When most people sign up for cell phone service they will take the time to decide which carrier they will use. Consumers have a wide array of choices of carriers and plans. Most carriers and plans require a specified period of time and a variety of product choices from talk, text, internet, GPS, and data packages. These packages are charged to us automatically each month. Unfortunately cell phone users are at the mercy of the cell phone provider when it comes to billing, and could be charged for services that we didn’t use, requiring us to spend valuable time contesting the charges.
It was recently discovered that Verizon had been charging some customers for data downloads or internet access when they did not have access to data plans. How can this happen you might ask? The phones have built in software that can be initiated inadvertently or they can simply be mistakes made in billing. Verizon reports that they will be refunded thousands of customers in November for charges that were collected but not necessarily incurred.
Cell phone providers wrongly charging for data downloads are not the only way some cell phone companies are squeezing extra bucks from the unsuspecting consumer. Most “packages” that you sign up for “include” a set number of minutes of “free” calling. This is not exactly “free” calling.
Look at these examples:
- The company may charge $39.99 for a package and “includes” 450 minutes. If you use the 450 minutes, the calls are 8.8 cents per minute. If you only use 450 minutes, you still pay the $39.99, and your calls will then cost more per minute.
Most consumers don’t look at this as a form of overcharging by the cell phone provider. The cell phone provider may also charge a surcharge for texting and the overage charge (the amount you pay per minute over your package) may be significantly higher.
- Another example of this is Verizon’s individual plan. A user is charged $39.99 for 450 minutes of “talk” (which works out to 8.8 cents per minute). If you choose the talk and text plan, you still get 450 minutes, but they charge you $59.99 (which works out to 13 cents per minute). If you use more than 450 minutes, they will charge 45 cents per minute over the 450. That means if you happen to use 350 minutes one month on a talk/text plan you will spend an average of 17 cents per minute. The next month you might use 500 minutes of talk/text. Your bill for phone use would be about $82.49 which is an average per minute charge of 16 cents a minute. To add insult to injury, for the months you do not use the full package allotment, not only are you charged for the time, you cannot roll over the minutes to the next month, so the above example may very well happen to you on a regular basis.
The cell phone company may count on the consumer not paying attention to how much they are charged for their service. I have to admit, I am guilty of this! The cell phone bill comes in, it gets paid and the charges are not scrutinized.
To fully protect yourself you need to be proactive when considering your services and billing. Knowing what your plan includes and how you’re using the plan will ensure you are paying for the appropriate package for your needs. Your provider may also help you with this. If you call customer service, they can see your usage over the past 6 months and recommend a plan that would suit your needs better if you are not on the most efficient plan for you. Double check the “extras” that you are charged for – like data plans. If you do not have a data plan and are charged for internet access, phone your carrier. When it comes down to it, you need to be your own advocate.
If you are in the market to either buy a new phone, or sign up for cell phone service, you can check out the cell phone advisor. They rank service providers based on complaints to the Federal Communication Commission. On their website, you can find out a little more about cell phone providers as well as popular phones on the market.