Like more than two billion people around the world, Ana Maria Perez uses the popular app WhatsApp.
She said she began using it to call Cuba for free without having to sign up for a long-distance phone plan.
“After being here for many years, I rekindled a relationship I had with my best friend when I was little in Cuba," she said. "So, we've been talking, and I started using WhatsApp to talk to her."
But recently, Ana Maria said her cellphone company sent her a text message saying she owed them money for two of the calls she made to Cuba using the app.
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“It was a very threatening text message that I had charges for long distance and that my services will be cut off,” she said
Ana Maria’s cellphone bill shows two long-distance charges totaling $96 for the calls she made via WhatsApp. She said that when she contacted the cellphone company, they told her they were charging her because she was connected to T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi, not her home Wi-Fi when she made the WhatsApp calls.
She said they told her that “when there's an issue with connectivity or something, it's picked up by the Wi-Fi of T-Mobile. And that's how I was able to connect.”
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Ana Maria said she asked to have the charges dropped because she was unaware of that policy and said they refused, telling her to put her phone in airplane mode next time to avoid accidentally using T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi.
“He said to me that sorry, that there was nothing they could do," she said.
Although she found it unfair, Ana Maria said she was going to pay for the charges but contacted NBC6 Responds first to let others know.
“It’s important that people are aware to please review their bill,” Ana Maria said.
As soon as we contacted T-Mobile, Ana Maria said a representative called her, withdrew the charges, apologized for the inconvenience, and put something in her account to prevent any future charges for calls made through WhatsApp.
“They’re going to place like a block in my home. So, in essence, T-Mobile will not be able to pick up my calls through WhatsApp,” she said.
T-Mobile didn’t tell us why they had charged Ana Maria for the calls. On its page, WhatsApp says its app is free and “offers simple, secure, reliable messaging and calling” yet warns “Data charges may apply.”
Ana Maria said that from now on, she will put her phone in airplane mode before making a WhatsApp call and hopes that her experience will serve as a warning for everyone to keep an eye on their cellphone statements.
“There might be a bill that you receive with charges, and you pay it. And you probably do not realize that you've been assessed fees for calls that you made through WhatsApp,” Ana Maria said.
We requested a response from T-Mobile several times but have not received one. Our Telemundo affiliate in New York did a similar story and in that case, T-Mobile told them, “as outlined in our customer advice, if Wi-Fi connection drops for a moment or you move outside its range when on a Wi-Fi call, calls may switch to cellular networks.”