Monday, November 19, 2007

Shady Cingular Tactics

Sorry for my recent lack of posting—the promotion that wasn’t supposed to come with any added responsibilities sort of did come with some added responsibilities, and I’ve been swamped. I come bearing lessons learned from experience, however.

Related to my post on reading the fine print, another important responsibility in the world of personal finance is to carefully read your bills—especially if those bills are paid using an auto-pay feature from a credit card or bank account.

My cell phone bill has been exactly the same—to the penny—for about six months, ever since I got my Palm. For two years before that, it was also consistent, so I’ve had it on an auto-pay to my credit card for more than a year. I still check out the bill online sometime before the second of the month, when that auto-pay goes through, just out of paranoia. I’m glad I do--imagine my surprise when I clicked through the email yesterday to see that it is $20 higher than normal! I scrolled through the detailed billing to find that my plan has been changed from an unlimited data plan ($39.99) plus 200 text messages ($4.99) to an unlimited data plan that includes 1500 text messages (all for $39.99). This is great, right? It lowers my bill by $4.99 per month.

However, a) I did not authorize or know about this change, and b) I’d been charged a pro-rated amount of $18.66 for 10/29-11/11 for this feature—despite already having paid for unlimited data and 200 text messages for that period of time.

The way Cingular/AT&T works is that they bill you for the month coming up plus any incidental fees that accrue during the month (like text message charges if you don’t have a plan). This means that my previous bill had included a $39.99 unlimited data charge and $4.99 text messages charge for the period from 10/12 through 11/11, which was paid by auto-pay on 11/2. But since they included a pro-rated amount of the new $39.99 charge for inclusive text messaging/data from 10/29-11/11—I was being double billed! You can see how this works out in the image below (well, it's easier if you click on it to make it readable--clearly I am not all that educated on how Blogger works with images!).

I called them up yesterday and voiced my serious displeasure. For one thing, I’m concerned that they can change my plan without informing me, even if it results in a bill that’s $5 cheaper per month, and I’m especially concerned that they can attempt to double bill their customers—and I bet they’re getting away with it with many, many customers. The rep that I spoke with immediately credited me the pro-rated charge after I pointed out that I’d already paid for text messaging and unlimited data from 10/29 to 11/11, and I needed to either receive a pro-rated credit back for what I’d already paid if I was going to be charged a pro-rated amount of the new inclusive package, or the $18.66 needed to be taken off post-haste. She went one step better and credited me an even $20, and supposedly flagged my account so that no changes can be made without my express authorization (her only reasoning for how this could have happened is that perhaps the plans I was on are no longer available—but it still seems like Cingular ought to alert their customers that this is happening). And I find absolutely no excuse for the double-billing whatsoever. It’s blatantly obvious that I’d already paid for the period of 10/29 through 11/11—I guess the only reason they added a second charge for the exact same service is that they thought they could get away with it.

If you are a Cingular/AT&T customer—or really, have any regularly recurring bill that’s on auto-pay—read your bill carefully and before the auto-pay takes effect.


  1. it's not really a shady tactic. they expired the plan you were on and put you on the new plan to save you money. unfortunately the prorated credit didn't attach. every once in awhile it happens and usually the billing system catches it, but nothing is perfect. they were trying to help you out...

  2. I wish I could agree with that...but while that was the only reason the rep could come up with, it did NOT turn out that the plans were discontinued. And she was awfully quick to offer more than a full credit when I pointed out that I'd already paid for the time period in question--almost as if the script noted that if a customer caught that, they were to be given a credit automatically.

    If they were really trying to do me a favor, why wouldn't they wait until my billing cycle automatically rolled over?

    And it still doesn't explain why Cingular would change my plan without a word of explanation or heads-up to me. Until legal action was taken against cellular companies, even *I* couldn't change my plan without extending my contract; that they can do it without even notifying me seems awfully shady. Even Blockbuster sent me an email that my plan was no longer offered and I was being downgraded--and for that matter, before I got my Palm, my voice plan with Cingular had been discontinued some eight months before my contract ended, and I was kept on it for the entire contract period until I went in to get the Palm. It doesn't seem like this is their standard policy, at least not one that I've seen in the last five years I've had service with them. Things have definitely gotten worse from my point of view since the AT&T merger.


Thanks for commenting!