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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A slew of eye-popping cellular phone bills may be the result of a company billing error, but servicemembers should still avoid using Japanese phones to access the Internet, Navy officials say.

So far, eight bills ranging from $7,300 to $67,000 have rolled in to the Navy Legal Service Office at Yokosuka in the past few months, Japanese Legal Advisor Kazumi Takahara said last week .

The legal office is investigating whether the bills are connected to a recent billing mishap by cellular company au, which apologized to customers for tacking on extra zeros to their balances.

The errors were sent out on past-due notices dated July 11 and affected 26,126 customers across Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto and Chubu regions, according to the au Web site. The company will contact those affected by phone and letter, the Web site said.

“We thought it was strange that many of the balances ended in double zeroes,” Takahara said.

But that doesn’t mean that servicemembers are off the hook, she said, pointing out that they can still unwittingly run up big phone bills by using their phone for Internet service.

“It’s still possible (to run up big bills),” Takahara said. “So this is good that this caught the attention of everyone.”

Common pitfalls include using the cellular phone as a modem or using the phone to surf the Internet, said Ken Ritter, U.S. Government Sales for SoftBank Mobile Corporation. SoftBank has booths at 11 bases in Japan where warnings are posted and customers are advised about the mega-costs of accessing Internet information from the phone, he said.

“One person ran up $2,000 in four hours just by surfing the Web,” Ritter said. “We’ve had a sprinkling of large bills varying from $3,000 to $9,000.”

He explained how people can get into trouble: Most basic cellular phone plans don’t include “packets,” which are chunks of online information that vary by size. In most cases, costs are calculated based on the size of the information and the Internet connection.

“Even if you’re not downloading anything and you’re just opening a Web site, that’s still a packet of information and you’re charged for it,” Ritter said. “One Web page can be 561 yen, about $5, and if you’re flipping through Web pages, that can add up in a hurry.”

Customers have the option of adding discounted packet access to their service, he said. If they get into trouble, they should go to their base SoftBank shop to work it out, he said.

“We’re trying to, number one, get the word out, and, number two, take care of those who got caught accidentally,” Ritter said, adding that they have come to agreements with all their big-bill customers.

If the worst comes to pass and sailors are stuck, help may be available through the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Yokosuka NMCRS director Andrea Bowen said last week.

“When we heard about the situation, we e-mailed our headquarters,” Bowen said. “We can look at the bills on a case-by-case basis.”

This is an exception to the organization’s cellular phone policy that allows them to provide up to $100 assistance if it’s the user’s primary phone, Bowen said.

No one has “walked through the door yet,” Bowen said.

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