortunately, we can only offer a credit of up to $200. Should you accept this, please reply to this email and the $200 credit would be applied in 2 business days (and would be reflected on the next bill). Please note that we have
investigated and confirmed that this usage did originate from your SIM card and that all
charges are correct.

Regarding the other issue, we cannot change your credit limit. The credit limit general rule is that it is set $250 over your included monthly value.

Here are the details of your current plan:
\225 Plan name: Fair Go $29 BYO
\225 Minimum spend: $29
\225 Included talk & text: $190
\225 Your monthly credit limit: $440

Where some brownie-point arithmetic is used

Escalating the issue got another odd-R$40 off, but it still didn’t match my expectations. I don’t like having debts, and I like it even less when companies decide to create some on my behalf, without letting me say a word.

To: Virgin Mobile Australia <[email protected]>
Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2012 11:37:20 +1000

[…]

> I have escalated the issue to my manager and unfortunately, we can
> only offer a credit of up to $200. Should you accept this, please
> reply to this email and the $200 credit would be applied in 2 business
> days (and would be reflected on the next bill). Please note that we
> have investigated and confirmed that this usage did originate from
> your SIM card and that all charges are correct.

Thanks for your effort in helping me solve this problem. Unfortunately,
I still cannot accept this offer.

Before delving into more details, let me repeat my bottomline claims:
– I am happy to pay for my monthly fee (let’s round it up to $25);
– I am happy to pay for an extra one-off data block that would cover
the excess (that’s $5);
– I want my credit limit lowered to $20 (real dollars!);
– I am thoroughly unhappy to have this humonguous amount ($326.51)
being charged to me without having been duly informed on time, and
refuse to pay that;
– I am also increasingly unhappy to be wasting both our times in these
discussions.

Perhaps your manager can escalate this issue further?

> Regarding the other issue, we cannot change your credit limit. The
> credit limit general rule is that it is set $250 over your included
> monthly value.

Let me point out something to you. On the 2nd of December 2011, in a
previous dealing with Virgin for the same account, “Luis” mentionned two
things. First that “[he] noticed that [my] credit limit is incorrect,”
then that “[he has] adjusted it accordingly.” From this, I understand
two things which go against whatever Virgin has said about this credit
limit so far:
– Despite it “[being] set to the correct amount” (or whatever
whoever fancies but me; funny how easy it is to decide on somebody’s
behalf how much debt they are comfortable with), it *wasn’t* correct
at that time and,
– Despite it being repeated several times now that “[you] cannot change
your credit limit,” Luis *could, and did change* this limit.

This also lets me know that it is little more than a field in a database
with my account number in front of it, and that you, as I assume you
have access to the same system as Luis, have all the technical
capability and credentials to actually go into that field, and change it
to $20. I do not care for internal policy or anything like that: *I* am
paying, this is *my* money, and *I* decide how much debt I’m willing to
create. Not Virgin.

> Here are the details of your current plan:
> \225 Plan name: Fair Go $29 BYO
> \225 Minimum spend: $29

No. My minimum spend is $24 (as re-confirmed right now going through the
step of reordering the same plan; see attached). As per the above, I
want my maximum spend to be $44.

Also, I now get server errors saying that “An error has been
encountered. An error has been encountered during this operation.
Please try again.” when I try to access any of my bills, current or
previous, from the Virgin site. Why is that?

> \225 Included talk & text: $190

Well no. Or rather, we are not talking about real dollars here (R$ in
the following). This is what I previousliy referred to as “fake
marketting dollas, we could also call them “Virgin Brownie Points” (VBP
in the following), they are *not* legal tender in Australia. In my plan,
they sell at [R$]29/[VBP]190~=0.15 [R$/VBP]. The calls are charged against
this VBP credit, with flagfalls and per-minute tariffed at sub-VBP
price. Fair enough, but let’s be clear in what we are dealing with.

> \225 Your monthly credit limit: $440

When Luis “fixed” my credit limit, he went on to explain how the
“correct” amount is worked-out: “We set your credit limit at $250 above
your included talk & text. Therefore your credit limit should be set at:
$440.” So, the credit limit is based on the “Included talk & text” that
is, the VBP amount. An arbitrary offset of 250 units is added to this
amount. It is only reasonnable to assume that the offset and the
resulting credit limit is therefore *also* expressed in VBP (It’s not
sensible to add apples and oranges).

Now, I find it is downright dishonest and purposefully confusing for
Virgin to magically transform these amounts back into R$ when they deem
it convenient. If we are dealing in VBP, let’s deal in VBP all the way
through, or convert things properly. In this case case my credit limit
converted back into real dollars (which is all that really matters to me
as my salary is not paid in VBP) is currently
[R$/VBP]0.15*[VBP]440=66.00 [R$] and my current unpaid bill is either
[R$]24+[R$/VBP]0.15*[VBP]326.51=72.9765 [R$], or
R$/VBP]0.15*[VBP]350.87=52.6305 [R$], depending on the interpretations.

I know this is not the case, but I am pointing this out to show how
confusing and unclear this entire business is.

So, all I want is to not have to pay, in the future, more than R$44 per
month. I do not care what amounts of fake money or numbers in random and
arbitrary it takes to enter in any database, it just has to happen. If
Virgin databases are so complicated and unituitive that this can’t be
easily done, this is not my fault, and I don’t see why I should deal
with this. The same holds for internal policies.

I tried to make some brownie-point arithmetic in that previous email, but my growing frustration must have started to perspire by the length of the message as well, so the issue got escalated again.

Where the climbing continues

From: Virgin Mobile Australia <[email protected]>
Date: Thu, 19 Apr 2012 11:11:14 +1000 (EST)

[…]

I understand that the situation has been very frustrating for you and I sincerely apologise.

My manager agreed to waive a once-off credit of $300 and this is the most we can offer. Please note that this doesn’t alter the validity of the charges. Kindly reply to this email if you accept this offer and we’ll apply it within 24-48 business hours. The adjustment will reflect on your next bill.

We’ll not be able to change your credit limit because it’s dependent on the plan you have. Also, my colleague updated your credit limit accordingly.

This one missed my point that I wasn’t questioning the excess usage, but how differently it was charged without warnings. It was offering a R$300 waiver, which was decent enough, so I decided to let some slack there. But I was still battling with that credit limit.

To: Virgin Mobile Australia <[email protected]>
Date: Thu, 19 Apr 2012 12:50:28 +1000

[…]

> My manager agreed to waive a once-off credit of $300 and this is the
> most we can offer. Please note that this doesn’t alter the validity of
> the charges. Kindly reply to this email if you accept this offer and
> we’ll apply it within 24-48 business hours. The adjustment will
> reflect on your next bill.

Please note that, after reviewing my bill, I did not question the excess
data. I am questionning, however, the stupidly high fee that was charged
to me
1. without proper and clear prior explanation of what this credit limit was;
2. without *any* agreement from me on these conditions of this limit
(and with an actual *prior disagreement* which was disregarded, and
keeps being so);
3. without a timely warning that I was beyond my quota and which would
have let me react accordingly and buy more data blocks for the months.

Waiving $300 leaves me with $50.87 to pay for that month, which is still
high, but much more reasonnable. I won’t argue this point further.
However, I won’t agree to anything until the credit limit issue
discussed below is solved.

> We’ll not be able to change your credit limit because it’s dependent
> on the plan you have. Also, my colleague updated your credit limit
> accordingly.

This is not acceptable. As I previously mentionned to Rico, I do not
care for internal policies (as we have acertained that this nonsense is
not a technical issue). They are wrong as they are both misleading and
disserving for the customer. Until you agree to lower my credit limit
down to $20 on top of my minimum monthly spend, I won’t consider the
matter settled.

As I previously mentioned as well, I’m considering seeking help from the
Telecommunications Ombudsman on the matter of this credit limit. Indeed,
under false pretenses of helping the customer, it is a cunning way of
“reasonnably” milking them of much more than their agreed spend on a
monthly basis, particularly if they are not allowed to change it, nor
warned when they start using it.

Once again, please, lower my credit limit to $20 above my monthly spend
that is, a *total* of $44 (REAL dollars).

Where the Ombutsman is involved

At which point, they gave up, and resent a copy’n’pasted email with the usual platitude, and a request that I would send the the TIO reference number of the complaint I was to create. Left with no other choice, I did create it. Unfortunately, they don’t leave much room in their form boxes, but my initial answers was as follows.

Describe your complaint

This complaint is about a two-fold problem. The first part (disputed bill) has been more or less addressed by the provider, while they refused multiple times to address the second one (lower credit limit), which was the cause of the problem.

Virgin Mobile does not warn their users when they are about to go over their data plan limit. Rather, they establish, on behalf of the user, what they call a “credit limit.” The user only gets warned when they are already using around 75% of this limit (and Virgin doesn’t give any warranty on this warning being actually delivered properly). The real problem is that this credit limit is several hundred dollars higher than the plan’s minimum monthly plan. In essence, the customer will get their first warning after having unknowingly generated more than $300 debts (in my case, with one of the cheapest plans) . While I understand the value of having such a limit to avoid having the user being hit by an unmanageable bill, the default limit is already too high to be of any actual effect. The main problem at stake here is to have the ability to reduce this credit limit down to a much more useful level ($20 above my minimal monthly spend, rather than $420-ish).

The problem arose when I received a message advising me that I was reaching my credit limit. Though this limit has been mentioned to me before (without clear explanation at the time, and with my first request for it to be lowered denied), I didn’t understand what it was about, and what it meant. I quickly discovered that Virgin does not warn users when they are going above their quota. Therefore, a 21% of excess data (160M above the in-plan agreed 750M) had been turned without warning into 1460% of my normal bill (from $24 to $350).

I contacted Virgin’s customer service for clarification, then understood the problem, and asked that
1. considering I did not receive timely usage warning, the extra charge be waived, and replaced by the cost of buying an additional data block for that month to cover (more than) the excess, which I would have bought, had I been warned on time;
2. my credit limit be drastically lowered to something I am comfortable with, that is, $20 above my minimum spend.

What was your provider’s response?

They initially refused all my claims. After a few rounds of discussions, they offered to a one-off waiver of $160, $200 and, ultimately $300 off the bill.

However, they persistently refused to change my credit limit, arguing it is set to the “correct value” (a weird mix of real hard money and fake “included-in-plan” dollars), and that they cannot change it.

However, I gather from previous interactions with their customer service that
their refusal does not stem from a technical issue, as an operator previously
“fixed” it for me on the spot, without my asking nor consenting.

How would you like the complaint resolved?

I would like Virgin to lower my credit limit to $20 above my monthly spend (for a maximal total monthly spend of $44), not change it without my consent, and let me adjust it as I wish in the future.

On more general concerns, I would have liked much more clarity on how this credit limit is calculated, and what it is used for.

Finally, I find the endemic problem of operators using “fake dollars” to count what is included in the plans very misleading, particularly when, like Virgin, they expertly spin them around and transform them into real dollars debts.

I wish operators just said “With this plan, each call will be X cents; your initial spend will therefore let you place X calls; excess usage will be charged extra, at the same rate.” I think this should be generally enforced as it would allow more clarity for the customers, and less potential for abuse from the operators.

And I let Virgin know. There’s no point in not being helpful and diligent.

To: Virgin Mobile Australia <[email protected]>
Date: Fri, 20 Apr 2012 15:30:41 +1000

[…]

> Please be advised that we don’t send a notification or alert if you
> have exceeded your included data. We only send text notifications if
> you’ll be approaching your monthly credit limit. We send these at
> approximately 75%, 90% & 100% of your agreed credit limit. For more
> details on this & what exactly a credit limit is, please check out
> this link:
> http://virginmobile.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/197/kw/credit+limit

Well, I know it now, be sure of this… I’m not quite sure how it is in
line with your apparent will to “[not] want [customers] to be hit with a
massive bill at the end of the month.”

> With regard to the credit limit, it’s a business rule that we add $250
> to the plan’s inclusive allowance. We need to do this for you to
> maximize the allowance completely. The credit limit will take into
> account any amounts you have already been billed (but haven\222t paid
> yet) plus any unbilled amounts.

I don’t need to “to maximize the allowance completely,” whatever that
means. What I need, is to receive reasonnable bills and timely warnings.
There clearly are mismatched incentives here.

> If you think that it’s wrong, we accept your opinion. We truly
> appreciate your effort in taking the time to send us your feedback.
> Rest assured that it has been forwarded to our Management Team who
> will use it as an opportunity to offer you better service in future.

I hope so.

> If you have already consulted this matter to the TIO, please provide
> us with a TIO reference number so we can forward your email to our
> Customer Relations Team who will be in touch with you within 10
> business days, if they have not already been.

It’s unfortunate we have to get down to this just to change a field in a
database… The reference number of the complaint I just created with
them, following your answer, is XXX.

Thank you for your help.

Following up on this, I got a phone call from Andrew at Virgin, in charge of my case. The man was pleasant enough, and started by letting me know that the entire charge would be waived. This was more than what I expected, and surely didn’t really want to argue it further. He also agreed that the charge for extra data was not in line with competitors, and that they were internally working on adjusting this soon. Quite sadly, he confirmed once again that the credit limit was not changeable, but offered me to contact him directly in case the problem happened again. Not quite satisfying, but this gives me one layer of security, in the unlikely case I find myself in the same situation again.

So, this is a story with a lukewarm outcome, as it created much frustration to erase the consequences of some oversight (which I believe is on Virgin’s side as, if they can warn on approaching the credit limit, they should warn on approaching the end of the in-plan quotas), but unfortunately not its causes (reducing the credit limit). It feels like Damocles’ sword above my head, and I have now all data disabled by default. This limits the usefulness of my phone, but also my data usage, so I won’t be renewing this extra-data block I’ve had on top of my normal plan. It’s a pity…

Updates: Where Internode NodeMobile saves the day, again and again

Update: I finally had enough, and dropped Virgin. I am now with NodeMobile from Internode (my DSL provider) for all the mobile phones I have around, and I am happy. They have decently priced plans with proper quota warnings, and great customer service. Also, all my telecommunication needs are now covered by a single bill!

Update 2: After more than two years on one of Internode’s smallest plans without ever reaching the limit, it finally happened. In the process of moving houses, with no Internet line for a few weeks, I went over the included call credit. I got  SMS warnings that I was approaching the included limit, and a couple more after that letting me know how much beyond the limit I was.  Considering both Internode and Virgin are carried by the same network (Optus), I really have troubles believing Virgin’s excuse of technical infeasability. What’s more, Internode’s follow up information told me that I used 162% of my included quota, and that’s exactly what I ended up paying for: 162% of my monthly fee, not 162% of some humongous amount of fake dollars. Thanks, Internode, I wish other operators were as honest.

4 thoughts on “Beware of Virgin Mobile’s Immutable Credit Limit

  1. Had the very same issue a month ago, and I mean the EXACT same issue. Mysteriously used my 3GB allowance in 48 hours even though my phone had network features turned off, wi-fi connected or the phone was switched off entirely. After multiple excuses that were ridiculous, fee was halved, or so I was told. Ended up nearly doubling and no credit was applied, so after demanding the fee be wiped (and mentioning the Telecommunications Ombudsman) I had the fee wiped with added credit to my account. Safe to say it still doesn't entice me to stay.

  2. Thanks for your story

    I am having problems with Virgin mobile where I too am mysteriously charged for data usage even when at home I am using wifi and turn off cellular data. They keep telling me that the records don't lie but I disagree with them.

    I am going to use your tactic and mention to them that I will be making a formal complaint to the Telecommunications Ombudsman.

  3. I am not sure if Virgin have changed their policies, but I managed to get my Credit limit set at only twice my plan limit (plan = 29.00 and credit limit = 58.00) However this took a LOT of effort, and I wanted it lower. They said they couldn’t go lower than half the plan. Which is really stupid and weird.

    But now, recently, I got charged $87 which is ABOVE the credit limit, and above where they stated they had that I would NEVER have to pay above $58.00

    On the phone now, they just told me they are paying for the excess above $58 but that I can never ask for this again. Even when I pointed out it was their fault not mine, and we wouldn’t have had been having this conversation if they had kept to their own agreement and policies.

    It’s sad. I used to love Virgin

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