Ask LH: What Should I Do When My SIM Gets Stolen Overseas?

Ask LH: What Should I Do When My SIM Gets Stolen Overseas?
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Dear Lifehacker, I was recently visiting Malaysia, among other places, and installed a temporary SIM in my phone. While this worked great, I also appear to have lost my regular SIM over there, and have just been delivered a bill of $1300 for calls made on it.

My guess is that someone found/took it and has been using it. Optus has apparently cut it off when it reached that amount and disabled roaming, but now I have a problem in the form of a very large bill. Any advice? Is there any way to get out of paying all or some of it?

When I activated roaming I got a $100 pack (this is on a business plan), so I would have thought I shouldn’t have been able to spend over that amount, although obviously this isn’t the case. Help is much appreciated!
SIM Pity

Picture by Nicholas Nova

Dear SP,

Ouch! That’s an unfortunate story, and the brutal truth is there may not be much you can do about it (we’ll get to your options in a minute). However, your experience does include a number of valuable lessons which are worth spelling out for anyone else who is travelling overseas and using their phone.

Treat your SIMS carefully when travelling. In many situations, using a different SIM overseas is indeed the best option for getting the best value from your calls. However, it’s important to make sure that you take good care of the original SIM while that happens. Don’t just throw it into a pocket or a bag; have a specific location to store it.

I always keep alternate SIMs in the kind of plastic case designed to store SD cards. That keeps it from being scratched or misplaced, but doesn’t waste a lot of space. I know that when you’ve just hit a new country and you’re focused on getting your phone working sorting out the other SIM is a tedious detail, but SP’s experience shows that it absolutely matters.

Disable roaming if you’re not going to use it. Roaming charges on Australian phones overseas are high. If you don’t want to use that option, call your carrier and have it switched off before you leave. That way, if you misplace your SIM, it can’t be abused overseas.

Make sure you understand the conditions on roaming deals. If you do want to use your Australian phone overseas, purchasing a specific roaming bundle for calls and data can make sense, since it will offer cheaper rates than what you’ll get for casual use. But be clear: once you’ve used up the credit on that kind of bundle, you’ll almost always revert to casual rates. Track your usage carefully, and if you think you’ve exceeded your limit, contact your provider to check and purchase additional bundles if you need them.

If you lose a SIM, report it immediately. Once you’ve reported your SIM as lost, you won’t be responsible for calls made on it — but until that happens, you will. If you store your SIM sensibly, you shouldn’t reach this stage, but of course it can still happen. Make sure you’ve got contact numbers for your mobile provider before you travel. (Short calling codes often work when roaming, but not always, so try and get an Australian number, or one for the country you’re visiting, as well.)

In terms of dealing with your bill, about the only obvious recourse you’ve got is to ring Optus and see if it will be kind. Even if it holds you responsible, you might be able to arrange to pay it off over a number of months. The other option is to check with your travel insurance provider to see if it will cover the costs — it will very much depend on the policy, but it can’t help to ask. If readers have negotiated similar bills, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.


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  • Whenever you receive an “out of pattern” bill always contact your provider, try pointing out a competitor’s product that would not have resulted in the same issue, quite often they’ll make a deal to retain you as a customer, rather than lose you to a competitor. Telcos are great at offering to extend your contract, perhaps on a slightly higher plan, to cover this kind of bill, you will need to get beyond their crappy callcentre or front desk staff though, and it certainly helps to be a business user…..

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