How to Get Fair Treatment from Your Phone Company

FairShake has seen tens of thousands of complaints against the big cell phone companies.

Here’s what you should know…


How They Get You

It can feel like the big phone companies have an endless number of tricks up their sleeves to try to squeeze more money out of unwitting customers.

Among the tens of thousands of telecom complaints submitted to FairShake’s team, we are always seeing new things. But we also see a few of the same issues come up again and again. 

You can almost think of these as the “classic hits” of greedy phone company behavior. We see some of these complaints against the “Big 3” phone companies (AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon), their prepaid brands (like Metro and Cricket), and smaller players (like US Cellular, DISH Wireless, Xfinity Mobile, and Optimum Mobile).

Sketchy Sales Tactics 

Dozens of orange phones arranged ominously. Credit: Stable Diffusion

Many consumers get talked into phone contracts that don’t actually promise them what a sales representative promises up and down that they do. This happens in-store and over the phone, but misrepresenting offers can be especially common in door-to-door sales situations:

Just because it is legal to go door-to-door and offer products and services or discounts from big companies doesn’t mean that scams don’t happen or that these deals can turn out to be misleading.

One common scam is for representatives to come to your house and offer special terms if you sign up with them only to find out after the fact that the terms don’t apply to you and you get charged a lot more than you expected.

Sometimes an in-person conversation doesn’t even start out as a sales situation — we’ve heard of repair technicians for internet end up talking people into new mobile phone plans with these sorts of tactics.

In terms of what sales reps lie about, deceptive promotions for switching carriers seem to be especially common. These promotions often have terms and conditions attached that are meant to exclude you from taking advantage of them, but by the time you’ve signed up and figured that out, the deceptive sales rep may be on to their next victim.

Of course, it’s not just individual employees who can mislead you. False advertising laws cover a whole range of tactics that companies can use to mislead you:

The Federal Trade Commission Act, which established the FTC in 1914, also includes a section that has become known as “truth in advertising” rules. These rules give the FTC jurisdiction to respond to complaints about false advertising from individuals or businesses. 

If you’ve been promised something by a company or its representative as part of the sign up process, you have a right to what you were promised. And if they try to take back that promise, you can take action 

Fees on fees on fees

Five hundred dollar bills being held out in a fan starting to catch fire from the top. The fan blocks the face of the woman holding the billsBeyond withholding sign-on bonuses, there are plenty of other ways that we see phone companies pump up customers’ bills. Here are a couple common issues:

They charge you surprise early termination fees

Companies are known for engaging in the unscrupulous practice of assigning “renewal events” to accounts that the customers often don’t know about or agree to. In other words, they look for ways to sneakily renew your contract so you’re locked into a new, long-term agreement with an early termination fee.

The phone company claims they never received equipment that you returned

Similar to the fee for unreturned equipment, you might face a fee because your equipment was purportedly lost. Big companies tend to conveniently lose equipment in the mail even if you follow all of their steps and send everything back the right way. When this happens, they charge your account and you’re on the hook for a few hundred dollars at least. This can be very frustrating for customers who did everything the right way.

Leaving you vulnerable

Hand holding a mobile phone that's displaying a lock icon against a black background

Some of the most frustrating and costly impacts we see of phone company failures is when they expose customers to be exploited by other bad actors, even when the company can and should have known better. 

You may already know that data breaches by companies like T-Mobile have impacted tens of millions of consumers.

Another frequent, and especially costly, claim we see is SIM Swap Fraud:

SIM swap attacks are a type of account takeover scam which occurs when a thief impersonates you to your mobile carrier in an attempt to convince them to port your number to a SIM card in the thief’s possession. 

Thieves target SIM cards because gaining access to one’s texts may allow them to access your social media, banking, and cryptocurrency accounts. Having a stranger gain unauthorized access to these accounts has the potential to cause damage in a variety of ways.



How to Get a Fair Shake

If you read your contract or agreement with a phone provider it probably includes an arbitration clause:

Arbitration is a way to resolve a dispute with a company without the formality and expense of having to go to court. It allows you to have your dispute decided by a neutral third party, rather than the company.

Whether or not your contract includes this clause, you always have the option to take disputes below a certain size to small claims court:

Suing in Small Claims Court requires some legwork. You often have to go to the courthouse at least twice — once to file your claim, and once for the hearing. And nearly all court hearings are held during working hours.

You can read the full steps of taking a case to small claims court here.

It can be hard to know what to do next, and the more money you’ve lost, the bigger the question can seem.

If you share your claim with FairShake, we have relationships with attorneys who may be able to review and take on your case. And typically these attorneys only charge if your case is successful and you win money.

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