Telstra Budget ISP Triple-Charges Customers

Australian telco Telstra has been caught overcharging customers again, with some having three times their monthly rental being taken from their bank account. The affected customers subscribe to Telstra’s low-cost Belong brand, which provides broadband internet and mobile services to approximately 150,000 customers. A post on Belong’s Facebook page promises that customers will receive refunds soon.

We have completed processing refunds for all customers affected by yesterday’s billing system error. Those who pay via PayPal should see a refund in their PayPal account this weekend. All others affected should see a refund appear in their bank accounts once these payments are cleared by the various financial institutions. This usually takes between 1 – 5 days. We’re very sorry for all those impacted. Thank you again for your patience.

Many of Belong’s customers turned to Facebook to vent their anger, giving their ISP such a sledging that it would make even an Australian cricketer blush. These are some of the comments that are polite enough to repeat:

I just looked at my bank account and found you’ve charged me THREE TIMES for my monthly account. Frankly it’s not good enough. You have authorisation to take what is owing, not take a cent more. You guys have f*@ked up again…

The way your (sic) going you’ll be paying for my food order entirely that i had to turn back 6am this morning and I’ve been in tears since. You dont (sic) even care…

I will not be waiting 6 to 10 days for payment!! You took my money straight away, so it can be returned straight away…

I just got off hold to be told, that I have to wait 7-10 business days for the reimbursement. It’s going to be a long week…

Not good enough!!!! … I just didnt (sic) want to eat or anything (sic) this week. I am sure that my kids enjoy living on water and air.

Another customer posted a screengrab of an apology that Belong sent to customers. Belong blamed the overcharging on a ‘system error’. Once again a telco hides behind its computers, as if no human beings are responsible for them!

There really is no excuse for systems that are so lax that errors like these can happen. Telcos have a social responsibility as well as an obligation to make money for investors. Cutting corners on billing and charging may save some pennies but risks increased costs later on. Consider how much money is now being spent by Belong on dealing with irate customers. And the upset is amplified by Belong targeting the economy end of the retail market, meaning many of their customers will have to make savings elsewhere as they wait for their money to be refunded. They will not be feeling much Christmas cheer towards their ISP, and may decide it is safer to swap suppliers than remaining loyal to Belong.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is a recognized expert on communications risk and assurance. He was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and others.   Eric was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He was a founding member of Qatar's National Committee for Internet Safety and the first leader of the TM Forum's Enterprise Risk Management team. Eric currently sits on the committee of the Risk & Assurance Group, and is an editorial advisor to Black Swan. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.   Commsrisk is edited by Eric. Look here for more about Eric's history as editor.