Never mind, AT&T!

By | October 19th, 2016

Maria Haar had a solid case.

She alleges an AT&T store representative in Rochester, New York, misrepresented a buy-one-get-one-free offer, enticing her entire family to switch carriers. Later, the cellular provider changed the deal, effectively raising her monthly bill.

Haar wanted AT&T to honor the offer — and I wanted to help.

Just one problem: Haar had no written evidence that AT&T had offered her what she believes it did.

Let’s rewind a little. The offer her representative referred to would have probably looked a little like this one. In fact, the representative could have been forgiven for thinking the offer was for new and existing customers, because numerous AT&T offers on its site say exactly that.

But that was wrong.

Haar explains,

The representative asked us how many lines we had and we told her four. She then explained that we were eligible for a Buy One, Get One Free offer on the iPhone 6S Plus.

Since we have four phone lines, we opted for this deal and understood, based on the calculations that the representative did, that our monthly bill would be around $215 per month, which also included 3 GB of data, 1 more GB than we currently have.

Not so.

“Today, I was contacted by the representative and was told that we are not eligible for this offer because it applied only to new lines,” she says. “We never would’ve bought four phones otherwise as this amounts to about $30 per phone per month for 30 months.”


Haar considers this a bait-and-switch. AT&T, meanwhile, is holding firm to its revised offer. Haar can either take it or leave it. If she returns the phones, AT&T generously offered to waive its restocking fee.

Related story:   Leave your wireless carrier now. Here's why.

“At this point, this makes no sense as we’ve already switched everything over,” she says. “I want the two phones we were promised for free, and now being told we have to pay for.”

Small correction: The phones are not “free” — they are included in the price of your purchase. If AT&T were giving away free phones, we’d be having a different discussion. (And we’d be filing it under the #TANSTAAFL keyword.)

I asked Haar to send me her paper trail.

“Everything was done in person at the store,” she told me.

In other words, there’s nothing in writing.

Haar spoke with a district manager who offered her a $100 credit “for their error,” she says.

“This is not acceptable so we are returning the phones without penalty and taking our business elsewhere,” she says. “Just a warning to other consumers that if AT&T promises a deal then make sure the salesperson understands the terms correctly because in our case she did not.”

OK, thanks for the warning. But beyond that, is there anything we can learn from this? Absolutely.

When someone offers you a deal like this, get the terms in writing, review them and understand them before you agree to it. In this case, Haar relied on the word of a representative who apparently misunderstood the offer.

If Haar had a paper trail, our advocacy team might have been able to take this to AT&T for a more favorable resolution.

Talk is cheap, my friends. Unless you’re dealing with AT&T.

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  • Chris_In_NC

    Come on AT&T. This is so typical and so wrong. Honor the offer. If you acknowledge that a mistake was made, it was through no fault of the consumer. It’s not like the consumer was pulling a fast one. The salesperson sold the plan. I hope it was an honest mistake on the salespersons part and not because they were pressured to meet some unrealistic metric. *Cough* wells Fargo.

    Having said that, I have found that in the cell phone sales business salespeople are frequently misinformed or downright dishonest. Unfortunately you’ll find the same problems with other carriers

  • sirwired

    I remain a big fan of Pre-Paid. You buy your phone, you buy your plan, and if you get treated wrong, you just port your number over to somebody else the next month.

    There’s a wide range of plans and providers, and just about anyone can find one suitable for them. Family plans, international roaming, coverage on this-or-that network, emergency-only phones, heavy data users, heavy Talk&Text users, “Grandma Phones”, whatever.

    Personally, I’m on Google Fi. Coverage on Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular (the phone can switch between them), automatic use of WiFi calling if cell reception is poor, $20/mo T&T, $0.01/MB data, no additional charge for international data. It’s good for light data users, or international data users. If I was a heavy data user, there are better plans…

  • FQTVLR

    I am surprised she had nothing in writing. When she got the phones and started her contract with AT&T she would have received the contract in writing spelling out the terms of what she agreed to. I was a long time AT&T customer (before throwing in the towel over the lack of customer service) and never failed to be given a receipt/contract that I signed each time I renewed or got a new phone. So I am curious as to what that paperwork said. That could have been used to help AT&T honor what the salesperson said as the terms agreed to would be on that contract.

  • sirwired

    Yeah, a lot comes down to at least reading the summary of your contract.

    Like the Car Rental Insurance cases, I don’t doubt the consumer, but all this is in the easier-to-read parts of the contract you have to sign when getting a non-pre-paid plan.

  • Regina Litman

    Someone please translate TAANSTAAFL for me, right here, in case others are wondering, too. Please do not tell me to Google it or respond with a link to an abbreviations dictionary. Thank you in advance.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I think that this is driven by corporate. I have been to four (4) AT&T retail locations and all of the salespersons at these locations used a yellow pad to write down the numbers. When I asked for a copy of the numbers, they refused. They should give a computerized print-out of the proposed plan to the customer.

  • James

    I guess accessing google or otherwise using the computer where they are reading this is too hard for some people.

    “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I have been a customer of AT&T Wireless for over 15 years and I must say that the customer service really went down hill in the past few years and their sales team is terrible.

    When iPhone 7s were coming, I went to an AT&T store to check on the details. After waiting for 45 minutes, we spoke with a salesperson and got the details. We went back to the store a few days later when the iPhone 7s arrived…after waiting 45 minutes, we were told that we couldn’t buy an iPhone 7 unless we were adding a line of service since they were only selling the iPhone 7 to new customersnew lines during the initial roll-out Why didn’t they told us that a few days earlier.

    In the past 10 months, we had four (4) issues with AT&T in regards to sales and service where AT&T made mistakes.

  • Rebecca

    As we say in my house:

    You don’t f%*! with the Borg.

    It’s a reference to Star Trek TNG and really, if you don’t know what it means, I can’t explain it other than to tell you to watch the show. Which you should, it’s excellent.

  • Regina Litman

    Thanks for the reply. In fact, I’m probably the only baby boom aged or younger computer programmer who has never had an interest in watching “Star Trek”, and I’m not about to start doing so now. What does TNG spell out, please?

  • Regina Litman

    Correct. I don’t want to leave the page I’m on to go look up something that someone else should have spelled out in the first place.

  • RightNow9435

    Right—-Pre-Paid is the only way to go. No fuss, no checking a bill each month to see if hidden charges were snuck into it, can leave whenever I want etc.

  • Rebecca

    The next generation.

    And I’m 35. I didn’t like the show until maybe 5 years ago. I only started watching it because it came on after Dr Who, which I only started watching because it was on PBS and we didn’t have cable for several years. So, I officially became a full blown nerd. I’ve always been a nerd though; in high school I was the Matheletes MVP. I still have the plaque.

  • FQTVLR

    Regina added the extra A.

  • Fishplate

    “I don’t want to leave the page I’m on to go look up something…”

    At the risk of going wildly off-topic:

    Highlight the term, then right-click on it and select ‘search’. The search page opens in a new tab, so your original place on the original page is not disturbed. When you’ve learned what you need to know, close that page and you’re right where you left off.

    I prefer instant gratification to minor inconvenience.

  • cscasi

    Without any evidence of what exactly was said by the representative and nothing in writing, how do we know what was said? Some lot of people paraphrase what they felt they heard and it can come out a lot differently than was actually communicated to them. That does happen. Not saying that happened here, but there is no evidence as to exactly what was said.

  • cscasi

    I have my plan with T-Mobile and it is a non contract plan. I can leave it any time I want, too. So, I do not need to have a pre-paid plan. I have never seen any “snuck in charges”, either.

  • cscasi

    Everyone is entitled to his/her opinions.

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