If I Had Known, I Never Would Have Roamed…

Since 2011 cell phone plans have evolved. Most phone plans include data and most have few or no roaming charges inside the United States. Make sure to pick a data plan that fits your needs and set up alerts for when you’ve used a percentage of your plan. International usage can still incur charges. Talk to your cell phone company about the international travel plans they offer. These plans are made for people who are traveling abroad. These plans can be very specific or broad from a plan that will cover your whole cruise ship journey to one that only works in Mexico.

This summer, Michael K., a very worried T-Mobile customer and new TURN member, contacted TURN. He had been billed almost $11,000 dollars in roaming charges, an astounding amount, although we’ve seen bills even higher, as much as $27,000.

Michael had purchased service from T-Mobile for a “data card,” also known as an “air card” or “PC card.” These devices are available from many carriers, and they enable you to wirelessly access the Internet through your cell phone.

Michael was sure he had taken every precaution and read all the fine print before signing the contract. He needed to use the service during a trip abroad and was unaware of the risk of incurring thousands of dollars of roaming charges. As Michael told me, had he known these charges were possible, he never would have chosen this service!

Michael knew he wanted to fight back, but he did not know how. This is where TURN came in. My first suggestion was to contact the CEO’s office, since Michael’s letters to other departments had gotten him no response. His letter to the CEO’s office did prompt a reply from T-Mobile. They offered to remove only half the charges, leaving Michael with a balance of over $5,000.

Michael felt this was not a satisfactory result. Although we were both very concerned about protecting Michael’s credit, he decided to submit complaints to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with appropriate documentation.

Consumers have rights when we file a complaint. While a complaint is under investigation, we cannot be charged late fees, nor can we be sent to collections. We must still pay the undisputed portions of our bills, which Michael had done right away.

Things seemed dire when T-Mobile violated the rules and sent Michael’s account to collections. At this point, we had to step up our efforts. I spoke with a regulatory manager at T-Mobile, and Michael continued to contact the CPUC and the FCC, which began investigating Michael’s complaint.

Eventually, almost five months after Michael first received that enormous bill, T-Mobile backed down, the charges were reversed and his account was removed from collections.

How did Michael win his fight against this large international corporation?

  • Persistence. Michael contacted the company, the CPUC and the FCC weekly, rather than allowing his complaint to languish.
  • Documentation. Michael saved copies of all his bills, his contract, and his correspondence to and from T-Mobile.
  • Fighting back. Michael contacted TURN after two months of getting nowhere with his case on his own. With TURN’s assistance and support, he realized he had the right to dispute undisclosed charges, and that protections are in place to ease the burden on consumers during the long complaint process.

TURNites, please remember that you can challenge disputed or unfair bills. With knowledge of their rights, consumers can fight back and win. It happens every day!

Consumer “FIGHT BACK” Tip
To help organize the facts of his case, Michael kept a log of the events. The log is nothing too detailed, just dates, names and facts. When it came time to write his complaint, the log helped him to write up the facts of his case concisely. As someone who spends a lot of time reading complaints, I cannot stress enough the importance of a well-written complaint!