Businessman gets data bill shock

Owner of Mini Movers, Fish Hoek, Joe Mynhardt, disputed a bill of R24 000 for data usage and spent months trying to resolve it with Vodacom.

Mr Mynhardt, a businessman, should know, as the movie mogul, Sam Goldwyn of MGM studios, said, “a verbal contract is not worth the paper it’s written on”.

Mr Mynhardt didn’t cancel the agreement he had in writing, hence the sky-high bill.

The saga began when Vodacom deducted about
R12 000 at the end of January/ February 2019, from his account.

“Vodacom told me I owe more than R24 000. What nonsense. They owe me money and now they are threatening me with attachment notices.”

The businessman sent me a truckload of documents including a billing statement going back to December 23 2005 which showed that he owed R7 734.83. Hidden among the correspondence was the real story.

Vodacom’s legal collections department offered Mr Mynhardt a “discount on his arrears for a limited duration”.

And that’s when I noticed the credit of R7 853.70 that Vodacom passed. But he said he didn’t ask for any discount.

Vodacom’s Edlin Naidoo told Mr Mynhardt he owed R1 790.71 and R11 458 for data usage in November 2018 and January 2019 respectively, and confirmed that they gave him a credit of
R7 853.70 in February 2019.

This after he asked Vodacom to explain how they worked out his data usage figures.

“One cannot out of the blue say I owe you. What data? When was data used? On what days? What times? Was my account hacked by a third party who stole data? I have wi-fi at home. There is no need to use data when I have wi-fi,” said Mr Mynhardt, who added that he very seldom used the Vodacom dongle, perhaps during loadshedding or when he is out of the office, which is when he queried the November 2018 amount.

Mr Mynhardt said he only noticed later that Vodacom deducted almost R12 000 at the end of January/beginning February (2019). “So where do you get the R1 790.71 for November 2018.”

After Vodacom deducted the
R12 000, Mr Mynhardt changed to pay-as-you-go.

“The R2 223.48 plus the
R11 891.44 so Vodacom owes me R1 790.71 because they overcharged me at the end of November 2018 and because I reversed the amount for February 2019 (R11 891.44), I owe them R432.77 but they owe me
R1 357.94 and they’re still charging me for a contract that I don’t have,” he said.

Although it’s not clear if they did, Mr Mynhardt warned Vodacom not to block his emails after he had a problem with his POP3 server.

After it was fixed he had to retrieve the messages manually and forward them to his business address. “I have five full-time employees and if Vodacom blocks my email address, we would all be without a job,” he said.

Mr Mynhardt received a final letter of demand from Vodacom for R21 438.57 in August 2019, which was the last straw.

Vodacom doesn’t respect deadlines, mainly because “the team is still investigating”.

They finally replied on November 5 2019 more than a month after I asked for an explanation. But nothing about the R21 438.57 debt.

“We have investigated the charges incurred by Mr Mynhardt between November 2018 and January 2019 and can confirm that the data usage is legitimate.

“We value Mr Mynhardt as a loyal Vodacom customer, and have credited his account with a once-off goodwill gesture of R 7 853.70. Mr Mynhardt is liable for the remainder of the charges,” said Vodacom, who added that they have been trying to contact him.

Not so, said Mr Mynhardt, who pointed out that no one from Vodacom contacted him before or after I sent him their response on November 5.

What would make Mr Mynhardt happy, Vodacom asked me.

“I want them to stop ducking and diving when asked simple questions and throwing their problems at lawyers who want to attach my goods. If you want to carry on with this farce on my behalf, you’re welcome to bang your head on a brick wall. But I fully understand if you wave me goodbye,” Mr Mynhardt said.

I told Vodacom what Mr Mynhardt wanted. However, there was silence until a message arrived out of the blue and copied to Mr Mynhardt, “Please be advised that we have processed credits to clear your account as a gesture of goodwill. We have requested for legal team to clear your profile with ITC.”

All of this aggravation could have been avoided if the businessman had cancelled his contract in writing. Although Vodacom didn’t confirm this.

“I have been a Vodacom customer for over 13 years and when my contract expired years ago I was told by an agent at the Vodacom store at Long Beach Mall that a month-to-month extension would be fine on a max of 10 gigs a month at R432.77. And I could top up, which I did now and then.

“At no stage did I agree that when the 10 gigs were used that Vodacom could continue billing me or continue feeding me data without my consent. But they did and I didn’t blink an eye because paying R400 for 10 gigs was a bargain then. They are saying that as long as you’re still paying by debit order, the terms and conditions you signed 15 years ago stands.”

Mr Mynhardt didn’t renew the contract because “they tie you down” for another two years.

A consumer expert said Vodacom acted legally if not ethically and should have advised Mr Mynhardt to cancel the contract in writing when he changed to pay-as-you-go.

But as a businessman he should know that a verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.