Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Saga of the Cell Phone

We knew my mother in law had a cell phone.  We knew her only daughter also had a phone on the same account, on a family plan.

We had no idea she was paying over $135. a month for these two phones, until we visited a couple of weeks ago.

When we came, we saw an "overnight mail" box from AT&T.  My mother in law explained her two year contract was renewing and AT&T told her she was "eligible for an upgrade".  The phone store she had gotten her last phone from had gone out of business.  The "helpful customer service rep" she called told her she could handle the "upgrade", said they would overnight a phone to her (which they did).

Well, just before we were supposed to leave, the rest of the story came out.  Just like a person visiting a doctor who leaves the real problem for just as he is leaving, so did my mother in law hit us with the "rest of the story" as she brought out her bill.  The $135. bill.  And, oh by the way, announced "she was running out of money."  How she had told "the helpful rep, who was so nice to me" that she couldn't afford the plan, and the rep took "$100 off her first bill."

Did she have her renewal letter anymore?  My husband wanted to see it.  Well no, she had thrown it out.

I got on the phone with AT&T.  We use TracFone so aren't familiar with cell phone plans but I knew there were usually very high cancellation fees.  Still it was worth a shot to call, in case AT&T had Sunday customer service.

They had and I listened to a voicemail menu, choosing a department for cancelling service.  I figured that rep would have authority to do something to lower her bill.  If we couldn't, we would cancel.

The rep I got on the phone said because they had sent a phone out to my mother in law, well, the 2 year plan was renewed and it would be $175. to cancel.  The rep offered some options, including a prepaid phone.  They could keep their phones but not the numbers.  While I was on hold I recommended she take the cancellation and run-it would be less than 2 months of bills.  Both her and my sister in law balked.  My sister in law wanted to keep her number.

I asked my mother in law how much she used the phone-only for emergencies, she replied.  So back to the rep.  After a very long conversation the rep agreed they both were using the phones for about 20-25 minutes a month and then after even more being put on hold agreed to rewrite the plan to a 50 minute a month plan, for a lot less money.  However, she couldn't tell me exactly how much "because each state has different fees".  True, but I think that was bogus, too.

Wonderful how cell phone companies (among others) take advantage of seniors.  I wonder where in the fine print it announced that sending out the new phone (even without activating it) meant the new contract started.

While I was on hold another time (this rep kept "running back to her manager", which I think was bogus-but whatever) my mother in law puts her oil bill in front of me and asks me to look at that!

Well, I won't go into the sad and sorry details but the cell phone story isn't over.  And, it still isn't activated.

And, there is still the oil bill.  That will have to wait for our next visit.

We have to get a handle on this, and soon.  She has to open up to us instead of springing last minute surprises.  But we are now forewarned, and prepared for our next visit later this month.  Will she allow us to help her?  Or will she keep sliding into I don't know what and expect us to bail her out when it is too late.

I hope she will allow us to help her.

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