July 15, 2010

Cell Phones, Love ‘Em or Hate “Em

7/15/10 |
Karen Saley, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

According to the Better Business Bureau the cell phone industry was the most complained about industry in 2008 and 2009. Complaints included, but were not limited to, poor customer service, equipment malfunctions, unreliable service, and billing errors. Last year alone there were more than 37,000 complaints.

One complaint that I have heard from just about everyone I know who has a cell phone is the inability to get out of their contract. They have either wanted to upgrade, downgrade, or just get out of the contract all together only to find that they will be charged extravagant fees to do so. Cancelling your contract can cost anywhere from $150.00 to $250.00, and if you have several phones on the same plan that fee applies to each phone!

And as if being ripped off by your cell phone service provider wasn’t bad enough, for those unfortunate people that purchased their phone or plan through an “authorized retailer” things are even worse. Unbeknownst to most folks the authorized retailer is an independent company selling products and services for telephone companies. That means that they need their slice of the pie as well. Purchasing services from one of these dealers usually means signing an additional contract which could include additional fees for setup and service and hidden fees like a penalty for changing to a less expensive plan.

If you are one of the many cell phone users that is frustrated with your plan and would like to terminate your contract there are a couple of things you can do. One is to get someone to take over your contract. The cell phone companies don’t really care who pays the contract as long as it is paid. Given that, there are a number of websites that have sprung up to help people swap their contracts. Generally how they work is you post your contract information on the website where other people looking for a cell phone plan can assume your plan.

You may be asking why anyone would want your contract especially if you are unhappy with it. Well, there are several reasons. You may not be happy with your plan because it does not cover areas that you use a lot. There is someone out there that lives in the areas your plan covers. Some people would like a short term contract to see if they like the company and service they provide. If you only have a few months left on your contract it may be perfect for that person. Also the lucky person that assumes your contract will have the advantage of not having to pay the activation or setup fee.

The other way to possibly break your contract with the cell phone company is to review your monthly statements. Hidden in all that fine print may be a sentence or two that alters the original contract by changing some of the terms and conditions. Changing things like rates, charges, and how charges are calculated are referred to as “materially adverse” changes. If a company makes these types of changes you are entitled to break your contract without a penalty fee. There is a catch, of course. You must contact the company usually within 30 days of the change in order to break your contract. Some companies may only give you 14 days to respond. If you don’t meet the deadline it is assumed that you accept the changes.

Now, please understand that even though you are legally entitled to seek this course of action, your cell phone service provider does not want you to terminate your contract. The most effective way to proceed with this remedy is to speak with a supervisor, have documentation of the change handy, and use the term “materially adverse” in your request to end your contract. If you do succeed in your endeavor to terminate your contract be aware that your provider may cancel your phone service on the spot and there is a good chance you will lose your current cell phone number as well.

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