A shocked du customer said he "almost had a heart attack" after being billed for Dh70,000 to cancel a phone package he was wrongly signed up for because of an online glitch.
Briton David Tobias, 48, was hoping to save some money on his phone bills last month by signing up to a package with extra inclusive minutes.
Logging into his existing du account online, he scrolled through the options, selecting what he thought was a Dh1,000 per month plan.
He was signed up for the Dh5,000 a month Smart Plan Platinum instead, which is the most "exclusive postpaid plan in the UAE", according to the telecom provider.
He realised the mix-up less than three minutes later after receiving a welcome message. Mr Tobias contacted du to amend it, only to be told he would receive a 13-month penalty, equating to almost Dh69,000 with VAT.
A spokesperson for du said the company had investigated the matter and “confirmed that the customer accidentally upgraded to Smart 5000 plan on August 22 instead of Smart 1000 plan”.
“The team has also confirmed that this plan should not be activated online and the activation process should only be done after meeting with the customer,” said the spokesperson.
“The billing team at du is in the process of waiving the disputed amount and the customer was informed that he will be updated once the process is completed. We regret any inconvenience caused.”
The Smart Plan Platinum includes 5,000 flexible minutes, 500GB and 5GB roaming data in addition to Etihad Guest Gold Membership, a welcome bonus of 35,000 Etihad guest miles and one Etihad Guest mile for every Dh1 spent – adding up to a minimum of 5,000 guest miles a month. Plan holders also receive a free device of their choice worth Dh5,000 and a dedicated relationship manager.
Mr Tobias, who first posted about his plight on the British Expats Dubai Facebook page, insists he did not sign up to the Dh5,000 a month plan.
“I literally called them within two and a half minutes of receiving the text message, after I had recovered my breath,” said Mr Tobias, who has lived in Dubai since 1993.
He said he was told in initial conversations with the company that the issue had been passed onto senior management and would be resolved.
Mr Tobias then went on a 10-day holiday to the UK at the start of September, assuming the issue was handled.
“While I was in the UK I got a text message to say my bill was Dh70,000 and I needed to pay it. I almost had a heart attack,” he said.
When he arrived back to the UAE on Saturday it became apparent that his phone had been disconnected, but on Sunday, after being contacted by The National, he received an SMS to say his services had been reinstated.
Mr Tobias said while he is relieved that he will no longer have to pay the cancellation charge, there should be a change in policy. The real issue is not so much the mistake, but what happens if a consumer changes their mind, he said.
Keren Bobker, an independent financial adviser and columnist for The National, said cases like this highlight the need for a cooling-off period, which apply in most western countries.
In the UK, mobile phone customers receive a 14-day window, which begins the day after you agree to go ahead with the service either online, over the phone or at your doorstep, to change your mind, without any cost to you, according to the consumer website which.co.uk.
“There is no cooling-off period in law in the UAE, even for large purchases. It is something that I’d like the government to introduce,” said Ms Bobker.
People make mistakes and cooling-off periods allow them to be corrected without serious consequences, she said.
“We have some consumer rights in law in the UAE, although not as much as some expats expect, and having a cooling off period would allow for matters to be easily and quickly resolved, saving time all round.”
Who to call for a phone problem
Although there is no formal cooling-off period for consumers under the UAE law, there are methods to address if a mobile customer is not happy, said experts.
The first step is to contact their mobile phone provider.
"If a provider is not helpful then there are other steps to take," said Ms Bobker.
In a case like Mr Tobias’s, it is often helpful to reach out to the company on Twitter.
“In this particular case the du Twitter account is a good place to start as they are usually very helpful when there are problems,” said Ms Bobker.
If this does not result in a resolution, customers can contact the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.
“They are the regulator for all telecoms in the UAE and anyone can escalate a complaint to them if they get no joy from their provider. Note that they must try with the provider first,” said Ms Bobker.