AT&T Overcharging For Sending Pictures?

If you’re AT&T cellphone customer on a messaging plan and you like to send pictures, check your bills. After noticing he was getting overcharged for sending pictures, reader Robert says an AT&T CSR told him that AT&T is having a nationwide computer glitch that could be overcharging you too…

My bill is always $57 a month for my Cellphone. That includes the $4.99 200 message plan and the $5.00 unlimited messaging to AT&T customers. This includes IM, TXT and MMS messages. Starting last month, whenever I sent a MMS picture message, I would be charged pay per use data for sending the picture. Last month it was a charge of $3.61 at $.01 per KB. I thought it was from sending too big of pictures so I sent lower resolution ones as a test. I was still being charged and its now up to almost $10 range.

I called AT&T today and talked with a CSR. I explained how I’ve had the same plan since may. She looked, and after a few minutes finally began to understand what I was talking about. She cleared the charges for last months bill, but It looks like I’m going to have to call again this month. She said she noted on the account what was going on, and my concerns about the charges. She then informed me of this. She said that AT&T is experiencing a Nationwide Computer Glitch in their data billing system which is unable to tell the difference between MMS messages and data. Both data and MMS go over the wap.cingular.com network (for former Cingular customers at least) and you are required to have at least a Pay-Per-Use data plan in order to recieve and send MMS messages. The charges, oddly enough, only charge for sending MMS, not recieving MMS. Which is odd because they both use the medianet service.

I would have never noticed this charge since they just stopped sending itemized paper bills. It’s kind of odd that they just started that last month, and last month was when their “billing glitch” began.

(Photo: epicharmus)

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  1. warf0x0r says:

    Urgh, another Monday Detail.

  2. kylerg says:

    This is interesting, I just received my bill and it was a little in my favor.

    I have the $5.00 plan with 200 txts. I happened to go over by 316, and was only charged $0.10 instead of $0.15

    I have heard of an unlimited txt plan, but I thought it was $20, not another $5..details?

  3. elislider says:

    To answer the question of the title to this article: “Yes.”

    Cingular has probably the most convoluted and impossible to understand billing statements ever. For both paper/mail statement and their online account info. I can understand why, because it was ATT then Cingular then The New ATT and now Cingular again, or, idk what. Theyre been changing names and shit every six months, and I imagine every time it happens, a new “team” is put in charge of every aspect of their company and everything just gets another layer of abstraction applied to it.

    My dad and i had tons of problems with them when I got a new phone a year or two back, the “go to internet” button was too easy to push in my pocket and so it would browse away while i was walking or driving and racking up a nice little bandwidth bill since we didnt have a prepaid data plan. The CSRs couldnt even tell what we were talking about on the bill, or discern txting from data usage, or provide us with any support whatsoever and basically told us we were screwed out of the $50 over a few months. great, thanks for nothing you crappy corporation

  4. Shadowfire says:

    “Nationwide Computer Glitch,” eh? I notice those never cause customers to be undercharged…

  5. Stephen Colon says:

    Has happened to me forever.. Have to actually go in the store and show someone my bill because the phone people don’t seem to get it. They just (politely) say that MMS is included in my plan. Srives me nuts.

  6. consumed says:

    I think these glitches are implemented on purpose to increase revenue. The billing system is shoddy for a reason, and that is to maximize profits. They really have no incentive to fix it, since the bills are so hard to read and understand in the first place, and therefore the customer feels powerless to stand up and fight the charges. Isn’t a class-action lawsuit against this company long overdue?

  7. Sam2k says:

    OP, give me a break. You have been sadly misinformed. This is not a computer glitch! The charges you are receiving are justified.

    When you send a multimedia message, you are required to pay for the data at $.01 per KB. Your 200 messages plus unlimited mobile to mobile includes the ability to send a MMS message (rather than having to pay $.35 for the message + data), but not the data. You can add 5 mb of data per month for $5.

    Btw, please notice how very mature it is to start calling for a lawsuit against a company because somebody doesn’t know how to use “value added services.” This should be filed under bad consumer.

  8. Trai_Dep says:

    Give AT&T a break. Don’t you realize how expensive it is to mirror every byte of data/voice and forward it to the White House/NSA?!

  9. mikecolione says:

    @Sam2k:

    Actually. While an MMS uses data to transmit a photo, you are not billed for anything but the MMS. You used to be charged two seperate fees, but about a year and half ago, that changed. It was included in the MMS fee, which is why you pay .25 instead of the standard SMS fee.

    I doubt this is a nationwide problem though. I haven’t had anyone else come in and complain yet (though it is possible).

  10. socalrob of the 24 and a half century says:

    @mikecolione:
    Thats the same thing I was told and read on the AT&T website.

    I had the same issue mentioned in this, and so did my girlfriend. I had her call AT&T and put it on speakerphone. I listened in while she talked with the service rep. The rep began telling her how MMS worked and we just had to listen. She put us on hold and then finally came back and reversed the charges. I took the phone from my girlfriend and mentioned the problem that I had also, and then mentioned this article. She became a little nervouse and passed me onto another service rep. He put in a billing ticket on my account and her account, showing that this is happening.

    Niether rep said this should be happening, that MMS is included in the plans that both her and I have. They didn’t know this was a problem at all.

    Who knows. But check your bills. My girlfriend and I both live in Los Angeles, and its happening to us. We each have our own line and the accounts are not linked, and we are both being charged. So something is going on.

  11. Sam2k says:

    @mikecolione: That is simply not correct. AT&T charges for the data sent in a MMS.

  12. Cowboys_fan says:

    @Shadowfire: There were glitches in t-mobile’s system that caused customers to be undercharged. Mobile-mobile doesn’t charge to call voicemail though is not supposed to cover vm. After Katrina, the system randomly credited non LA citizens, there was once a NW sidekick outage and every sidekick customer was credited, including a few people who never owned sidekicks. So it does happen.
    However, when they had glitches that overcharged, they would realize that and the system itself would fix it.
    AT&T customers should not have to call to get credits for an issue they are fully aware of. That in itself is a scam.

  13. mr.uhday says:

    Same thing happened to us on this month’s AT&T bill. We have the same txt plan as the OP.
    I called and questioned the CSR about the extra data charges. He gave me the same canned response about how “MMS uses data”. When I asked him why we hadn’t been charged in previous months for data on MMS (duh, because we had a txt msg plan that included in-network mobile-to-mobile txts and MMS), he placed me on hold, comes back saying he has credited the account for the charges, and explained AT&T has been experiencing billing issues. Yikes.
    On our bill, the erroneous charges all occured between 10/27 and 11/03, with one random charge on 11/13. We are in Southern California.
    Check your bill, check your bill, never forget to check your bill.

  14. Brothernod says:

    It’s not just for people with x amount of messages a month plans.

    I have an unlimited Message plan on my family plan (meaning unlimited txt,picture and im’s for any phone in my family plan) and while reviewing lasts months bill I also noticed these $0.01 charges. I only had about 50 of them so I kind of ignored it.

    It’s wholly possible that this is a very widespread issue that most people aren’t catching because it’s such a small charge.

    I intent to call and contest the charges on Monday.

    @sam2k: Don’t justify their billing issues. A message is data, they choose to seperate internet data from message data in their billing. You PAY for your picture messages with the bundle that you get and there should be no hidden fee’s associated with it by some arbitrary imaginary distinction. You can’t say this charge is for the message as a unit, and this charge is for the actual data sending that message used. That’s just absurd.

  15. vastrightwing says:

    I use my phone only for voice. I can’t see paying $0.20/message when I can actually talk to someone without an extra fee.

  16. Kloud says:

    @trai_dep: Well played sir, well played.

  17. beantown77 says:

    Welcome to Telco. The bills are complicated, the plans are difficult to decipher, the avenues for content are numerous, the handset manufacturers are trying to keep up, the telco’s are trying to keep control….needless to say there are lots of billing mistakes that happen everyday.

    The only service that I have found that has been useful in bringing truth to billing, is http://www.myvalidas.com. Bunch of ex-telco guys who will show you if you are getting screwed on your bill or which plan you need…

    Enjoy
    Beantown77

  18. Brad2723 says:

    It’s always a computer malfunction or a glitch to keep you from asking any more questions.

  19. GoodCustomer says:

    Added my two son’s to mobile plan in October. Purchased 200 text messages per phone per month for each phone. After 5 days checked bill on-line and realized how inadequate 200 text messages per phone was. Over on bill by $80. Went to local AT&T store and talked to Rep. Indicated I want help to allow kids to text and use phones but also prevent financial ruin. Told me to purchase unlimited texting which I did. Told me it included unlimited picture and video texting to anyone. Purchased it for $30 a month. Told I could not disable internet access on the account, but the rep disabled the browser on the phone and indicated this will prevent access unless it is a service that asks specifically if you want to accept charges. AT&T provided $100 credit for overages texting (was still in 30 period where I could cancel). Told kids they had unlimited picture and video texting on the day ridiculous charges started. Told kids not to accept charges on ‘other’ services like ringtone or game purchases. Told them the phones were be taken if they accessed system to buy games, ringtines, etc.

    Next bill received – it was for $850.00! $729.32 is supposedly for KB transfers on Internet. My kids did not access Internet. Called AT&T 11/30 and spoke to Rep A. She offered full credit on this if I would buy unlimited Medianet on each phone (another $40 per month). Told her that felt wrong (unlimited everything just to let my kids text their friends?) and I would call back. Called back later in the day to accept unlimited medianet (for 1 month) and credit (just to get out of this bill). Spoke to Rep B. She said she could only offer me $221 in credit. Asked her to tell me what the 729.32 was for. She indicated she could not tell me specifically – just Internet usage. Told her $221 credit was unacceptable – just wanted help out of this nightmare situation. Asked to speak to a supervisor. Given to Supervisor A. Supervisor A offer to credit ½ of Medianet usage. Told him that this was not valid usage and I only want help to fix this situaiton. Indicated that I have been asking all along how to avoid these kind of charges and that my kids are not accessing Internet (browser is disabled on the phone). He told me that video and pictures sent to non AT&T people ARE charged as Internet usage. He agreed it is confusing, but is in the fine print. I indicated it is more than unclear and that I can’t find where it says this. He offered to submit a full credit request form to account dept and would call me back December 5th. Did not receive call. Called on December 6th and spoke to rep. She listened to whole story, but said she could not help with credit. She said she would sent a terse message to Supervisor A about calling me back. Did not hear back. Called back in on Dec. 10th and spoke to Rep. C. She listened to my story and said she could not help with Credit and would send a message to the manager of Supervisor A. Rep. C indicated that even Bluetooth transfers of data between phones is KBs passing into an AT&T phone and that was charged. I explained to her this was not true and explained how Bluetooth worked. I explained that I am worried that I am soon to start compiling late fees on this bill. Did not hear back from Supervisor A. Called in on December 14th and spoke to a rep who had system problems and would call me back in 5 minutes. Did not hear back. Called in an hour later and spoke to Rep. D. Told her the whole story. She indicated this was valid Internet usage and I am SOL. I explained that the browser on kids phone is disabled and they are afraid to access internet for fear of losing phone. It is Picture and Video transfer changes that are wrong. She indicated that she can see the browser is not disabled because the Internet access is active on the account. I explained to her how the browser is local to the phone and different from the internet service set up on her system for our phones. She indicated she could not help me with the credit. I explained that I am worried that I am soon to start compiling late fees on this bill. Asked to speak to a supervisor. She explained that I might want to take the $221 of credit because if I push submitting this form for full credit they might take all credits away. I told her this was unacceptable treatment. This is not about the money. Spoke to Supervisor B. She indicated she would submit the form again. She said it would take 5-7 days. . I explained that I am worried that I am soon to start compiling late fees on this bill. She said we should hear back in time. I indicated I would call in 5 days if I did not hear. She said that would be OK.

    The excessive online usage charges have stopped on the day I told my kids to stop sending pictures and texts. That is too coincidental. It started the day I told them they could send pictures and video, and stopped the day I told them to stop. I have read online that others have had the problem of AT&T system problems where they were mistakenly charged for sending pictures and videos using AT&T.

    I would really like to be released from my AT&T contract. I cannot believe their business model is built on bilking unsuspecting parents that add kids to their plan. I was told by Supervisor A that they receive calls like my situation everyday.

    Going to BBB & Attorney General

  20. gman863 says:

    Only send pics over any wireless carrier if the pic absolutely, positively has to get to someone immediately.

    Most of the newer camera phones (especially those with a built-in mp3 player, such as Samsung’s Sync) use a mini-USB cable for data transfer of music.

    If your phone has a mini-USB port (often it’s also the charger port), use it to download your photos onto your PC. If you don’t have a mini-USB cable, skip the $30 cable at the AT&T $tore and get a generic one at Wal-Mart or Fry’s for a fraction of the cost.

    The same goes for music downloads. Download mp3 music files using your PC and then transfer them to the phone. It’s usually cheaper and you have a backup copy on your PC if the phone craps out.

    Finally, if you want additional music or photo storage on your phone, check your owners manual to see if your phone accepts a micro SD card. Again, skip the cell phone $store in favor of a big box store. A 2GB card should set you back no more than $30.

  21. rasbach says:

    Why on earth would you use AT&T for service anyway?