Avoiding cost traps with smartphones

A man holds a smartphone in his hand and taps it with his index finger

Making calls, taking photos, navigating, listening to music, watching series, chatting – smartphones are digital all-rounders. But eager online use can cause considerable costs, which often only becomes apparent when you look at your phone bill.

Mobile data, data packages and additional costs

The use of smartphone apps is becoming more and more intuitive. On your computer, once you log in to some apps, you see the same data as you do on your mobile device. This is because the apps update and, most importantly, synchronize in the background. This allows you to present personalized content across all devices. Data transmission is via the Internet. If you use your cell phone a lot on the go, the data volume can be used up quickly, especially with streaming services or music. Additional costs are incurred primarily if they cause you to exceed your booked data volume.

Therefore, take a regular look at the amount of mobile data consumed. You can usually find information about your consumption either in the smartphone’s settings or in the app of your cell phone provider. When signing a contract, you should make sure that the tariff or package you have booked includes sufficient data volume for your smartphone usage.

What volume of data do you need?

How much data volume you need depends very much on how you use your smartphone.

  • No data volume
    If you only use your cell phone to make phone calls or write text messages, you may not need any additional data volume at all. You should then turn off mobile data completely in the device settings.
  • Low data volume
    Looking up something on the Internet from time to time or answering chat messages or e-mails on the go, a small data package is sufficient. For comparison: A Whatsapp message is usually no larger than a few kilobytes. If you send an image, that could also be 1 megabyte in size, depending on the resolution. You should be fine with a data package of 2 to 6 gigabytes per month.
    Info: The navigation function also consumes data. As a rule, however, a smaller data package should be sufficient for this purpose.
  • Large data volumes
    If you frequently use streaming services or listen to music on your mobile data, you will also need a larger data package. Social media apps with many videos or image files also consume a lot of data under certain circumstances. Currently, you can book large packages from 8 to over 20 gigabytes with mobile providers.
  • Data flat rate for certain apps
    With some mobile plans, you can also add data flat rates for certain apps. So the data of this app will not be charged to your booked data volume. If you know exactly that you will use mobile data only for one app, such a tariff might make sense for you. You can check the selection of supported apps with your mobile phone provider.

If you have used up your data volume, your Internet connection is usually throttled, i.e. you then surf with a much slower connection. Cost traps lurk if your tariff has a Data automatic Provides or you charge for further packages be able to add. These are usually more expensive than the regular data package. It’s best to look at your contract terms to know exactly what happens once you use up your data allowance.

Check your preferences

Often apps and other software on the smartphone try to update themselves independently. The device then automatically connects to the Internet, searches for available updates and downloads them. You should therefore check and adjust all the smartphone’s settings before you start using it, so that the device only downloads updates via WLAN. If it is not possible to set the smartphone according to personal preferences, the dealer or relevant forums on the Internet can help if necessary.

Not all numbers are included in the flat rate

Even in the phone flat rate, despite the name, not all numbers are included. As is known, calls to numbers starting with 0900 or 0180 are not included in the flat rate. But also other special numbers – for example with the prefixes 0700, 0137 or 032 – you are usually charged extra. Unfortunately, this is also known to fraudsters, who sometimes try to trick you into calling one of the following numbers.

Therefore, before you call a number, pay close attention to the area code. Look up in doubt, what kind of prefix it is. 032, for example, is used in Germany for IP telephony without a local reference. In contrast, phone numbers with the 0800 prefix are generally free of charge.

In-app purchases: Clicking leads to high bills

Without apps, your smartphone is limited to very basic functions. Even with the app selection or the use of certain apps, but you should be careful to avoid nasty surprises. Pay particular attention to the following two cost traps:

Advertising banners in apps

No advertising banner should immediately cause you to pay. Unfortunately, however, consumers repeatedly report problems with unwanted purchases or subscriptions through advertising links.

To avoid unintentionally ending up with subscriptions because you accidentally tapped something, you should ask your provider directly when you sign the contract for a Activate third-party provider block leave.

This can also be done retrospectively via the customer hotline or the customer area on the Internet. The block must be set up free of charge and protects prepaid and postpaid customers equally.

Accidental in-app purchases

Many applications and games can be downloaded for free, but if you want to use the full range of functions, you have to buy additional products.

The purchase process then also starts right in the app and is handled via the payment data you have stored.

So that you do not book additional services unintentionally, it is recommended to use the Password request or identification to be determined before purchase. Once activated, purchases can no longer be made with just one click.

be careful when using your cell phone in non-EU countries

Caution is still advised when using your cell phone abroad. Within the EU, flat rates and data volumes can be used in the same way as at home. The situation is different in non-EU countries, on ships and in airplanes. Here the mobile data use can go considerably into the money. Therefore, before traveling, you should inquire about the costs and if necessary. Book an additional option to the tariff. If you are unsure, you can deactivate mobile data as a precaution before starting your trip.

Changes in the Telecommunications Act 2021

On 1. December 2021 the amendment to the Telecommunications Act came into effect. It improves rights for customers in the telecommunications sector. This includes:

  • Shorter notice periods for automatic contract extensions,
  • A reduction and cancellation right if the bandwidth is too low,
  • Compensation in various cases and
  • more transparency.

We have summarized the most important changes for you.

What to do if you have already received a high cell phone bill?

If you receive a hefty cell phone bill due to an unfavorable rate plan, you can always cancel this phone bill by using the following options by stating concrete reasons in text form complain. Also ask for a subsequent proof of charge and the result of the technical verification of the charged connections.

The technical check is especially relevant if you are sure that you have not made the listed phone calls or data connections. If the high bill is not due to a technical defect, the provider’s technical inspection obligation may therefore also be waived.

If the connections were actually made, providers usually insist on payment of the costs incurred and threaten to block the device or. the SIM card. However, a block is only permissible if:

  • you repeatedly fail to pay the demanded amount
  • After deducting any down payments, you still have payment obligations of at least 100 Euro outstanding
  • The blocking was threatened in writing – with the indication that legal protection can be sought before the courts
  • after the threat, a waiting period of two weeks has passed without success.

Important: The claims you are complaining about may not be included in this.

Sometimes a telecommunications company can also be stuck with the costs. In 2011, the Munster Regional Court barred a customer from paying a bill for almost 1.000 euros free, which had come about within two days because he had been badly advised by his provider and had fallen into a cost trap. However, the outcome of such a dispute is always uncertain.

Checklist: Avoiding cost traps with smartphones

To prevent your bill from becoming too high in the first place, you can take the following safety precautions.

  1. Book a sufficiently large data package.
  2. Avoid calls to premium-rate numbers (for example, with the area codes 0900, 0180, 0137, 0700 or 032).
  3. Have the third-party provider block activated.
  4. Set in the app store that purchases are only possible with additional password request or identification.
  5. Before going abroad to non-EU countries, find out what tariff options you have or. how much a connection costs.
  6. If you have already received a high bill, you can complain about it. However, it is important that you give concrete reasons for this.

This content was created by the joint editorial team in cooperation with the consumer centers of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate for the network of consumer centers in Germany.

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