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Me Too Wireless: AT&T Follows Verizon, Shortening Returns to 14 Days

Phillip Dampier October 15, 2012 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Wireless Broadband 1 Comment

AT&T has finally gotten around to following Verizon Wireless’ footsteps to fewer customer returns as it joins Big Red cutting “no hassle” returns to just two weeks.

Starting this month, if you return a phone to AT&T within 14 days, the company will charge you a $35 restocking fee or 10% of the purchase price for accessories over $199. Return it after 14 days and you may not be hassled, but you will be out as much as $325.

Consumers (including Individual Responsibility Users) – Device/Accessory Returns

Days after activation Amount of refund Fees, except where prohibited
0-14 days Full refund less any applicable fees Restocking fee: up to $35 for devices. 10% of purchase price for accessories over $199Apple devices: No restocking fee if device returned unopened
15 days or more Return directly to manufacturer. Refund subject to manufacturer warranty policy as follows: Refurbished devices carry a warranty from the manufacturer of 90 days after purchase date. New devices carry a warranty of 1 year after purchase date.Apple devices: Refund subject to Apple warranty policy. New Apple branded equipment covered by Apple’s one-year Limited Warranty. Refurbished Apple branded equipment covered under Apple’s original Limited Warranty and will have at least 90 days or more remaining under warranty when sold. AT&T early termination fee: Smartphone: $325 minus $10 for each full month you complete under the service commitmentBasic Phone, Mobile Hotspot, USB Modem: $150 minus $4 for each full month you complete under the service commitmentGaming and other devices without a service commitment: None

Other fees: Subject to manufacturer warranty policy.

Cosmetic blemish items are considered closeout items and are not eligible for return or exchange. 

Frontier “Passes the Buck” On Phone Cramming in Oregon; Tries to Charge $300 Disconnect Fee

Phillip Dampier June 28, 2012 Consumer News, Frontier 1 Comment

Frontier has dealt with PaymentOne for years. This bill shows unauthorized cramming charges billed to a Frontier customer in the fall of 2010.

An Oregon man found himself facing $300 in early termination fees from Frontier Communications after the phone company first refused to intervene on his behalf and credit his account for unauthorized “phone cramming” charges.

Tim Curns was with Frontier since the 1990s, but not anymore.

“I pulled the plug,” Curns told KGW-TV after unsuccessfully trying to get Frontier to help remove an unauthorized charge from his land line phone bill.

Curns found a $14.95 charge on his bill from something called “PaymentOne.” When he called Frontier, they could not tell him what the charge was for and at first refused to credit him for the unauthorized charge. That is surprising because Frontier has been billing customers on behalf of PaymentOne for more than two years.

With Frontier uninterested in investigating the phone cramming incident, Curns was told he would be on his own trying to stop PaymentOne from billing his phone line every month.

Curns tried to tackle the problem himself, first calling PaymentOne and learning the company had enrolled his line for the service despite having the wrong mailing address on file. Frontier, upon learning that, eventually agreed to a one-time courtesy credit but could not promise additional charges would not be forthcoming the following month.

Engraged, Curns said if Frontier could not stop unauthorized charges, he could stop being their customer. At that point, the Frontier representative surprised Curns with news he was unknowingly committed to a two-year service contract, and he could cancel his service… if he paid around $300 in early termination fees.

That would leave PaymentOne with their money, Frontier enriched on an early termination fee the customer never knew he would owe, and little left in Curns’ wallet.

“My question to the phone company was, okay, if you make an adjustment on this bill for 14.95 what are you going to do to stop this from being a recurring charge,” Curns said, “and they said there’s nothing they can do, you have to call these people.”

So Curns called and said PaymentOne told him the name of that company is My Global 4-1-1, which is a front company for a firm called Doink Media LLC, which the Federal Trade Commission been chasing all over the country.

Kyle Kavas, Spokesperson for The Better Business Bureau said, “most of the time it’s just companies that are randomly picking out phone numbers and charging them. Those cramming charges are very dangerous because they come from companies that are usually scammers.”

KGW received this less-than-helpful statement from Frontier:

“Frontier takes customer concerns very seriously and always tries to make things right. Our normal policy on a ‘cramming’ issue, which is an unauthorized charge on a customer’s account, is to assist the customer in contacting the 3rd party company who added the charge. These 3rd party companies get a customer authorization from the customer although in some cases the customer doesn’t realize they’ve authorized the charge. An easy way to avoid these is to have a 3rd party block put on your account by calling Frontier Customer Service.”

Curns called Frontier and learned although the company does not currently charge a fee for third party charge-blocking, it might in the future.

What Frontier doesn’t admit is that it earns a piece of the action from every phone cramming charge found on a customer’s bill.

Curns ultimately decided to pull the plug on Frontier for good, paid a pro-rated early termination fee, and recommended other customers follow in his footsteps before unauthorized third party charges make their way to another phone bill.

For now, customers can call Frontier customer service and request all third party charges be blocked from your phone line. The service is free of charge, although there are no guarantees it will always remain that way. It would also be a good time to review your current account and learn if Frontier has put you on a contract plan with an early termination fee attached. If you did not authorize this, demand it be removed from your account at once. If you did authorize it, have Frontier note your account that you do not want it automatically renewed at the end of the term, a practice Frontier regularly engages in, and note your contract expiration date.

[flv width=”640″ height=”380″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KGW Portland Frontier Cramming 6-26-12.mp4[/flv]

KGW-TV visits with Tim Curns to discuss Frontier’s “look the other way” attitude about phone cramming charges.  (2 minutes)

Working Around Verizon’s New Gouging Wireless Plans If You Still Have ‘Unlimited Data’

Phillip Dampier June 27, 2012 Consumer News, Data Caps, Editorial & Site News, Verizon, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Working Around Verizon’s New Gouging Wireless Plans If You Still Have ‘Unlimited Data’

Last minute upgraders are hurrying to pre-order the Samsung Galaxy S3 to buy an additional two years for their unlimited data plans and get one last subsidized phone.

If you are a Verizon Wireless customer, today is the last day to exercise options under Verizon’s existing plans before the company’s new “Share Everything” plan regime takes effect. While some customers will save money on the new plans, at least at first, many others will not. Verizon is not forcing existing customers to change plans tomorrow, but you may find it worthwhile to lock in any unlimited data plan for the next two years, even if your contract is not scheduled to end until later this year. Remember, Verizon may be saving you a few dollars today, but its bean counters know that data is a growth industry, so the more devices you add to your plan, the quicker you will be paying more and more to upgrade your allowance.

Droid Life helps cover some of the basics before we discuss your options:

What are Share Everything plans?

Think of them like the family minute and text plans that you have been a part of for years now, but for data. With a Share Everything plan, you purchase a bucket of data at a flat rate for your whole family to use, just like you did with minutes and texts. You no longer have to buy individual smartphone or feature phone data plans on Share Everything. Deciding which plan will best suit your family is the key here, which requires some analyzing of the amounts of data you are currently using.

How are they priced?

The tiers are as follows:  1GB for $50, 2GB for $60, 4GB for $70, 6GB for $80, 8GB for $90, and 10GB for $100. Along with a data tier, you also have to factor in your “per device” cost which is $40 per smartphone, $30 per feature phone, $20 per Jetpack, and $10 per tablet. Mobile hotspot is included with Share Everything at no extra cost as it pulls from your data bucket. If you would like more than 10GB, you can purchase extra 2GB add-ons for $10 a piece. If you go over your data bucket limit, you are charged $15 per 1GB overage.

Minutes and texting are unlimited on Share Everything plans, so your only worry is data usage.

You can read more about pricing at our step-by-step guide to selecting a plan.

Can I keep unlimited data? Do I have to switch to Share Everything?

Yes, you can keep unlimited data. No, you do not have to switch to Share Everything. We wrote up an entire detailed post on this scenario of keeping unlimited data that I recommend you read.

Should I upgrade now?

Maybe. If you want to enjoy one last discounted (subsidized) price on a phone and keep unlimited data, you have to upgrade before June 28. If you upgrade after at a discounted price, you will have to change your plan to either a single person tier (2GB for $30) or join a Share Everything plan. Further details on upgrading now, including Galaxy S3 pre-orders, can be found at this post.

What if someone on my family plan upgrades after Share Everything is live?

While I have yet to get a definitive answer from any higher-ups at Verizon, it is my general understanding that you can always choose something other than Share Everything as long as you are a current customer before June 28. If you are in a family plan now and one of your lines upgrades after June 28 and chooses Share Everything, it will not affect your line. From what I have gathered over the last few weeks, you would not have to choose to join their shared plan. Also, if you want to upgrade after June 28, you can choose between a Share Everything plan and an individual tiered plan starting at 2GB for $30.

Now it’s time to consider some options:

1. Do nothing. If you want to keep what you have until your current contract expires, do nothing. Absolutely nothing will change on your account until a contract expires and you seek to upgrade your phone (or you can depart for Sprint, T-Mobile, or some carrier not using this new pricing). If you stay with Verizon, you can continue with a month-to-month plan until you seek to upgrade your phone. At that point, you will either have to pay full price for an unsubsidized phone (can be up to $600 or more) or get a subsidy with a new tw0-year contract on one of Verizon’s new plans. You will lose unlimited data at this point unless you bring an unsubsidized phone to the party. But financially that may not make sense. Verizon charges the same monthly rates, designed to recoup phone subsidies, whether you have a subsidized or unsubsidized phone, so you are paying the phone company back for a discounted phone you never got.

2. If you are eligible for an upgrade, you may want to use it today! Log into your Verizon Wireless account and check your phone lines for any eligible for immediate upgrades. If one or more are, today is the last day to consider using that upgrade -and- keep your unlimited data plan. Keep in mind you can activate a new phone on any number on your plan (preferably one with unlimited data, of course) and move them around if one of the people on your account can make better use of a new phone than the person eligible for the upgrade. You will commit to a new two-year contract for each line you upgrade and you will pay Verizon’s phone upgrade fee ($30) per phone.

You can buy yourself eligibility for subsidized smartphones by activating a “dummy” extra line with Verizon Wireless for $9.99/month or use it with an older basic Verizon phone without incurring data charges.

3. If you are not eligible for an upgrade, you can still buy at least two more years of grandfathered unlimited data without buying an unsubsidized phone, but you will pay a penalty. Verizon will allow customers not eligible for an upgrade to add additional lines to their account specifically to qualify for new subsidized phones they can use on any number on their account. Let’s say you have two lines active with Verizon not eligible for an upgrade until later this year, but you don’t want to lose your unlimited data -and- you want one last subsidized phone. Simply call Verizon Wireless and ask them to establish two new lines of service on your existing account with a “dummy ESN” registered in their system. You will pay $9.99 per month (plus taxes and fees) on each line with new two-year contracts for each line, but this will qualify you for an immediate subsidized upgrade to any in-stock smartphone. You can also pre-order Samsung’s wildly popular Galaxy S3 ($199 subsidized, $599 unsubsidized).

You will then have two more years of unlimited data on your new phone. If you have older non-smartphones laying around, you can activate them instead of using the “dummy ESN” method and allow someone like a parent or child to share your existing calling plan without running up data charges or text messages (although you can add those options as well if needed).

You should coordinate this over the phone with a Verizon Wireless customer service representative (1-800-922-0204) explaining you don’t currently qualify for an upgrade but want to establish “dummy service” on a new line(s) to win a subsidized phone. Most representatives are familiar with this. But when the new phones arrive, you will want to have Verizon Wireless handle activation themselves because they are equipped to transfer those new phones to replace the existing ones on your account and not lose your unlimited data plan in the process. If you activate them yourself, they will be up and running on different phone numbers and you will have to visit a Verizon store to obtain new 4G SIM cards to switch phones to the correct lines. Let Verizon handle it, and any messes that might occur along the way.

You will not pay any early termination fee for not using your old phones anymore, but you will probably want to call Verizon about dropping contract-expiring lines on your account when their respective contracts expire so you minimize the number of months you are paying an additional $9.99 a month for extra phone lines you probably will not be using. You will neither pay an activation fee or upgrade fee using this method.

Is it an expensive price to pay for an early upgrade? Perhaps, but maybe not if it means buying another two years of unlimited data service.

It is important, however, that you complete any arrangements to order your phone(s) prior to the end of day today. We strongly recommend you work through Verizon Wireless’ own sales department (they shut down for the night at 11pm EDT) to arrange for new phones or pre-orders (which are acceptable to activate later and still keep unlimited data). If you deal with a third party like a non-Verizon store or website, the order may not process in time to qualify within the remaining hours Verizon’s old plans are still active.

By July 2014, we will be back here again trying to maneuver the renewal of unlimited data plans Verizon now hates. But spending time to preserve these plans may be important to your wallet when you consider just a year ago, Verizon charged $30 for unlimited wireless data. Effective tomorrow, they charge $50 for 1GB of data. Where will we be two years from today? The sky is the limit.

If You Die, Verizon Wireless Will Take Away Your Family’s Unlimited Data Plans

Phillip Dampier June 26, 2012 Consumer News, Verizon, Wireless Broadband 2 Comments

If you die, Verizon Wireless will bury your family’s unlimited data plans with you.

Amidst the brouhaha over Verizon Wireless’ impending transition to new Share Everything plans that will raise the wireless phone bills of a lot of Verizon customers, the wireless company is also quietly inserting a change in the terms and conditions that will strip away the unlimited data plans of surviving family members if the primary account holder passes away.

While the departed may no longer care about keeping worry-free data, surviving family members might:

Verizon Wireless has confirmed to PhoneNews.com that, effective June 28, Assumptions of Liability will be stripped of unlimited data plan codes during the account transfer. New customers receiving the account will be required to select from Verizon’s metered data plan add-ons for legacy Nationwide and America’s Choice II accounts, or switch to a new Share Everything plan.

The main problem, is that this will negatively impact those who suffer a loss in the family. If someone passes away, say a husband, the surviving widow can no longer keep the same plan terms. Worse, a customer cannot port out without an assumption of liability. This creates an awful Catch-22 potential for families looking to keep their phone numbers; either accept massively higher bills under Share Everything, or pay massively high Early Termination Fees to port out.

For many, the move is seen as unsurprising. Verizon’s CFO Fran Shammo stated that “all customers” would be forced onto a Share Everything plan once they went into effect, and upgraded devices. Verizon quickly clarified that customers who waived handset subsidies would still be permitted to keep their unlimited data plans, even when migrating from a 3G smartphone, such as an iPhone 4/4S, to a future LTE smartphone.

Verizon’s move wasn’t intended to directly target dead people, but rather stop customers from selling off their unlimited plans to the highest bidder on eBay. Using the Assumptions of Liability clause, the winning eBay bidder could take over control of a Verizon line grandfathered with a more favorable plan than the company sells today. Bids running several hundred dollars for the assumption of a line with unlimited data were not uncommon.

As PhoneNews reports, “Verizon Wireless defended the lack of a specific mention of this change, citing that they have said all along that Share Everything plans will apply to all new customers. For those suffering the loss of a family member, and use a Verizon unlimited data plan, it will be adding insult to injury that they may be forced off their plans.”

Frontier Contract Shenanigans: Getting Stuck With a 2-Yr Agreement & Slower Speeds

Your modem needs an expensive upgrade, even if you own your own.

Frontier Communications customers may get less than they bargained for when calling the company about a malfunctioning modem or problem with service. Andrew, a Stop the Cap! reader from Tennessee discovered a simple service call left him stuck with two separate contracts for phone and Internet service, a major broadband speed reduction, and a sense that Frontier is willing to sign up customers without fully disclosing what they are selling.

Andrew reports he originally called Frontier to discuss a possibly damaged DSL modem. Upon hearing the model number, a Frontier customer service representative needed to hear no more — the modem “needed to be upgraded.” In fact, Frontier has been mailing postcards to customers with older modems not subject to monthly rental fees telling them their existing modem was “no longer supported” and needed to be replaced with a new model. In the fine print, the customer learns if they proceed, they will end up paying a monthly modem rental fee starting at $6.99… forever.

But things got much worse for this Frontier customer after he contacted the company to say he’d be keeping his current DSL modem, which turned out to be working just fine:

I was then told there would be about a $20 price drop on my next bill (for July). I asked the agent why and her response was, “oh, our prices are going down.” I said okay, thanked her and hung up the phone.

The next morning, I got an email from Frontier thanking me for my ”recent purchase or renewal of services,” further asking me to click and view the Terms of Service agreement for High Speed Internet (and to submit the PIN number associated with my account).

I then called Customer Service about the email. I was told that I had upgraded my phone service the previous day. It turned out that the agent upgraded my phone service to include their ”Digital Essentials” phone features package and had locked me into two price protection plans for both services. There was a one-year plan regarding the phone service and a two-year plan for the High Speed Internet.

I was shocked and informed the agent that I had made no such changes to my phone/Internet services and that I had simply called about cancelling a support ticket on my account regarding the modem.

He later tried to claim that I had given the previous agent authorization when I said okay after she had informed me about the price drop. I told him that was absolutely ridiculous, especially since she never discussed any upgrades to my phone service or any changes regarding my Internet. I asked him how it could be an authorization when what was done to my account was never fully explained (or asked for).

We’ve got a deal too good to refuse.

The Frontier agent then proceeded to hard-sell Andrew the same plan the former agent already applied to his account. The Frontier representative did not bother to mention the “upgrade” and “savings” he was getting included a drastic speed reduction. Frontier sold Andrew a package that included just 1.2Mbps broadband.   That is less than half the speed of his original 3Mbps service, for which he paid $40 a month with no modem rental fee.

Now Andrew is stuck with two contracts, both which carry early termination fees that will total well in excess of $100, the likelihood of a modem rental fee for a new modem he has never received and does not want, and less than half the broadband speed he used to get.

“I was never told by either agent I spoke with that my Internet speed would be [reduced] once the ‘upgrade’ was performed,” Andrew writes. “This, in my opinion, is fraud. Had I known a slower speed would be the end result of their price drop, I would have never [signed up].”

Now Andrew wants his old plan back and Frontier is stalling.

Frontier has a track record of retiring older service plans and packages, but leaving existing customers grandfathered on them until a representative can convince a customer to switch to something else. Unfortunately, newer plans often come with higher prices and more surcharges than older ones, which is part of the company’s effort to increase average revenue earned from each customer. Once off a discontinued plan, low level customer service representatives typically cannot re-enroll a customer.

But those who complain the loudest can get back the service they used to have, just by becoming a nuisance. Start by calling Frontier and asking to speak to a supervisor or manager. If that fails, ask to be transferred to the department that handles disconnections and threaten to drop all Frontier services if the company does not relent and put you back on the plan you started with.

Customers can also file complaints with their state utility regulators. In Tennessee, that is the Tenessee Regulatory Authority. Their online complaint form is here. Unfortunately, many states have succumbed to deregulation rhetoric and state regulators lack significant enforcement powers. But utilities that routinely filibuster state officials risk generating enough legislative energy to support a “re-regulation” effort, so most utilities will connect complainers to an executive level customer service department that can cut through red tape.

Customers can also file complaints with the Better Business Bureau and their state’s Attorney General. The more noise you generate, the more likely Frontier will satisfy your request.

Frontier customers are advised that anytime a customer service representative asks you to complete an online agreement using your PIN number, it signals you are about to commit yourself to a term contract or other major change in service that could prove costly to undo.

Always ask the Frontier representative to e-mail you a copy of the terms of the plan you are enrolling in, including broadband speeds, phone features, contract length and early termination fees.

Always read the agreement you are being asked to complete online.

If you have any questions, call Frontier before you sign. Some plans include a 14 or 30 day penalty-free cancellation provision. While this alone may not restore your old service, it can prove an important negotiating tool to win back the service you had before.

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