T-Mobile won’t obey the law

But they will hang up on you if you ask about it

WHAT DO YOU DO when a large company you are doing business with flatly refuses to obey the law? T-Mobile did that to us the other day, and now they have taken customer service to a low that is hard to put into words. Yes Virginia, it can get worse.

Let me recap a bit for those that don’t want to re-read the last chapter. On Sunday, August 9, 2009, my house was broken into, and my fiancée’s purse was stolen. When we woke up hours later and realized it was gone, we started calling companies to report the losses. The time from the break-in to reporting the thefts was less than eight hours, but that was more than enough to run up multi-hour calls to Mexico and Honduras and put charges on the credit cards.

Everyone who we reported it to was helpful, pleasant and gave us good advice, except T-Mobile. It stuck us with the charges, and later on literally said they would not abide by the law in Minnesota, the state where I live. T-Mobile customer service would not look up the law online to verify that they were in the wrong, and would not obey it until they were specifically instructed to do so by T-Mobile’s legal department.

While that is quite amazing, it gets much worse from there. How much worse? That is the subject of this article, but first, lets look at the law itself, Minnesota S.F.298. It states, “Section 1. [325F.696] LIABILITY FOR UNAUTHORIZED USE OF CELLULAR PHONES. Subdivision 1. Liability limited. A customer is not liable for cellular phone charges imposed by a wireless service provider that result from the unauthorized use of the customer’s cellular phone. There is a rebuttable presumption that any use of a cellular phone after the wireless service provider has been notified that the phone is lost or stolen is unauthorized, provided that the customer agreed to suspend use of the wireless device. Subd. 2. Unauthorized use defined. For purposes of subdivision 1, ‘unauthorized use’ means use by a person other than the customer who does not have actual, implied, or apparent authority for the use.”

T-Mobile representatives state that the law only covers the calls made after the phone is reported stolen, but no layman I talked to read it that way, nor did I. To clear things up, I consulted not one but 2.25 lawyers. The 2.25 are my lawyer who counts for one, my friend who was a lawyer, but no longer practices so she counts for .5, and my fiancée’s boss who is a lawyer but only admitted in New York. Since he is technically not able to comment on Minnesota law, he only counts for .75.

If you couldn’t guess where this is going, they all agreed with my reading and my understanding. Subdivision 2 is pretty clear, if you don’t give the caller authorization, they are unauthorized. Subdivision 1 sentence 1 is also pretty clear, if the calls are unauthorized, the customer is not liable. So far, so good.

All 2.25 lawyers consulted say that Subdivision 1, sentence 2 says that if you notify the cellular company, all subsequent calls are considered unauthorized, but you must suspend the phone. The part about rebuttable presumption is there for your protection, it means that the unauthorized part is assumed, but the phone companies can challenge the fact that the calls are unauthorized.

This is so that events like a teenager who racks up a huge bill to his or her out of state significant other can’t simply claim the phone was lost and get out of the bill. There is nothing in the law that states that only the calls made after the reporting of theft or loss are covered, it is a blanket statement about unauthorized calls.

In our case, with years of T-Mobile history, we have never made a call to Mexico, nor do either of us speak Spanish. In fact, we were supposedly on the phone to Mexico when we were reporting the missing phone, I was talking directly, and my fiancée was in the background occasionally passing information to the T-Mobile operator.

So, the first problem begins on the 12th when a person called me from office of the president of T-Mobile asking what they could do to help. The call only came after I wrote the first story, and was both helpful and worrisome at the same time. Previously, I had three T-Mobile people tell me that they had no intention of following the law, and got nowhere by explaining the situation to them. Even managers flatly refused to obey the law. It appeared to take an article that embarrassed T-Mobile to even get their attention.

I say appeared because it didn’t get me anywhere. The T-Mobile representative and I chatted on the morning of the 13th, the first time we both had free time. Justin, the representative, asked me what I needed. I had one request, that the company literally obeys the law that governs their behavior. He told me that the company was wrong to charge me for the call, singular, that was billed after I reported the phone stolen, but the ones before were still mine to pay, no exceptions. This is clearly contrary to the Minnesota law above that went into effect on August 1, 2009.

Then he repeated the company line, they didn’t have to obey the law, and furthermore it did not say what it clearly does, it only applies to calls made after the phone is deactivated. 2.25 lawyers disagreed, T-Mobile still won’t waive the charges or listen to reason. In a gesture of helpfulness, Justin wouldn’t tell me why they won’t obey the law, but said he would have a paralegal from T-Mobile’s legal department write me with their interpretation of it. As of this morning, no such explanation has arrived.

End result, T-Mobile won’t obey the law. Justin did make an offer that we wanted to accept, despite some trepidation and their refusal to obey Minnesota law. The offer, as I understood it was to remove the charges for the one call that happened during and after the phone was reported stolen as well as to terminating our contracts with no penalty charges. This was somewhat acceptable to us but we were worried about T-mobile attempting to place a gag order on SemiAccurate and that concern brought us to discuss this with my fiancé’s boss, the .75 attorney. He offered to listen in and attempt to help us get the offer in writing so we would fully know what we were agreeing to.

I told Justin I would call him back when I had talked to my fiancée, and on Friday August 14th, I did. We called and left a message shortly after noon and were not called back. On Monday, we called again, and discovered that Justin went on vacation, and there was no other contact to call for help.

Annoying, especially because the case was open, and my fiancée had been without a phone for more than a week, We now had no hope of resolution in the near future unless we found another contact. So, it was off to T-Mobile’s main customer support line, oxymoron I know, for another contact at the same office.

The nice people at customer support told me that there is no way to contact the office of the president, and they could not transfer me. Luckily, this page is a good starting point, call 1-877-290-6323 and use extension 341-80xx where xx is any two digit number, start low. Better yet, call their main switchboard at 425-378-4000 and ask for the office of the president. That is where I began.

The first time, I was told that Justin had my case, and he was the only one who could help me, I would just have to wait for him to get back and call me. My fiancée would just have to put her life on hold until T-Mobile decides to call sometime, if ever.

That wasn’t an option, so I asked to talk to someone at the same office in the hopes of getting this mess resolved quickly. I was forwarded to one of Justin’s counterparts named Theresa, and I asked her to wait a second while I got my fiancée and her boss to come into the conference room I was in. He is a much better negotiator, and detached from the miserable behavior of T-Mobile, basically a clear head in the midst of large servings of stupidity.

Theresa was getting more and more agitated on the phone when I told her there would be others on the line. She ordered me not to put her on speaker phone with the others. Generally, only criminals don’t like witnesses, and she was there to help sort things out, right? My fiancée has the right to hear what she is agreeing to as both of us are on a joint account.

That is when Theresa said she refused to talk to us on speaker, and would only talk to me. When I put her on speaker phone with Howard, my fiancée and myself, Theresa hung up on us.

No, really. She hung up on us.

Undaunted, I called back, and this time I got a different switchboard operator, and had to explain the situation all over again. I forgot Theresa’s name, and he helpfully found out who I had talked to, and got me back to her extension.

When Theresa answered, I explained that I really would like to have Howard on the phone with me because he was a good negotiator, and a lawyer, but not my lawyer. If you have ever hung around lawyers, you will not be surprised when they identify themselves as such, and state their intentions. In this case, Howard, my fiancée’s boss, asked me to identify him as a lawyer so as to not run afoul of any ethics laws, nothing more. I did so.

That is when Theresa said that she could no longer talk to me. From now on, we could only talk to T-Mobile’s legal department. In writing. By mail. Then she hung up on me again.

No, really, she hung up on me a second time. It wasn’t my breath that time, I was sure of that.

Not wanting to play mail tag instead of phone tag, and to stretch my fiancée’s communication blackout from weeks to months, I called back. When I called 425-378-4000 and identified myself, I asked for someone in the same office, the way I did the time before, and was told that the only person I could talk to was Theresa. I told the operator that since she refused to talk to me the last time, and then hung up on me, twice. A different customer ‘service’ person would probably be a good idea for both sides.

The operator again told me that Theresa was the only person I could talk to, and then promptly hung up on me. *BLINK*. Really, he just hung up on me. A second T-Mobile person hung up on me in less than 10 minutes.

So, not wanting to wait anxiously for the postman to come by in a week or seven, I called 425-378-4000 again. The conversation went like this. Ring, ring, ring, clicking (when a phone is picked up), click (when a phone is hung up). I guess they have caller ID at the T-Mobile switchboard, this time they didn’t even say hello before they hung up on me. I’m not kidding, they hung up on me *four* times in a row.

Figuring I wouldn’t get anywhere from my phone at this point, caller ID can be a bitch at times, I called from the office phone. I was amazed when they answered and didn’t immediately hang up. Imagine that.

The operator was the same as the last three times I called, the first time was a woman, the last three were the same man. I identified myself, and asked to be transferred to someone who could help. Luckily, the man didn’t hang up this time, but he did say, “You have to stop calling”. Readers, please note, if you call T-Mobile for service more than four times, that appears to be too much for them, even if they hung up on you the last four times.

I was told that Theresa was the only person on earth who could possibly help me, and since she had caller ID too, I figured it would be a cold day in hell before she answered the phone when I called. I was then amazingly not hung up on, and transferred to her office. No answer, imagine that, but she was there 3 minutes ago. I left her a voice mail with my name, number, and asked to be called back.

While it was near the end of the day local (CST) time, there was very likely still some time left on the T-Mobile work day. The office of the president is in Washington, 2 hours behind CST. I wasn’t very surprised when Theresa did not call me back, she said she wouldn’t talk to me again just before she hung up on me, and it appears at least one T-Mobile representative is keeping their word. As of this writing, near the end of the next work day, T-Mobile has not contacted me in any way.

If this sounds like I am making things up, here is my phone record for the day in question.


From the T-Mobile web site

The 611 numbers are my calling ‘customer care’, and 1-877-290-6323 somehow was transformed into 888-531-6664, but it when I called it definitely was the -6323 number. You can see the next four, the one minute calls are the ‘hello, click’ ones. The last call was made from a land line, so no itemized receipt there.

So here we stand. T-Mobile still literally refuses to obey the law. What can you say to that? They just disagree with it, so they don’t follow it. If you have a big enough voice, they will send someone to try and shut you up, nicely, so others don’t get wind of the story. If you have no voice, the ‘customer service’ personnel will literally deny the law, and not help you at all.

What does a customer do at this point? Take it to a higher authority at the company? Again, customer care will not transfer you to them, will not give out their number, and won’t acknowledge their existence unless you know about the office of the president and specifically ask about it. It won’t get you anywhere, but at that point they will acknowledge it exists.

At T-Mobile, there is also no way to prove your phone was stolen. You can’t email or fax them a police report, and there is no way to fill any form out. That is okay, mainly because the company steadfastly refuses to obey the law that protects consumers in the event of a stolen phone, so proving that it was stolen is pointless circular logic to it.

This is surprising considering the laws that govern banks and credit cards. Those businesses respond to similar laws that restrict the liability of the customer with prompt reporting of a lost or stolen credit or ATM card. Most banks have a department for fraud protection, and a process with forms for you, their customer, to fill out to assist in the process. Reversing charges, replacing cards, and otherwise taking care of a fairly traumatized customer in the case of a burglary is sadly somewhat routine.

These are pretty standard affidavits and a very standard process yet T-mobile doesn’t seem to even recognize the need or usefulness of such a basic procedure to collect information and reverse unauthorized charges. Then again, why bother if it ignores the laws that govern the process in the first place.

I am not sure what to call this level of ‘customer service’. Illegal seems like it doesn’t apply, unethical is far too mild, so there seems to be no word that is directly applicable. T-Mobile has seemingly put a system in place to systematically defraud consumers. It is charging consumers for things that are clearly against the law to bill over, at least in Minnesota.

If the customer is not aware of their rights, they pay fees that T-Mobile is not allowed to charge them. If the customer is aware, they literally get denial, then a run-around, finally capped with getting hung up on.

What can you say at this point? If you read them the law, they deny it. If you insist on talking to someone with power, they hang up on you. I guess I finally understand why T-mobile has a 2.5% churn rate. After the way they’ve treated me, I am only surprised it isn’t higher.S|A

The following two tabs change content below.

Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate