Watch CBS News

Customers Complain Of Unauthorized Cell-Phone Plan Changes

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A growing number of cell phone customers are complaining about being moved to new, more expensive plans without their permission.

ConsumerWatch reporter Julie Watts talked to one man about his surprise switch.

"In January, I started getting text messages that we were using a lot of data," said Al Stilo.

He quickly realized his granddaughter's phone was to blame.

But just as he was about to double his family plan's data limit for an extra $10 a month, he said the rep offered a better solution.

"She said, 'I can do something to slow down her data usage and it won't cost you anything,'" explained Stilo.

He agreed to give it a try, but when he opened his next bill, he got a surprise.

"I immediately noticed that the plan had been changed," said Stilo.

AT&T had switched him to a new "Mobile Share Advantage" plan, which doubled the base price of each line and added fees.

When he called to complain, he said AT&T explained to him that once he switched, he couldn't go back.

With the new plan, the price went from $15 to $31 per line plus some other fees. On the old plan, it would have cost $10 more to double his amount of data.

"I didn't authorize any change," insisted Stilo.

Information obtained by ConsumerWatch indicate he is not alone.

We requested wireless complaint data from the FCC regarding switching phone plans without permission. AT&T accounted for more than 37 percent of all recent complaints, with Verizon a close second at 25 percent.

Sprint accounted for 22 percent and T-Mobile for 15 percent.

Ana Montes of the utility watchdog group TURN said this type of thing happens more than most realize.

"Less than 10 percent of people actually file complaints," said Montes. "Part of the reason for wanting to switch people to new plans is the phone company does make more money off the customer."

But she notes miscommunication may also play a role. In some cases the representative may be confused.

In others, the customer may not realize a special promotion or offer for discounted phones may require switching plans to cash in.

Montes says telecom companies are eager to move customers out of old plans and into new ones.

In a statement, AT&T said:

"We want every customer interaction to be perfect and strive to hit that mark every time for our nearly 52 million consumer mobility subscribers. In instances where we fall short, we work to make things right. While we have received numerous awards for our customer service, we will never stop working to get better."

Stilo found little reassurance in that response.

"I just felt that this was handled very poorly," he said.

AT&T has since apologized to Al for the miscommunication, gave him a credit and moved him back to his old plan with the increased data he initially wanted.

TURN recommends if your cell-phone plan is switched without your permission, call your carrier immediately and file a complaint with the FCC and the California Public Utilities Commission.

You should also get the terms of any new phone plan in writing so you can refer back to it as needed.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.