What’s your problem? Shocked by an $800 phone bill

Question: I recently flew to Vancouver for a business meeting. Before leaving, I called Sprint to find out the most efficient way to connect.

An agent noted I already had an international calling plan that would make me eligible for reduced priced calls.

I specifically asked about Sprint’s MiFi, a wireless hotspot that can be connected to several devices. He said I didn’t need to worry about the MiFi. He said, “It’s just like in the US.”

It wasn’t.

When I returned to the US, I was advised both my phone — and most notably, my MiFi — had nearly $800 in data roaming charges for a weekend. I called Sprint, and after several hours on the phone, a representative agreed to reduce my bill by 15 percent.

After a little more haggling, a supervisor reduced it to 50 percent. I asked Sprint if it could pull up the recording of our first conversation, but was told it wasn’t possible.

I’d really like a full refund. Can you help? — Dawn Lyon, San Francisco

Answer: Sprint is either right or wrong, which is to say it either gave you the incorrect information (which means it owes you a full refund) or the correct information (in which case, it owes you nothing).

Offering to reduce you bill by 15 percent and then 50 percent is unacceptable. This is a black-and-white case in my book.

How could you have prevented it? Getting the details in writing would have been helpful. The last time I ordered a special calling plan, before I traveled to Canada and Italy, I asked my wireless carrier to email me the offer, which included chapter and verse of its terms.

Related story:   Two new phone lines and $2,000 extra on my bill? What gives, Sprint?

At the very least, you could have created a paper trail once you had an $800 phone bill. But as I review your correspondence with Sprint, it appears the company tried successfully to get you away from email and push you toward calling it. (An understandable impulse when you’re a phone company — but wrong.)

That left you without any evidence of your conversation, and you had no proof of the ongoing dialogue. In other words, it was Sprint’s word against yours.

I’m also troubled by Sprint’s statements to you that it couldn’t pull up the call records. Every major company records its call center conversations “for quality assurance purposes.” Why can’t Sprint share the transcript?

I contacted Sprint on your behalf. A representative contacted me and said it had apologized to you for giving you “any information that may have been inaccurate.” As a “courtesy” Sprint removed all the roaming charges you incurred. It’s also working to “fully educate” the customer service agent you worked with about the company’s roaming charges.

(Photo: nino 630 04/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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