Up the Creek w/o a T-Mobile Brand Paddle
June 26, 2005 1:32 PM   Subscribe

A very good friend of mine had her cellular telephone stolen the other day, and by the time she noticed this and reported the theft to T-Mobile, the thief had made many hundreds of dollars worth of calls to a foreign nation. After many calls back and forth, T-Mobile says they are doing her a great favor by waiving 25% of the costs but she is responsible for the rest. Is this right? Why would they treat a supposedly valued customer of several years this way? The T-Mobile reps tell her there is no appeal process or ombudsman; does anyone know if this is really true?
posted by luriete to Work & Money (23 answers total)
The T-Mobile reps tell her there is no appeal process or ombudsman; does anyone know if this is really true?

There is *ALWAYS* an appeal process. It's just not "nice", for either side. Small claims court.

IMHO, You'd be surprised just how much more of that bill you can squeeze out of T-Mobile with a well thought out lawsuit.

This doesn't mean you'll win, though... I think there's a good chance in this case you'll lose since it was YOUR phone and YOUR responsibility to keep it out of the hands of strangers. But it is about the maximum intimidation you can put on a company no matter what size.

T-Mobile won't believe you until they receive the papers, though, so be prepared to waste a few phone calls (make transcripts of them all for the court, the more paper you can send them the better).

Personally, I'd go about trying to track down the culprit instead in this case. It could be tough, though. I can't even think of where to start except for trying to extract the info from the people he called.

I'd say that you could get T-Mobile down to 50% of the costs since I would believe the 25% they're giving you is, in fact, just their charges for the calls.
posted by shepd at 1:42 PM on June 26, 2005

Yes, it's shocking but phone companies don't treat you like banks, which don't make you pay for charges on stolen cards. All cell phone contracts have a clause saying you are responsible for all calls made on your phone until you call the company to report it stolen. I know of several people who got horribly screwed this way. Always keep the number of your cellphone company handy and even if you think a lost phone was just misplaced, report it stolen as soon as you can't find it. If you find it later, no biggie. But if someone else has it, you could be liable for huge bills.
posted by CunningLinguist at 1:57 PM on June 26, 2005

I've been generally thrilled with T-Mobile's service for a couple of years, after nightmare experiences with AT&T and Sprint. So I'm surprised to hear this, and wonder whether it's uniform across the industry, in which case your anger might be misplaced. Depending on your state, the cell phone business will be regulated differently and by different agencies. I'd find out which agency it is there, and check with them. I can't believe there isn't regulation on this.

It would make an interesting little insurance business, however, if the companies don't already offer some kind of theft coverage. I've never been pitched it, and I look forward to hearing more about this and to finding out myself what the company's policy is.
posted by realcountrymusic at 1:58 PM on June 26, 2005

It is uniform. I researched this a few months ago and found all the major companies have this (hidden) clause.

Here's what an advocacy group has to say about protecting yourself.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:04 PM on June 26, 2005

Your friend may be able to get a bit farther if she's willing to be mean. Threatening a lawsuit (calmly - if she gets loud they will likely take her less seriously) may be enough. If the person she is talking to isn't helping, she should ask to talk to their supervisor. Threatening to take her business elsewhere might also be a good tactic.

Ultimately, the law seems to favor the cell phone company, since her contract explicitly states her responsibility. But if they value her as a customer, they will likely do something to keep her.
posted by mai at 2:25 PM on June 26, 2005

Not to defend the big bad cell phone companies or anything, but one of the reasons that they're quite inflexible on this point is that they are irrevocably out the foreign connection fees themselves. Unlike credit card fraud, where the banks simply pass on the pain, the various African and Asian countries who impose the fees (which are 80%-99% taxes collected by the local governments) won't allow them to be charged back.

Without inflexible policies like this, phone companies simply couldn't ever provide international calling plans that weren't 100% pre-paid or backed up with a credit/debit card which could be verified and charged in real time.
posted by MattD at 2:27 PM on June 26, 2005

The T-Mobile reps tell her there is no appeal process or ombudsman; does anyone know if this is really true?

She'll have to look it up in her own contract but the terms on TMO's web site say that claims of more than $25 may be submitted to binding arbitration if you pay a $25 fee. Alternatively you can go to small claims court if it is allowed by the law.

Also she should check whether similar language to this is in her contract and act accordingly:

Lost or Stolen Phone. If your Phone is lost or stolen (“Lost Phone”) you will not be liable for unauthorized airtime charges incurred on the Lost Phone if you: (a) notify us immediately; (b) ask us to deactivate the Lost Phone; and (c) provide within 14 days any documentation we request, including a police report. You must fulfill the remainder of your Term by activating a replacement Phone (which may be full price) or the cancellation fee will apply.
posted by grouse at 2:49 PM on June 26, 2005

Yeah, this is a pretty standard clause. Your friend may be able to claim the losses back via their phone insurance policy, though: a colleague of mine managed this last year but it was quite a fight.
posted by blag at 2:58 PM on June 26, 2005

Also, if you you have no need to make international calls call your carrier and have them block that capability. A lot of these stolen phones, especially in major cities, are used by people who sell the use of them to make international calls.
posted by AstroGuy at 3:15 PM on June 26, 2005

Her best bet is to hunt out the guy who did it.

In all honesty, it's very reasonable for T-mobile to cover any of the cost. Please don't sue them, don't yell at them and don't threaten them. There are actual people on the other end.

It sucks, but your friend has no one but herself to blame. Taking it out on the people at T-mobile isn't fair, especially after they've already offered to go beyond your agreement and cut 25% of the cost for you. Many service providers wouldn't.

She could maybe try making an insurance claim of some kind, but I'd expect it would be uphill work.

Another thought: under what circumstances was it stolen? She might be able to hold the place where it was stolen responsible for the theft, depending on the circumstances. Again, please don't be mean. If the fault is really hers, don't try to extract claims from some honest place, but if she was actually a victim of lax security, she might want to consider making a claim.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 3:41 PM on June 26, 2005

If a credit card was used to purchase the phone, (or if the phone was free with activation of an account billed to a credit card, I'd imagine...) one option might be going to the cc company and seeing what they can do. Sometimes cc companies protect users against the loss of items bought with them.
posted by pwb503 at 4:04 PM on June 26, 2005

T-Mobile will block International Long Distance calls for no fee; it's something you can turn on online or by calling them. So, I'm guessing... if you haven't blocked them... they charge you.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:38 PM on June 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

When I worked at a Nextel call center about half of the calls I took involved someone saying, "I didn't make these calls so you can't charge me for them." To which the only response I could give was, "As a courtsey I will credit (some amount under $100) to your account but it is your responsibility to report your phone as stolen as soon as possible because you are responsible for ALL calls made with it."

I recommend NOT asking for a supervisor. I of course can't speak for T-Mobile call centers but where I worked a 'supervisor' was usually someone who just started and so didn't have a computer/phone to sit at so instead they wandered around waiting for someone to need a 'supervisor'. If whoever you talk to is rude or unwilling to help then just hang-up and call back. The person sitting in the next cube over might be both nice and smart enough to help you out. Good luck, I hope you find a way to get the charges dropped.

Also, what ThePinkSuperhero said.
posted by J-Garr at 4:53 PM on June 26, 2005

T-Mobile: Get (screwed) more.
posted by clevershark at 6:32 PM on June 26, 2005

T-Mobile: Get (screwed) more.

Normally, I'm not a defender of big businesses, but since the consensus here is that every provider has the same policy, and the OP reports that T-Mobile is actually *waiving* that policy to refund some of the stolen calls, I don't think that's fair. I have had *extraordinary* customer service experiences with T-Mobile for the last 2 years. I get a real human being who is polite, knowledgeable, and authorized to actually solve my (sometimes complex) problems every time I cal, within 2 minutes. The few times I've called to report some minor annoyance (dropped call, late-arriving replacement phone) they have just given me batches of extra minutes as compensation. They give me a new (and decent) phone every year when I re-up, and in between even if I lose or break a phone and am willing to re-up early. they just added 200 minutes to my already competitive plan *for no reason at all.* And the people I deal with on the phone are usually incredibly nice. In my opinion, as a former AT&T and Sprint refugee (how I hated them both) you DO get more from T-Mobile. How strange, but true.
posted by realcountrymusic at 6:44 PM on June 26, 2005

I also am a T-Mobile fan. One time I switched my credit card billing because I was getting close to my limit. They billed the old one anyway and the bank socked me with an overlimit fee. T-Mobile refunded the over-limit fee which was nearly equivalent to a free month of service. Much better than Sprint, who tried to abscond with $100 of a $120 deposit after I canceled.
posted by kindall at 8:51 PM on June 26, 2005

Your friend should contact your state Public Utilities Commission (your profile says you're in California, so that's the site I've linked here). Your State PUC should be the state agency that regulates all telecommunications service in your State, and PUCs exist basically as a watchdog over Utilitiy companies. If anyone can help, they can.

Also, she should contact her homeowners or renters insurance.
posted by anastasiav at 9:21 PM on June 26, 2005

Count Z: It sucks, but your friend has no one but herself to blame.

Christ, what are you, some kind of criminal apologist asshole? Based on the rest of your post, I'd guess not, but you might want to make sure you mean what you say.

She does not have herself to blame. She has a thief to blame. She is a victim of a crime. She may be contractually responsible for the charges, but that doesn't make her morally responsible for them, and it doesn't make the situation her fault.

If I leave all of my windows and doors unlocked and open, and I leave a pile of $100s on a table clearly visible from outside and then someone walks in and steals it: I am not to blame. The thief is. I may be stupid. But the one who commits the crime is the one responsible. Always remember that.
posted by jaded at 4:28 AM on June 27, 2005

Jaded, I do think a crime victim is responsible for *reporting* the crime promptly, especially since that is what s/he agreed to do when signing the cell service contract. Perhaps that is what CountZ meant. And there is "responsibility" under the law for creating an invitation to a criminal act that ends up harming others, though in your example it's only your money that is stolen. If you left a loaded gun on that table by an open window, and it was stolen and used in a shooting, you would bear "responsibility" for creating an attractive nuisance. So it's not as clear cut as you make it sound.

Why should a company give away its product (cell calls) to thieves because a subscriber failed to report the phone stolen promptly? It *is* debatable. The subscriber had his/her phone stolen; it was no fault of the company's.

Personal responsibility and all that.
posted by realcountrymusic at 4:46 AM on June 27, 2005

Similar thing happened to me.

I paid about $50 of the charges, Cingular waived the rest. It took some fussing and speaking to a number of different people. There is a difference between their stated policy and what they can provide on a case-by-case basis.
posted by desuetude at 6:07 AM on June 27, 2005

When I had T-Mobile, I was very happy with their customer service. Their coverage sucked, which is why I switched, but their customer service was good.

You can also file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. A lot of times, this gets the attention of people you normally would not get attention from. I did this with Sprint a year and a half ago about a misrepresentation in my handset, and they let me out of my contract a year and a half early, and waived a month of fees, just to keep the BBB complaint from showing up.
posted by benjh at 6:51 AM on June 27, 2005

I have learned that a "valued customer of several years" means pretty much nothing to most mobile carriers...
posted by raster at 10:37 AM on June 27, 2005

My daughter's cell phone was stolen by a classmate recently. He racked up $1700 in phone bills before we discovered it was missing. The police arrested him and he confessed to the theft of the phone and the unauthorized phone calls (to girls he met in chat rooms!) yet T•Mobile insists on collecting the money from us, rather than going after him and his family. This scenario is different from the one posted here by luriete, since we've given T•Mobile the name and address of the culprit, along with a copy of the police report. Any ideas about how we should proceed?
posted by unclejeffy at 6:24 AM on October 30, 2005

« Older help me stop my XP folders from opening in new...   |   How do I clean Tevas? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.