Watch Out For This Cellphone Scam

Be wary of people calling your cellphone claiming to be from your service provider and offering to upgrade your phone packages. They may actually be independent dealers trying to make a quick buck.

J.P. got one of these calls, and growing suspicious, she asked the lady to verify how many text messages she had sent in the past month. The caller was unable. J.P. hung up and called the number back on her caller ID, a woman at a wireless store at the local mall picked up….

(Photo: Paul Keleher)


I received a call from someone claiming to be “Cingular” on my cellphone, yet the caller ID displayed a local area code and phone number. The noise in the background didn’t sound like a typical call center; I could hear kids yelling and running around. Strange. The woman explained that the $9.99 “Media Basic bundle” plan that I signed up for last year was going to expire, and could not be renewed. What they offered in its place were a separate “Unlimited Text messaging” plan for $19.99 and “Media Plan (internet)” @ $4.99 per 1MB. I told her that the store where I bought the phone said nothing about my current Media Plan expiring in a year. She replied “This feature is pre AT&T merger, and will be discontinued once they are consolidated. You need to change your plan now to avoid any disruption in service.”

At this point I became pretty skeptical about the legitimacy of the call and in an attempt to challenge her said “Well, I really don’t need unlimited text messaging and can probably go with something based on my usage. Can you tell me how many messages I’ve sent and received last month so we can pick a plan based on that?”. After a very long and awkward pause, she told me that she was having a computer problem and unable to bring up that information on her screen.

“Well gee, I guess I may be out of luck then. Tell you what… Call me back later when your computer is fixed.” and hung up.

I picked up my office phone and dialed the number on my caller ID.
“Hello Smart Wireless, this is Kim speaking. How can I help you?”.
“Hi Kim, where are you located?”
“We’re in the XXXXXXXXX Mall, second floor.”
“Thanks.”

That only proved that they weren’t Cingular. I called Cingular’s 800 number and asked about my Media Plan, and lo and behold… it doesn’t expire and it’s not going away any time soon no matter what happens in the merger. After I explained about the odd phone call, the rep said it wasn’t them, and may have been one of their independent vendors and that they get calls about stuff like this ALL THE TIME.

Now I’m secretly hoping “Cingular” calls me back when my “Pre-Merger Media Plan” is “days away from expiration” so I can really take them for a ride. Anybody else run across this particular flavor of scam?

— BEN POPKEN

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Amy Alkon says:

    I got a similar call from somebody claiming to be at Dish TV. I called the geniuses at the phone number on my Dish bill, and emailed an exec at their company to note this, and nobody got back to me. The woman in their “customer service” dept had no idea how to deal with it, and I asked to be kicked up to a supervisor, and she talked to the supervisor herself instead and got back and basically had no answer for me. At that point I googled my way to a guy high up named Defranco, whom I e-mailed. He has yet to respond. Good biz, guys!

  2. Jon Mason says:

    @Amy – what do you expect them to do? Not much they can do about people who almost certainly don’t even work for them

  3. Sasquatch says:

    Yet another example of why “indirect” cell-phone dealers are the scum of an already somewhat slimy industry.

  4. Buran says:

    @masonreloaded: Sure they do — as in they’re resellers and use the Cingular logo and name. They’re working for Cingular. Cingular can yank their authorization and/or lower their commission and/or I’m sure there are probably other penalties too.

  5. Kornkob says:

    @Buran: Dude, he was responding to Amy— who was talking about some unidentified Dish TV scammer.

  6. gwong says:

    I’d suggest going to an actual Cingular store to purchase a phone and plan but instead of calling to scam you into buying additional services, they just add it on without telling you!

  7. joeblevins says:

    They act as ‘agents’ of the respective companies. Therefore the companies should be held responsible for those they pay to sell/service the products.

  8. juri squared says:

    I got a suspicious call last week, actually. Someone called saying they were from Sprint and they wanted to offer me a free phone upgrade or some nonsense like that. I told him that this was a cell phone, there was no reason for him to call me on it, and to take me off their list. The guy responded that he was from my cell phone company. I told him that was bullshit as the phone he was calling was a Cingular phone. I repeated my request to take me off his list, and he said “What list?”

    The whole call really pissed me off. There was something weird about it, and the guy acting coy about whatever list my number was from didn’t help. I think it may have been the same scam, only targeted towards the previous owner of my phone line; I’ve gotten calls for her in the past.

  9. cde says:

    @jurijuri: Just so you know, it might not be a fixed list and they might be calling every number in Sprint’s cell phone block for your area.

  10. BG says:

    I got the same call twice from a call center claiming to be Sprint (same rep, actually). The first call felt really odd in that it seemed like every question was designed to get me to say the word, “yes,” which from the old days of long distance flipping is something I’m loathe to utter to a salesperson calling me directly.

    Calls came from 610-337-9080, which rings to a busy signal when you attempt to call back.

  11. Coder4Life says:

    Since Cingular has the new for $5 more plan that you alwasy see advertised.

    My buddy that works for them told me that most places are changing the plans and the employees are making a killing b/ of it.

    He said he made almost $240 in comission in one day by going throguh all of his customers list and changing the plan over…

    So these people might actually be some what nice, and be calling and telling you to upgrade rather than just upgrading you and letting you know on the next bill…

  12. Coder4Life says:

    @jurijuri: He could of just transferred his # in the past to another provider.. But I am sure he was a fake trying to make a buck..

  13. MercuryPDX says:

    I’m J.P.

    When I got the phone last year, it included a three month free trial of “Roadside Assistance” that I had to take. The next day I went into an actual Cingular Store and canceled it.

    I didn’t know if it was the store or the kiosk who was calling me. If the call had been the store, the legitimacy of the call would have had slightly more weight behind it; regardless I still would have called the 800 # and tried to haggle.

    The only reason I got the phone from the mall kiosk was convenience. I work right across the street, and was able to get it all taken care of with most of the remainder of my lunch hour intact.

    Thanks for posting it Ben.

  14. AnnieGetYourFun says:

    @BG: regarding that phone number, Reverse Phone Detective gives me this info:

    Name: Cmmnctn Onfiber
    Carrier: VERIZON PENNSYLVANIA, INC. WIRELINE
    Location: KING OF PRUSSIA, PA
    Phone Number: (610) 337-9080

    That would be OnFiber Communications. As to whether or not they are the ones calling you, or if they merely supply that line, I do not know. But maybe you could get in touch with them.

    http://maps.google.com/maps?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rl

  15. AnnieGetYourFun says:

    Meant to add:

    Here is their contact infoand callback number:

    Onfiber Communications Inc
    1010 W 8th Ave
    King of Prussia, PA 19406
    (610) 337-9274

  16. dj_skilz says:

    Well in regards to VZW (Verizon) this is a routine practice. There is a program that is utilized by the direct retail channel and indirect dealers that loads a list of customer that you (your store / district) sold to before (there are ways to get outside list too, but not everyone can). This will list your current plan, txt usage, overage amounts etc. There are campaigns for people going over txt, to suggest a msg bundle, for people going over minutes to suggest a new plan, for people on older price plans to get them back into contract and new pricing. People w/o a data plan on their pda etc.

    NOT ALL OF THESE CALLS ARE FRAUD!!! But you should request them to verify something on your account if you are unsure. Any reputable retailer/ direct employee should be able to provide the stores number or a sales id.

    This is a heavily pushed program, and there are attainment metrics that you are expected to hit, reps are penalized if they are not at a certain %.

  17. mikecolione says:

    I’m in a cingular corporate store, and we do have an outbound call system that is preloaded with offers for customers, the same as the VZW post above me.

    How it works is we call the customer and offer them what the system shows would be best for them (often it is, other times it’s not far off). We have to take a class that trains you on outbound calls (telemarketing) before your allowed to use this system.

    Just a FYI: Features do not expire and will stay on your account until you change them. If and I strongly say if a feature will be changing, you will be notified on your bill, not by a phone call.

    It sounds like the person from the agent store was trying to get over by making a quick commission on a “new feature”.

  18. xredgambit says:

    I got one of these calls from a “Sprint” repersentative. I just sat the phone down while he was on his script then I inturepted him and said “I’m sorry I droped the phone, could you repeat that.” I then tried to get my roomate to do it as well, but he just said “I don’t have a phone.”

    The call seemed like some sort of phising scam or else maybe some other scam.

  19. quail says:

    Last week I got a call from Sprint trying to give me a better phone for free. All I had to do was sign up for another two year contract. The thing was the phone number was 866 area code. Usually when Sprint called me on my phone they would appear on caller ID as Sprint. Seemed odd to me at the time and just told them to mail me the information. Never saw anything in the mail.

  20. smackswell says:

    Oh c’mon. This is peanuts compared to what my management did at The Mobile Solution.