Waived Cell Phone Activation Fees Are Harder To Come By

We have a family cell phone plan which covers my wife, my sister-in-law, and my mother-in-law.  My father-in-law and I both have cell phones provided by work, so it’s just the three lines.

mb-cellphone201308Recently, all three decided that it was time to upgrade phones.  They were all over two years old, and after some wavering and looking around, the decision was made to stick with Sprint.

My wife and sister-in-law both obtained their phones through Best Buy, where they got iPhone 5’s for $50 less than could be found elsewhere.  My mother-in-law also got an iPhone, but she was in the market for a 4S and got hers from a local Sprint store.

I’ve had an account for ten years now with Sprint, so I was pretty familiar with what would come next.  Sure enough, on the next bill, there were activation fees for each of the lines.  They put a charge of $36 per line in addition to the normal monthly charges.

I’ve always had very good luck with getting these waived.  One hundred percent luck, as a matter of fact, and I was hoping to keep my streak alive.  It would not be as easy as in the past.

The last couple of times were actually much easier.  For awhile, Sprint had a program (I think it was called Premier) where longtime customers got extra benefits, one of which was automatic waivers of activation fees.  I know one of our renewals took place while this program was still active, so that didn’t even require a conversation.  Unfortunately, Sprint shut down that program a couple of years back.

In other cases, I got the equipment from Sprint by placing an online or telephone order, and would get a waiver in advance or during the order process.  Buying two of them through a third party, I knew I would have to ask later.

The first attempt I made was to open up an online chat session.  Within a couple of minutes, I could tell two things:

  • I was typing with someone overseas.  Phrases were somewhat disjoined and I could tell that English was not their first language
  • They were operating from a script.  Some of the sentences did flow and were very well written.   Too well written, and I could tell that I was dealing with someone copying and pasting lines from a ‘script’.  The person denied it when I asked directly, but the difference in tone between some of the lines (that I suspected were ‘scripted’) and those that they had to type were different.

One of the recommendations I’ve learned to try is to get the person to deviate from the script.  I did try a few questions to break the person out, but they would just jump right back in.  Another idea I’ve seen is to ask to ‘chat’ with a manger.  I tried this and got the person’s ‘supervisor’, and I’m pretty sure it was probably the person sitting next to him.

After awhile, I gave up on trying to get it done, but I did ask to have someone call me, and that I wanted to speak to someone at the management level.  They said that this would be noted, and that I would hear from someone soon.

Within a day, I did speak to someone.  On the phone.  Someone that spoke English as their first language and was most assuredly not reading from a script.  He asked what my concern was, and I politely explained that I was looking to have these charges reversed due to our long loyalty with Sprint, never missing or being late on a payment, and the rest.

And what did he do within two minutes of getting on the phone?

He waived the charges.

I did get the sense that this might be one of the last waivers we’ll get.  He launched into a discussion about how Sprint is putting together a big upgrade of their network, and how those upgrades cost money.  He actually went into the process of how an individual tower is upgraded, and some of the roadblocks that they have to face (each tower usually requires municipal approval, something I would have never guessed).  I could tell he was telling me these things not to make excuses, but because he was genuinely interested in the topic and wanted to share information.

I was happy that the $108 in charges were reversed, but I guess I should budget for these in a couple of years when we’ll likely be faced with them again.

Though I’m sure going to try to get them waived!

Readers, do you pay activation fees or have you been able to slip out of them?  What are your tricks of the trade in getting these charges reversed?

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Sprint Protects Itself From Fraud But Customers Are On Their Own

On the surface, it would seem crazy for someone to write a post complaining about having a $556 credit balance on your cell phone bill, but that’s exactly what I’m about to do.  See, I have a $556 balance on our Sprint account and I am not at all happy about it.

A suspicious text message that was all too real

mb-cellphone201302My wife has the primary line on our Sprint account, and she called me up one day to tell me that she had gotten a text message saying that it was from Sprint indicating that they had detected a potential fraudulent activity on our account and gave a number to call back.  She passed along the number asking me to see if it was real and to handle the situation.

I did a reverse search on the number and found that it was in fact a real number tied back to Sprint’s Fraud department.  I called the number and passed along the information we had received on the text, and they pulled up our account.

The person asked if we had purchased an iPad earlier that morning.

I told her that no, we had not ordered an iPad.  She proceeded to tell me that someone had ordered an iPad through our online access using our account information.  It was flagged because their system has a trigger that alerts them when the item is shipped to another state.  In our case, we live in Michigan and the iPad was set to be delivered to Virgina Beach.

Once I confirmed that this was in fact a transaction that was a fraud, the rep proceeded to cancel the shipment of the order, and also wiped out all of our online account information.  She then walked me through setting up access with all new credentials: new username, new password, new recovery PIN.  It was as if we were being setup as brand new customers.

How it happened: It was at this point that it occurred to me how this likely happened.  Earlier in 2012, I wrote about how our e-mail account had been hacked, and noted that the account in question had a password that I’d not bothered to change in years.  Unfortunately, I was guilty (as probably are many) of having the same password across multiple accounts.  I also had the same username for the e-mail account and my Sprint account.  My guess is that the hacker tried the username / password combo that had previously worked on my e-mail across common sites.  My fault, and I have since changed every single password for online access, and have it so that virtually every account has a unique password, so even if one were to be compromised, they would not get in with the same password on another site.

But, after I got set up with new account information, I logged in to test access with my brand new credentials.  I saw that I had a credit balance of $556 and inquired why this was there.

The rep told me that the person who ordered the iPad had paid using a credit card (most likely stolen, as she pointed out).  I asked when that would be removed and she told me that the account holder of the credit card would most likely see the charge, have it reversed, and that it would be taken off my account then.

I was kind of stunned by this and asked if they couldn’t just reverse the charge to the credit card.  She said that they could not.

Well, that was over two months ago.  And, I still have a credit balance on my account.

I have no idea what this means.

Does this mean that the hacker got a hold of a credit card where someone actually paid the balance?  I find it hard to believe that this big of a charge would go unnoticed, but it was around the holidays, and if they got a hold of a card where there’s a big number of transactions, maybe it just got paid.

Could the cardholder have seen the charge and is currently going through a dispute process?  I have no idea how long that typically takes in a case like this, but I would have to guess it would be a lot faster than two months plus.

Could the person who ‘stole’ the credit card possibly have diverted the statements elsewhere, or opened a card in someone elses name?  If this is the case, it could take months before this is even noticed, and I would have to guess quite a bit more time to get sorted out.

Either way, it boggles my mind that Sprint’s answer to the whole problem is basically to do nothing.  They showed no interest in contacting the cardholder’s bank (and obviously they wouldn’t tell me any of those details).  They showed no interest in placing the money in some escrow account or something so they know it’s being dealt with.

Oh, but they did advise me to continue paying my bill, warning me that once the charges got reversed, that I would be charged late fees and such if my balance suddenly went up.

For me, that was sort of a ‘duh’ moment.  I have paid my bill every month, watching the balance go from a credit of around $356 back to a credit balance of $556.

Quite honestly, I would be happy if it were zero.

It makes me wonder, at a certain point what happens to that money if it never gets taken away?  What if I were to close the account when the contracts for all lines were fulfilled?  Would they cut me a check for $556? What if the charge got disputed following that?  Would I suddenly be turned over to collections?

These are not questions I really want to deal with, and while some may see a $556 credit in their account as a potential positive, I see nothing but a headache.  And, as my title suggests, I find it pretty shady about how Sprint handled the entire thing.  As soon as they noticed a fraud that could impact them, since they’d be out an iPad, they were all over getting that stopped.  Which, I have no issue with.

Where I have an issue is that when it came to the portion of the transaction that could potentially impact a third party (the card holder of the credit card used to ‘pay’ for the transaction), they could not care any less.

Readers, what do you do in a circumstance like this especially if months pass and this does not go away? 

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I Ordered A Phone Yesterday…Was It An iPhone?

As probably everybody knows by now, Apple announced the iPhone 5 yesterday, with the first units available later this month.  I’m sure millions of you have already read it, though that can’t quite be right because this blog doesn’t have millions of readers.

Not yet, anyways.

Though the timing was somewhat coincidental, I ordered a new phone yesterday.

It was not an iPhone 5.

But, I’d still like to tell you about it.

I ordered the phone through my job.  For a long time, my employer would only provide phones to a select few and would only reimburse you for your phone if you could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you were paying extra money to use the phone for work purposes.  As most of the calling I do is from my desk phone, I never even bothered to investigate.

Still, a few months ago our director announced that they were going to provide smartphones to any employee in our group that was interested.  When they first announced this, I passed.  Reason being, I was still under contract with my private phone (under Sprint) and I wanted no part of having to carry two phones around.  Been there, done that.

The contract on my line came up and I decided that now was the time to take advantage of the work offer.

Here’s the current situation:

My wife and I, along with my in-laws, are on a Sprint family plan.  There are four lines total.  The bill comes out to roughly $222 per month.  We pay $102 and my in-laws pay $120 so we’re all paying between $51-60 per line.  The difference is there because all three other lines other than my own have insurance coverage as well as a ‘premium data’ charge (more on that in a minute) that I don’t have on my phone meaning my line is a little cheaper.

Now, had I stayed with Sprint and upgraded, our bill would risen to $240.  This is because activating any new phone kicks in the $10/month premium charge that they now tack on for all cell phones.

Which is complete crap because we don’t even get 4G coverage here!  That’s right, our contract is paying $30/month for the ‘privledge’ of using slow 3G service.  And it would have gone up an extra $10 when I activated a new 4G capable phone…that wasn’t using it.

The extra $8 would have come for the service plan.  On my old phone, I had a SquareTrade plan that was really cheap, had no deductibles if the phone had a component failure, and a $50 deductible if it was in an accident.  Pricing them out now, they’ve doubled the price, doubled the deductible to $100, and now you pay the $100 even if it wasn’t your fault.  I understand their reasoning (these phones are expensive and I’m sure they break) but they were nowhere near the cheapest, even with 30% off coupons that I regularly find.

So, that would have been an extra $18 per month.

By taking advantage of the work phone, I won’t be paying that extra amount, plus we’ll be able to drop a line from our family plan, which will save us an additional $22 ($20 plus taxes and such).  This will leave three lines on the plan and the total bill should come in around $200. We’ll end up paying a bit more on the single line (for my wife) that we have in our household, simply because it’s not fair to ask my in-laws to increase what they pay.  I have no problem with this. After all, we’re saving $22 per month and avoiding another $18 in new monthly charges.  That’s $40 per month in savings, or almost $500 per year.

Considering that my work hasn’t given out raises in three years, and still has indicated no sign of giving us a 401(k) match, any perk is worth taking.  If they want to pay for a new phone, who am I to argue?

As to the actual phone, we get a list of phones we can choose from.  They use the AT&T network which actually has 4G LTE service.  This is about ten times faster than 3G service, and 2-5 faster than regular 4G.  I narrowed it down to the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S3.  The Samsung phone is newer, faster, has a bigger screen, and runs on the LTE network,  so that won.  The iPhone 5, which was released yesterday, now runs on the LTE network, and is probably bigger and faster yet, but after talking to other employees, I found that they traditionally take about 4-6 months after a product is released before we can get it.

I didn’t want to wait that long because why not start saving now?  Plus, the way things work, who knows if they would have potentially changed their mind or closed the window on new sign-ups?

So, I decided to strike while the iron is hot.

Either way, this will be a huge upgrade over my Blackberry.

I got the authorization form on Tuesday and placed the order yesterday.  All just coincidence that it was on the same day as the iPhone 5 was released, though it will likely save my company some money since I heard that the Galaxy S3 (and the iPhone 4S) were lowered in price.

The biggest thing I’ll have to deal with is that I’d like to keep my current number, but don’t want to port it over to the work phone in the event that if I left someday, I would lose the ability to keep the number.  I’m likely going to port it out to Google Voice which can then forward all calls and text messages to my Samsung, making it transparent and allowing me to own the number.  At least that’s my understanding of how it works.  🙂

Anybody order their iPhone 5 yet? 

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Why I’ll Hold Off On A New Phone For Now

We have been customers of Sprint cell phone service for quite some time now.  My wife and I last renewed in August 2010 when we both got new Blackberries.

This was, of course, within days of the world deciding that they hated Blackberries and weren’t going to buy them anymore.  Everybody officially switched to either iPhone or Android based machines within days.

But, I digress.

Sprint’s program basically gives you their ‘best pricing’ on phones if you sign a two year agreement.  Two months shy of the end of your agreement, they once again offer you the best pricing they have, so that you’ll extend with them.   I guess they figure that those last couple of months are the time that you’ll use to start shopping around, so they entice you with a good deal and try to keep your wandering eyes off other carriers.

June 1st was the day that Sprint said I was eligible, so I looked around to see what the deals were.

What I noticed were:

  • They have definitely cut back on the deals – I’ve never gotten cutting edge phones, but I’ve always been able to snag a phone somewhere in the middle of the pack for relatively cheap.  After discounts and promotions and such, I’ve gotten the phones for free or paid around $50 at the high end.  The mid-range phones I see nowadays will likely cost $150.
  • It will increase my plan cost – Shortly around the time we renewed in 2010, Sprint started charging an extra $10 per month for 4G capable phones.  I guess they didn’t hear too much squawking, because they then switched this to $10 per month for all smartphones.  If you already had a smartphone prior to this, which we did with our Blackberries, you didn’t have to pay.  But, as soon as you activated any other smartphone, the $10/month per line kicked in.  This hit us when my wife’s Blackberry died last summer and we had to replace it.
  • I’m still warranty covered – My phone has never had any problems, so I’m still covered under my Squaretrade warranty until my actual two year agreement.  I believe if I were to get a new phone, I could get another Squaretrade and transfer my unused time to covering that phone, but the way I look at it, the two months I have left are bonus time….I could get $350 from the warranty plus the $150 discount from Sprint.
  • My work has offered to get me a smartphone.  They don’t do reimbursements, but they’ve recently offered to provide a phone.  Even though this would save money, I’m hesitant because I don’t know what security/monitoring I would be ‘agreeing’ to, plus I feel that this obligates you to be available 24×7.  Oh, and it’s on the AT&T network.  Which is pretty awful around here.
  • The unknown – Sprint’s 4G coverage is a joke, yet they are apparently upgrading it.  Still, the lack of upgrades is puzzling though they keep promising better days ahead.  I guess I’d like to see it before I believe it, as cell phone companies tend to oversell things and underdeliver on them down the road.

I guess long and short, I see myself as in a pretty good spot.  I could upgrade at any time, though right now I am fine with the Blackberry.  When my wife’s phone died, we actually used the Squaretrade money and bought an off-the-floor model from the Sprint store, which was a slightly higher price, but kept us from having to extend her contract, meaning that we have the flexibility to renew or switch carriers, or look for the best deal, pretty much at any point.

I’ve never been one to rush out and get the latest and greatest cell phone, pretty much because I can’t stand spending that kind of money on things that are designed to become obsolete way before the contract extends that you sign up for (I similarly dislike spending money on computers and such, but at least you’re not locked into a two year anything when buying a PC, laptop, or tablet).  So, for now, I’m in absolutely no hurry!

UPDATE: I ended up taking advantage of the offer from my employer to get a work provided cell phone, so I no longer have to deal with Sprint, though my wife is still stuck on the Sprint plan.

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