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Optus responds after customers rage at 'diabolical' roaming charges: '$300 for 15 minutes'

Gem was charged hundreds of dollars after using their mobile phone in South Korea for just 15 minutes.

Exasperated Optus customers have claimed they were unfairly charged international roaming fees while overseas and in Australia — even after requesting the feature be turned off, putting their mobiles into flight mode, and removing their SIM cards.

Gem, who identifies as non-binary, was travelling through South Korea and said they were charged $300 for just 15 minutes of data use while on the roaming feature. The 24-year-old spent a week in South Korea in June and decided to use Optus roaming - which costs $5 a day - rather than buying a Korean SIM.

"So we arrive at Korea, I turn my roaming on for 15 minutes and then suddenly get a text that I'll be paying $300 in roaming," they told Yahoo Finance.

Gemma Edwards; Optus text alert about international roaming fee
Gem said they were charged $300 by Optus for using roaming for 15 minutes in South Korea. (Source: supplied)

"I'd turned on my data and just scrolled through Twitter and messaged my parents on Messenger, nothing too heavy data-wise. We ended up buying Korean SIMs. But that's not something you can easily do in any country.

"The Optus website was very unclear about the roaming terms ... and everything I could find said '$5 a day'."

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After returning to Australia, Gem's Optus nightmare continued. A week after arriving home, their 4G network was cut off and they were locked out of their account, leaving them without access to data and unable to make calls.

"I couldn't use any maps apps, contact people I needed to. I just didn't feel safe without my data," they told Yahoo.

"I actually never got the money back. I called a couple of times ... explaining the situation. They put it on record multiple times to refund me, I confirmed every time it was recorded. And they just never sent it back. Every time I called, they said they'd give the money back and never did."

An Optus spokesperson told Yahoo Finance that Gem, whose account at the time was in their dad's name, was on an "older plan" which cost $10 a day and needed to have the roaming pass activated manually by the customer through the My Optus app. As their plan hadn't been manually activated, Gem was charged the standard international roaming rate.

The spokesperson said they would contact Gem to "discuss further and look at assisting them in covering these charges".

Composite image of a man walking past an Optus shop, and a sign saying 'We're deeply sorry' on an Optus shop window.
Optus lost a number of customers after the November 8 outage. (Source: Reuters/AP)

According to Optus, customers can receive phone calls and texts via WhatsApp, iMessage and Facetime without being charged if flight mode is switched on and devices are connected to Wi-Fi.

However, with flight mode off, customers "will be charged $5 upfront through the direct debit payment selected on their Optus account and they will receive an alert informing them that Optus Daily Roaming has been activated," a spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.

"Their roaming thing is f***ing diabolical," an annoyed customer shared on Reddit this week, explaining that although he'd switched off mobile data while abroad, it somehow activated and he was charged.

"Contacted them to refund it, requested to turn roaming off. Rep said, 'It's done'. Later, got charged again while mobile data is still off. I took the Optus SIM out, used a local SIM for data. Somehow, I got a f***ing Chinese embassy scam voicemail and got charged for roaming again despite not having the f***ing SIM inside the f***ing phone!" he vented.

"Repeat the cycle of contacting customer service again and again about five more times until I got on a plane and got back to Australia. Landed, got home, put the Optus SIM card back in. Guess what? $5 roaming charge with the message, 'Welcome back to Australia'."

Composite image of people walking past an Optus shop, and an Optus app chat conversation screenshot
One customer said they were offered a worse plan for the same price. (Source: AFP/Getty/AP)

Many others expressed frustration over being charged roaming fees.

"Had the same thing when overseas," one responded. "Would always activate when receiving phone calls, which were scammers. I think I ended up having $140 worth of roaming charges waived in just over a month."

Another said they activated a roaming add-on while overseas but were unable to disable it after returning to Australia and were subsequently charged a roaming fee in their next bill. The customer – who was on a $59 plan with 120GB of data – eventually got the fee refunded and was then offered a new $59 plan with 100GB, a further 100GB for three months, and the option to pay off a Galaxy S23 series interest-free.

“While I was getting it sorted, they offered a plan at the same price with less data! Ridiculous!” they said.

Another customer, who was travelling through America in April, said: "So many hours wasted trying to get them to stop automatically activating roaming, multiple charges for both services, even removing the SIM made no difference."

'Contact Optus if charged roaming within Australia'

Optus told Yahoo Finance when the new daily roaming service was introduced, there was a "technical issue which resulted in some customers being incorrectly charged".

"The issue was promptly rectified and customers were proactively refunded," a spokesperson said, adding the Telecommunications Ombudsman was satisfied Optus took appropriate steps to address concerns.

"Customers should only be charged for roaming when they are overseas. If a customer has been charged for roaming whilst in Australia, they can contact Optus and this will be immediately looked into."

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