South African billionaire takes on Vodacom over out-of-bundle “fraud” charges

South African billionaire Wendy Appelbaum has started a battle with Vodacom for what she calls “force feed payments”, also known as out-of-bundle charges.

According to Destiny Magazine, Appelbaum said cellular companies invoice their subscribers for amounts over and above their monthly contract bills.

She said subscribers are not warned they have reached their monthly billing limit, and are then forced to pay high amounts for out-of-bundle usage.

When cellphone companies do not warn subscribers they are about to go out of bundle, and then force them to make stop-order payments for invoices they have not agreed to, it amounts to fraud, she said.

Appelbaum argues that cellphone companies should soft-block your account and warn you that you have reached your spending limit.

If they put through a “single cent more”, she said it is in contravention of the National Credit Act.

Appelbaum has already instructed her lawyers to try to persuade Vodacom to change its practices, and said she will “scratch until I draw blood”.

It is understood that Appelbaum is focusing her attention on Vodacom, but that her actions could influence other operators as well.

Successful fight against garnishee orders

Appelbaum is no stranger to fighting for the underdog. In 2015, she backed a case against garnishee orders in partnership with the University of Stellenbosch Legal Aid Clinic.

A garnishee order, also known as an Emoluments Attachment Order, is a court order that compels a debtor’s employer to pay his or her debt from their salary.

The Western Cape High Court ruled in favour of Appelbaum’s group, and found that the debt collecting procedure used by microlenders was “unconstitutional” and “an assault on human dignity”.

A year later, the Constitutional Court ruled that garnishee orders must be issued by magistrates and not clerks of the court.

This was seen as a big victory for the poor, who often suffered at the hands of unscrupulous microlenders.

Vodacom – We are not in a position to comment

It is understood that Vodacom has received communication from Appelbaum and her lawyers, but the company would not comment on the merits of her request.

“Vodacom is not in possession of any court papers served by or on behalf of Wendy Appelbaum and therefore we are not in a position to comment,” it said.

MTN – We have implemented a number of interventions

MTN SA’s Graham de Vries said they have not received any correspondence from Appelbaum or her legal representatives.

He said MTN strives to remain transparent in communicating out-of-bundle tariffs with customers.

“We have implemented a number of interventions to highlight to customers when they reach their limit. This includes sending notifications when their data is nearing depletion and when they start utilising data at out-of-bundle rates,” said de Vries.

“In addition, subscribers have the ability to set usage limits which can prevent out-of-bundle usage.”

Cell C – We have a soft-lock option in place

Cell C said it has not been contacted by Appelbaum or her legal team regarding the issue.

“Cell C does have a soft-lock option in place for customers looking to limit their bill costs,” it said.

Now read: How to stop your airtime from disappearing

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South African billionaire takes on Vodacom over out-of-bundle “fraud” charges