We have AT&T for our land line and our mobile service. When we got the landline we asked for the cheapest package there was. The only option I asked to have added was $3.50 per month to UNLIST me from the phone book (talk about another ripoff rant that I'll spare you for now). Total comes to around $25. We have it setup to auto-debit our account. I get an email every month when the bill comes in (electronically).
Today I just happened to look at that email in detail. $46.10… WTF?
I logged in to view the details to the bill to find this:
I have 2 “services” from companies I neither know or authorized to provide me services. I asked Nicole, she hasn't authorized anything either. We have no clue what they are, except that further in the bill the latter charge is explained as some voicemail service. What? we have an answering machine, don't want to pay for voicemail. Never have we requested that.
Quick tangent: Now, mind you, when I made a change to our cellular plan (2 phones) in-person at the AT&T store a few months back I was asked if I wanted roadside assistance and some other add-on for both phones. I declined, but in the next month they had been added totaling $30 additional per month. I called AT&T cellular and the first person to talk to me took away those services and credited my account with extra for my troubles. I was unhappy that it happened but satisfied with the result. End of tangent.
I called AT&T today expecting a similar conversation and satisfaction. The tier 1 customer rep explained that the telephone numbers on my bill (you can see them in the image) were the numbers I needed to call to dispute those charges and services with those third-party companies. I disagreed, AT&T is my provider, and they are the company billing me, the company I am paying directly, it should be on them to help me through this. No, it was left to me. I asked for my account to be flagged to prevent further services from being added. She said that wasn't possible. I flipped out, and she sent me to a tier 2 customer rep. Her name was Cant (as best as I could figure. I tried to repeat it and get her to spell it but she was silent). Again she reiterated that I had to call the companies directly. I explained that I wanted a BASIC telephone service with no frills that PREVENTS any future UNSOLICITED, UNAUTHORIZED add-on services. She said she would be “mailing me paperwork to fill out and send back in”. What?! Why is this process made difficult?
So tonight I call the two companies. The first in that list had no idea where my account was signed up from other than it was “online”. They credited and cancelled the service. Oh, and I asked what it was I was signed up for since there was nothing in the bill to indicate what it was.. It was a third party voicemail service. Great, I had 2 of them and an answering machine. I'll never miss a call. Funny, but for having 2 “voicemail” services, none of our calls ever went to their voicemail.. And its not the answering machine catching the calls first, we used the answering machine as a test to know when our power came back on while we left town to seek electricity last month. When the answering machine was off, the phone just rang and rang.. Never went to “their” voicemail.
After digging further, the second one has been on our bill since March. This is my fault for not digging through my bills more closely and I take responsibility for that (but I find AT&T still at fault for allowing this to happen without my approval!). I find out from this company that my service was signed up for through “theuseful.com” by a “Mary Jane McGruder” using an email address of email@example.com. This time I asked her what the process was for signing up. She said that through some survey on the website the service was offered and there would have been an acceptance checkbox with a submission. I asked “Is there anything to verify that the person holds that telephone account?”. Her response “The process is just how I explained it, Sir.”
Here is the crux of all this: To even speak to an AT&T customer service rep about my account, I have to verify my phone number, name, and social security number. I had to do it with each tier of customer service today. However, to add a billable third-party service, someone just has to click a check box on a third-party website. There is no vetting process, no authorization required. The NAME on the account doesn't even have to match!! If you know my phone number, you can sign me up for a billable third party voicemail scam (and I'm sure a couple of you would like to do that, too! hehe).
So where am I at now? Well, both companies cancelled the “services” and agreed to full refunds without question. I imagine otherwise they could face some pretty hefty lawsuits, not having any chain of real authorization for the charges from the party responsible. But, I'm not looking to get money back, I'm looking for a service that will prevent this from happening, without the hassle that AT&T is giving me.
Enter Vonage (Vonage is telephone service via your broadband internet connection). I've looked into them before but they never offered service in the areas I needed it. They now offer number porting and service here, so I'm all over it (meaning we get to transfer our current phone number to the new service)! As soon as I'm done with this post I'll be unpacking the Vonage router I picked up on the way home from work (I'm actually waiting on a referral from a friend so he can get a bonus.. hasn't shown up in my inbox yet). For the exact same cost as our “basic service” (without the added riders) we get unlimited long distance and all of the features. Nicole has been begging for long distance service for quite some time now thanks to AT&T's craptastic cellular coverage out here, so she is already happy with this idea. I'm not making a pitch for them here because I haven't experienced their service yet but the people I have spoken to so far really like it.
So there is light at the end of this tunnel.. I'm quite livid over the whole ordeal though. How can this be legal? No other industry or business that I can think of gets away with this. Someone is making bank off of slipping these charges in to people unknowingly. I fell for one for 9 months.
The point I hope to make (sorry it is so long of a post) is this: CHECK YOUR PHONE BILL CLOSELY! and question the charges! And, if AT&T bullies you around about it, well, you have other options out there.