The Hoax Of The $17,000 Cell Phone Bill

Jan 19, 2016 By Hannah Austin

If you’ve done much Internet surfing lately, you’ve probably seen the image of the infamous $17,000 cell phone bill. It began circulating after Apple released iOS9 in September 2015, with many news sources claiming that unless iPhone users turned off a new feature called “Wi-Fi assist” that they too would be charged astronomical fees. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, it’s always jarring. $17,000? How would I handle a bill like that? Like many of you, I sat down and carefully turned off the feature on my own phone.

And, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As we reported in October, Wi-Fi assist can rack up your bill – if you have a limited data plan. It works like this: when in a Wi-Fi hot spot, like your home or workplace, your cell phone will recognize the network and connect to it. However, if you’re in a spot with no Wi-Fi (say, driving in the car or at grandma’s house) your cell phone needs a boost from its cellular data plan. For those with an allotted amount of data in their monthly plan, rather than unlimited, relying on this often can rack up hundreds of dollars.

But thousands? We just couldn’t believe that could be true, so we decided to do a little digging. It wasn’t long before Snopes provided the answer we were looking for.

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Take a close look. While many local news channels and websites used this GIF to give their audience a cheap scare, it’s clearly a hoax. How do I know? As you can see in the lower right hand corner, this bill was due on June 7, 2010 – five years before Apple released iOS9. 


Snopes

So, where did this image actually come from? Was there ever a real $17,000 phone bill? 


Snopes

Turns out, yes, but under very different circumstances. In 2011, CBC’s Marketplace asked Canadians to share their worst cell phone bills. The grand prize (if you can even call it that) went to Perry Franz for the bill pictured above. While Bell Mobility claimed the charges were due to “roaming fees,” a tech professor featured on CBC estimated the actual cost to the company to be somewhere around $4. It’s no wonder that Franz said, “I felt like crying when I opened this bill and saw what the actual total was.”

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However, as mentioned before, turning off “Wi-Fi assist” can be helpful for those of us with limited data plans. If you’d like to turn off the feature on your iPhone, simply follow the instructions below. 

Step 1: Head to your settings app. Tap on the Cellular button. 


Apple

Step 2: Start scrolling. The setting we are looking for is all the way at the bottom. 


Apple

Step 3: Flip the switch on Wi-FI Assist. As with most iOS settings, green means it’s on and grey means it’s off. 


Apple

Just like that, you’re good to go! And remember – you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. 

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