Your Bill Looks Fraudulent. Pay It Anyway

Update: T-Mobile reports that the situation has been satisfactorily resolved. Motoko disagrees.

Reader Motoko was shocked to find $1,000 worth of charges from an unknown phone number on her latest T-Mobile bill. T-Mobile refused to vacate the charges, even after admitting that the number that somehow latched onto her account was already under investigation for suspicious activity. One thoughtless rep suggested that Motoko merely lost track of time while racking up the mysterious charges, and offered to bump her up to a more expensive plan. Motoko writes:

I checked my T-Mobile bill this month and saw that I was billed $1,169.84. A lot of the calls and text messages were made from 401 XXX-XXXX, a mysterious phone number attached to my account that I have never seen before.

I called T Mobile and spoke with Cindy, who said the number is under investigation but the charges are valid even though the vast majority of it was from a phone number that does not belong to me. Cindy then said she will call me back 2 days from now on Friday and that the new number will be suspended. Not happy with the outcome I called again and spoke with Gabriel (#0458150) who kept denying for 15 minutes that any phone calls were made from the 401 number and that I had made those calls to cities I’ve never heard of under my number, and maybe I “forgot” and “lost track of time” when making these calls. I finally showed her the online billing statement that clearly showed TEN pages of phone calls from the 401 number to numbers and cities I have never seen before. She promptly says “Oh…”, puts me on hold for 10 minutes, comes back and tells me that the charges are valid because they were made from the same phone! Then she asks if I want to change my plan to one with more minutes so I won’t have to pay $1,000 next month, thanks Gabby!

T-Mobile is basically insinuating that I purchased two numbers/SIM cards on the same account, then swapped them in and out of the phone at various times (often making calls from both numbers at the same time on the same phone!), racked up a bill of $1,169 after two months and am now trying to weasel my way out of this monstrous bill by lying.

Gabriel was kind enough to tell me that perhaps I should figure out who’s number it is and that I should call it. Realizing that T Mobile obviously doesn’t give a crap, I called the 401 number and got a message “By subscriber’s request this phone number does not accept incoming calls”. I asked Gabriel if she’ll forward me to her supervisor, she says yes but he’s busy so he’ll call me back tomorrow. After much cajoling she puts me on the line with the supervisor who promptly tells me the charges are valid and that he’ll have someone else call me back in 10 minutes. Take a wild guess if he called me back or not? Yup. This is why I’m not even going to bother anymore with their awful customer service.

I’m not going to pay $1,169.84 worth of phone calls that I did not make, T-Mobile will probably cancel my phone line next month for non payment and I’ll be without a phone for a while, this is going to suck majorly. They also billed me $466.12 last month and that was auto paid. I’m guessing they’re not going to just give that back unless I take them to court. I’ve been a customer of T-Mobile’s for many years, have always paid my bills on time, never disputed anything because I travel a lot and have set everything on auto pay, but this is just ridiculous. I can’t believe they’re ignoring me as if I’m some lying irresponsible 14 year old girl who just got her first cell phone. All the evidence points to someone hijacking my account. Why won’t T-Mobile take scams like this seriously?

After disabling autopay, go back and make sure your previous $466 bill is not also littered with fraudulent charges. If it is, call you credit card company and ask to file a chargeback.

T-Mobile should take the scam more seriously, but like a drunken frat boy, they are after only one thing: your money.

(Photo: 22n)

Comments

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  1. Katharine says:

    Should the last like say Tmobile and not sprint?

  2. nucleotide says:

    File a complaint with the FCC and it will get taken care of.

  3. Cowboys_fan says:

    As a former csr, I must say this issue is quite unique. I’d never seen an account get charges from a different number, it should be impossible. The worst I saw was someone being charged for calls from 2 phones(1 sim), at the same time. After personally helping the customer with that for months, it was never resolved. I’m sure they won’t credit it because there is no policy for a situation like this. My advice would be to email customer service from the website(or sue.nokes@t-mobile.com). The fact is you can only be charged for calls made from your number. If a different number shows up, and is not yours, then thats fraud IMO. It sounds to me more of a computer glitch then a hacker but who knows.
    Also, t-mobile policy states cancelling easy-pay can take up to 60 days to take affect so don’t be surprised if this bill gets paid too!

  4. Sia says:

    This is not the first time I hear of such a case. T-Mobile plays similar tricks in Germany. My friend experienced similar problems, only that the amount was much higher.
    I don’t know whether he solved the problems, but last time I checked he decided not to file a compliant because the costs of a law suit would have been higher…
    Yet, for the sake of the principle and for the lack of professionalism proved by the T Mobile customer support, Mitoko should do something. So you are telling me that Mitoko is amnesic and doesn’t know what he does with his own phone? Common!

  5. AlisonAshleigh says:

    E-mail T-Mobile Customer service a VERY STRONGLY worded letter and demand to be contacted by a manager. Mention this website & the BBB, and say that unless they e-mail you back telling you that they rectified the situation you will contact both. State very clearly that you want all of these charges removed from your account immediately, and the exact amount you want removed. Also say that if it is not resolved by the next e-mail they send you, you will be cancelling your account and you expect the early cancellation fee to be waived.

    I just went through a HUGE thing where they sent me 3 defective phones and charged me for a month of service that I didn’t have a phone to make calls from. I sent e-mail after e-mail and quickly realized each e-mail is sent to a different rep. I kept getting the same canned response. So I e-mailed again demanding a manager and said all that I suggested above, and apparently thats the only way to get it done. Whenever I called, they put me on hold, but the e-mails are always replied to in 72 hours or less. After that every e-mail I sent was only handled by the one manager, and she immediately fixed the issue and credited my account. I LITERALLY spent 6 hours on the phone and sent well over 10 e-mails before this. Give it a try, I really think it’s the only way to get anything done with this company.

  6. hubris says:

    I like how signing up for a way that companies can take money from you is instantaneous, but getting OFF can take a while. Such a seemingly minor thing that you don’t look at until you want to get off the “we take money from you whenever we want” train.

    And way for Rhode Island (401 area code) to represent with the fraudulent charges. I’d look for the person, but we don’t all, in fact, know each other.

  7. Antrack says:

    If you don’t want to lose your phone while this gets resolved, you could always sue them in your local court for the $433 and request a temporary restraining order to prevent them from disconnecting your service. Normally I think suing right away would be a silly thing to do, but that TRO could keep your phone on, and the suit would probably get their attention. It would probably cost about $150 to file, and you wouldn’t really need a lawyer.

  8. azntg says:

    While uncommon, I’d definitely believe that this sort of sh*t does happens. The exact same thing happened to my aunt a few years ago, back when she used Sprint.

    All of a sudden, one day on her bill, she was charged for making international calls to India and Pakistan. And looking at the calling patterns, it’s like the caller was calling to India and Pakistan 24 hours a day with minimal breaks here and there. Funny, I thought most people didn’t stay awake all 24 hours and it’s hard to call India and Pakistan if you have no relations of any kind there. My aunt called Sprint CS and got along to various escalations. Long story short, their response was: “You’re using our digital network! (my aunt’s been using Sprint when analog was pretty common) There’s no way that can happen!” Obviously, they’re wrong.

    My aunt closed out her account and refused to pay for the fraudulent charges. Sprint never resolved the issue and I think they’re still reporting my aunt as delinquent for not paying those fradulent charges. She’s with Verizon now.

  9. bohemian says:

    What nobody has mentioned is that SHE is now having to waste a bunch of her time proving her innocence. This is what annoys me about most service providers is that when something gets screwed up it is you that has to do all of the footwork to prove them wrong. They won’t lift a finger to prove to you that the charges are legit. So now she is going to have to waste what looks like quite a bit of time to get her carrier to fix their error.

    What is needed is some sort of commerce law that people can get compensated for their time if they have to prove a company made an error.

    She should contact her state PUC. We did so against Unicel when they were doing some creative billing on our account. They suddenly found the time to correct their error and were forced to let us out of our contract for what they were doing.

  10. bohemian says:

    If she ignores this, won’t it show on her credit? Even though its not her fault? Bah.

  11. MMD says:

    What about contacting your state’s attorney general?

    This bill is a total fraud, and TMobile’s unwillingness to help you is unconscionable…and maybe actionable!

  12. dextrone says:

    Why does this have to happen in the US, I bet the T-Mobile in the UK is much better?

    Maybe people are better off prepaid, with an unlocked phone.

  13. oneswellfoop says:

    Remember the article on sending an inaccurate bill through the mail is committing mail fraud? Ask to speak with the legal team, point this out politely and ask if there is anything they can do to help you as they have crossed a legal line. Don’t accept any credits or refunds for Things not currently in dispute, and don’t threaten to sue(or threaten to do anything on this basis) as that could mean you are trying to extort them.
    If they still won’t fix it, then you have firmer legal ground should you decide to take them to small claims court.

  14. Caveat says:

    Personally I have been very pleased with T-Mobile but I have something similar happen to me with an AT&T land line years ago. It took months, but in those days the phone company was responsive and they eventually confirmed that they had their lines crossed.
    Based on T-Mobile’s attitude, immediately file a complaint with the public utilities commission for your state. Often it is tied to the office of the attorney general. I have had a couple of instances where, in California, I have run across phone company problems where the phone company would not cooperate despite being at fault. In both cases the state was quick to investigate and find in my favor, meaning that the phone company apologized and issued the proper credits. The last time this happened i filed a complaint against Cingular. Good luck!

  15. schtum says:

    I have autopay linked to my credit card. If anything like this happens, it’s much easier to dispute charges with the credit card company than with the phone company. This is a LAST resort, as you may never be allowed to do business with that company again, but T-Mobile is not exactly a monopoly.

  16. EtherealStrife says:

    Eh T-Mobile has been really good to me over the years. Lots of times when I top off my prepaid (to renew it for a year) they’ll just add the prepaid amount to the running total, treating it as if it were purchased in $100 increments (which gives you a break /minute). That said, it’d be nice if they showed call history for prepaid. I’m sure it’s for security (since my cellphone account is 100% anonymous and they have no way to verify my identity), but it’d be nice to have a list of numbers I’ve called, if only to jog my memory.

    I don’t have anything set to autopay, so I can’t offer any wisdom on that. I was thinking about setting it up, but after seeing this latest horror story I’ll be putting it off indefinitely.

  17. Crazytree says:

    “Remember the article on sending an inaccurate bill through the mail is committing mail fraud?”

    Yea… another in a long series of horrible legal analysis on this site. [Sorry guys.]

    Temporary restraining order? Is this the type of harm that is imminent and irreversible that needs equitable-injunctive relief? Courts are loathe to use injunctive relief… and they’re certainly not going to do it over a cell phone billing dispute.

    OP your only choice is going to be to give them the following ultimatum:

    “I dispute the amount owed. It is a fraudulent billing and I have no knowledge of its source or origin. Any attempts to collect this debt will be disputed and challenged by my asserting my rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Fair Credit Debt Collection Act.”

    Certified mail. To the CEO’s office if necessary.

    This debt is very unlikely to be collectable…

    GIVEN YOUR STATED FACT PATTERN…

    and any attempt to try to collect it or take adverse credit action against you will subject T-Mobile to FIXED, AUTOMATIC STATUTORY DAMAGES under the FCRA and FCDCA.

    Honestly everyone playing attorney-at-lawl needs to stop… and Consumerist needs to take a very hard look at both the FCRA and the FCDCA… THE TWO STRONGEST WEAPONS THAT CONSUMERS HAVE AGAINST INACCURATE BILLING.

  18. CoffeeAddict says:

    T-Mobile it seems is very much like my cell phone company and will charge you for what you do plus any loser that comes along and hacks your number. I would really love it if the government stepped in and did anything, but as it stands I really doubt that. Sometimes it sucks to be in a developed nation.

  19. D-Bo says:

    Years ago when I worked for Nextel this was standard operating procedure. Even if it was clear that we (Nextel) made a billing error the customer needed to pay all charges in full to avoid disconnection of service and wait for us to issue a refund via credit to the account. It pissed off a lot of people…

  20. Hambriq says:

    @Crazytree: “Honestly everyone playing attorney-at-lawl needs to stop..

    Seriously. I’ve read some of the must suspect legal advice on this website from commenters, and even in the actual articles themselves. I’ll freely admit that I don’t know jack about the law besides the few random tidbits I learned in my various business classes, which don’t come anywhere close to making me an expert. But apparently, it does for some people.

    If someone here is a lawyer and wants to give legal advice, that’s one thing. But am I the only person on the internet who still believes in the power of expertise and credentials? Or has the Wikipedia mindset spread beyond that awful hive?

  21. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    The following does not constitute legal advice. Thank you friends Crazytree and Hambriq who have appointed themselves our guardians for the day. And I would point out that anyone who would take legal advice in an open forum like this to heart without verifying its veracity should [insert your own wise-ass analogy here].

    Why not demand to see their authorization from you (the account holder) to accept charges from this bogus number?
    “What you say? You don’t have any such authorization? Please remove the charges from my bill at once, and have a nice day.”

    Read the terms of service they were required to provide you with when you signed up with them, and empower yourself with their own rules and regulations.

  22. waxer says:

    it’s entirely possible that their SIM had been cloned.

    Also, for what it’s worth, the picture on this post shows a “T-Mobile to Go” page/brochure. This is T-Mobile’s prepaid or pay as you go.

  23. Hambriq says:

    I like how Doctor_Cos takes a wiseass shot at Crazytree and myself by implying it should go without saying that you shouldn’t take other people’s advice on an open forum such as this…

    …and then goes on to give exactly the kind of advice that he agreed shouldn’t be taken. Well played, sir, well played. I eagerly expect the semantical quibbling and substantial backpedaling that is soon to follow.

    Also, I really like the phrase “verifying its veracity“.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I know this isn’t relevant to the topic at hand, but “verifying its veracity” just made my day…thanks for pointing that out, I hadn’t even noticed while skimming through ^_^

  25. Anonymous says:

    I find this to be quite interesting. I AM a T-Mobile CSR and I deal with these calls on a daily basis. To clarify, we have a list of your calls, both billed and unbilled. If you have a question or dispute a certain call, we can go to that specific call (in this case, any number made by the 401 number) and see the serial number (IMEI number) of the phone that made the call. That IMEI number is registered to ONE PHONE and ONE PHONE only.

    In order to test disputed usage, we will compare the IMEI number of the disputed usage with the IMEI number of non disputed usage. If the numbers match, then you have valid charges and unfortunately, the buck stops there.

    If you have recently made any changes to your account at a store or kiosk, that is going to be your first stop for investigation. It’s possible that a line may have been activated by an indirect dealer without your permission and then, and only then, would you have a fraud case.

    Regardless, you have valid charges and no rep or supervisor will credit them for you. Not even a manager will. If you don’t pay your bill, your account will be suspended, eventually terminated, and eventually written off. And that will impact your credit.

    I suggest reviewing your bill carefully. If you have 2 lines but only wanted one, then I suggest contacting customer care to cancel that line. However, you may again run into the $200 ETF because according to your bill, there has been usage on that line and therefore the contract is binding. If you wish to dispute it further, I suggest contacting Customer Relations. They only have a fax number, but the respond promptly. If you write to the CEO, he’ll never see your letter, but it will go to Corporate HQ and be reviewed by executive customer relations.

    To sum this up, you don’t have a fraud case and you’ll be hard up to find anyone at T-Mobile that will treat your case as such. Just remember that we have a book of rules to follow, too, and that we can only do so much when our systems give us information. That’s all there is for us. It’s your word against the word of our computer and human error is much more common than computer error.

    In the mean time, call Financial Care to see if you can make a payment arrangement so that your account doesn’t get shut off. In fact, if you contact customer relations, they will keep your account open while the investigation is pending. Just make sure to do it soon.

    Also, in response to previous comments:

    You can’t speak to the legal department. They don’t have a phone number, or at least one that we know of. Seriously! Again, they have a fax number that you can get by calling customer care.

    You’ll never get a mailing address for Robert Dotson through customer care.

    If you ask for authorization that you signed up for the line, they will tell you to go to the store where the line was activated and see the store reps. I’ll bet money that it was a Mobile Solutions.

    Contacting the FCC will do very little, if anything. It’s your word against ours and we have it documented of calls coming from your phone from that number.

    In summary, you’re unfortunately more than likely going to have to eat the charges unless you can do some magic with customer relations. If you can, than kudos to you. It’s not easy to do. I really am truly sorry on behalf of my employer that you have to go through all of this. I know that it’s difficult to be faced with a situation like this. I hope that I was able to give you some insight into the way the system works. T-Mobile has great customer service and again, I’m sorry that you had to see this side of it. Please understand that the reps that you spoke with were only doing their jobs in enforcing policies. From what you’ve described, they were doing their jobs correctly.

    Best of luck,

    a T-Mobile CSR

  26. Crazytree says:

    @doctor_cos: Verify the veracity of my legal advice all you want.

    I usually charge $300/hr. for it.

    BTW I think you may want to avoid using words that you do not know the meaning of.

    “Read the terms of service they were required to provide you with when you signed up with them, and empower yourself with their own rules and REGULATIONS.”

    Regulations are rules promulgated by gov’t administrative bodies in order to facilitate their exercise of legal authority they have been tasked with by a legislative body.

    Private companies do not have “regulations”.

    I think the words you were looking for while flailing about wildly in the tiny POST A COMMENT box were… “Terms of Service”.

  27. andrewsmash says:

    This is the problem with the whole concept of a “credit rating”. In the good old days, if a company did something like this, you could tell them “you aren’t getting any money until you resolve this, because I know once you have my money, you won’t have any incentive to take care of it.” Now that we have the boogie man that is credit ratings, we have given these companies a big stick that they can threaten you with. A credit rating is nothing, it’s make believe (like the dollar – it is only the confidence that it means something that gives it value), but since everyone and their mother is scared of having bad credit, suddenly these companies can threaten people, essentially, with ‘economic cooties’. Sorry to hear about a bad situation, but either way, this customer is either going to have to wait a looooong time for resolution, or her credit rating drops. Bummer deal.

  28. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @Hambriq: Did you not see the disclaimer before the advice? To paraphrase the great Mr. Marx (Groucho, not Karl), “I wouldn’t give advice to anyone who take it from me.”
    @Crazytree: I will give you a fake email address to send the bill, and then pay with a stolen credit card anyway.
    And I believe their “terms” of service would be “sucks majorly.”

    “Flailing about wildly in the comment box” indeed. My work here is done :D

    I just flew in from Lifehacker and boy are my arms tired.

  29. Anonymous says:

    The best way to resolve this is to refuse to pay the fraudulent charges and to go the FCC website, [www.fcc.gov] , and file a complaint against T-Mobile.

    I had a problem with T-Mobile for several months billing me for a free phone. It was only resolved after a VP had to respond to the FCC about my complaint.

  30. ATMoGuy says:

    I’m a manager at T-Mobile with a technical background. I’m thinking the IMEI number could be spoofed just like a MAC address on a network device. I’m going to talk to some of the guys that specialize in that area and see what they say.

    I’m sorry about your problem, but I can tell you I’ve been in the business for 20+ years and I’ve never seen a company that cared as much about it’s customers, one of the reasons I plan to stay with them as long as they’ll keep me.

  31. razdigital says:

    To ATMOGUY, the IMEI numbers can be spoofed, there are softwares found online that are able to accomplish this with an usb cable or a dongle.

    Also if one of your phone gets lost or stolen the cellphone companies doesn’t give a cr*p as long as you keep paying your bill for the next two years. They look at it as a business gain since they know that someone will be utilizing it on their network in the long run in turn bringing them more money.

    To the OP, I feel for the mess your in all I can say is file a claim with the BBB show prior bills for the past month. If the number was already under investigation then there should be prior records from past billing. Where was it billed from.

  32. Tzepish says:

    If T-Mobile’s policy is “the IMEI numbers are the same, the buck stops here” then that is just sad and ignorant. “Well, the IMEI numbers are the same. Looks like these calls were made from your phone, you know, because IMEI’s are impossible to reprogram and all”

  33. Corvette says:

    We got a cell phone plan from T – Mobile and a nice cell phone came with the plan. We gave the cell phone to my brother. The cell phone has a one year warranty (the duration of the plan) for which we get to keep the phone after the warranty expires. Right now we have about 4 months before this particular contract expires but the phone broke about a month or two ago. My brother took very good care of the phone (he’s an adult over 21 and he’s VERY paranoid about taking care of his stuff). Before sending the phone in the company explained to my brother that if they determine the damage was my brother’s fault they will charge him about $100 (it was a little more but it’s the principle of the matter) and it will void the warranty. He was sure the damage wasn’t his fault so he agreed. He sends the phone in and they send him a new one. Then they claimed the damage was caused by water (water damage). My brother explains that he never got the phone anywhere near moisture or water and they insist it was water damage and that it was his fault. So we ask them if they can explain how the technicians determined it was water damage. They didn’t really answer the question (they didn’t seem to know). So finally we asked to bargain with them, since we are sure the damage wasn’t caused by water and they insisted it was, we would split the bill 50 / 50 . They refused. We finally asked if they can send back the original phone we sent them so we can have an independent technician look at it and see if water indeed caused the damage and we said that, if the independent technician determines it was caused by water damage (which we are sure he would determine not to be the case) we would pay. If not, we would not pay and possibly sue. They refused. We asked to speak to their legal department. They tell us that their legal department doesn’t speak to customers. We haven’t payed the bill yet and I’m not sure we really want to go through the trouble of suing since that may end up costing us much more than the bill is worth. We’re not sure what we’re going to do at this point but I am not very happy with their service to say the least.