AT&T Says They'll Charge $25 "Activation Fee" To Move SIM From A Broken Phone To A GoPhone

Does AT&T really charge a $25 “activation fee” when you move your SIM card to a GoPhone? A father had to replace his child’s broken cellphone over the weekend, and the rep at the AT&T store told him the only way to avoid an ETF or plan extension was to buy a GoPhone and pay an activation fee, even though the SIM card was the same. Online, you can buy a new GoPhone and have the activation fee waved. Way to treat your current customers, AT&T.

My daughter’s AT&T phone went bust yesterday. We went to the AT&T store in Palo Alto, CA to either fix it or get a new one. Apparently the only option open to us (according to the sales rep) without either canceling her plan for $175 or extending her plan another 2 years was to buy a “GoPhone”.

However, even though we just needed to swap the sim card from the old phone to the new phone we would still need to pay the $25 “Activation Fee”.

Either the information we received was inaccurate or AT&T is again playing monopoly. But it really doesn’t matter. I still smell a rat and I’m glad I personally made the switch to Verizon.

To the father, we’d suggest you contact AT&T and explain the situation in detail and request that the fee is waived—point out the fact that they waive the activation fee for new customers.

Your other option is to bypass AT&T and buy your daughter an unlocked phone—I can move my SIM to any network-compatible phone I like as often as I like, and AT&T is cut out of the loop. Of course, freedom like that comes with a price, and it’ll probably be more than the price of a GoPhone and a $25 activation fee—but AT&T won’t be able to tell you what to do with your phone anymore.

(Thanks to Dave!)

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  1. stevemis says:

    Why not just track down a used AT&T phone from Craigslist for $25 and put the SIM card into it? No contract extensions involved and you don’t even need to go to the store or call AT&T.

  2. sleze69 says:

    Totally inaccurate. Just buy the phone and put your SIM card in. It will work. I use my old phone as a backup for mine, my girlfriend’s and my mother’s phones. All of our current SIM cards work with my old phone.

    Just buy any AT&T phone, or any unlocked phone, and it will work.

    Post the name of the guy and the location of the store that told you that misinformation.

  3. Sam2k says:

    AT&T does not charge activation fees for GoPhones and they do not charge conversion fees to go from a postpaid plan to a GoPhone (although they do charge up to $36 to go the other way). Actually, if the line is under contract, converting it to a GoPhone is a breach of the contract which would mean up to a $175 termination fee depending on when the contract was entered.

    $25 is what corporate stores charge for a new SIM card. If I’m not mistaken, the SIM card will have to be changed because GoPhones are programed to report you to the fraud department if you use a normally activated SIM card in one. If this is a CORE store, I would bet that that is what the $25 fee is for.

    If its not a CORE store and is actually an authorized dealer, they can charge whatever processing fee they wish.

    Btw, purchasing a phone at retail price instead of the subsidized 2 year price is always an option. It just doesn’t reward the sales rep. AT&T also has 1 year contract prices which are not as widely published.

  4. tme2nsb says:

    To the poster of this tip, contact me. I work in the Northeast CSR/Tier 2 Tech – I can look into this, but as far as I know, ATT does not charge ANY fee for moving sim to GoPhone. HOWEVER, there is a 25.00 charge for a SIM card if you have a postpaid account it was not noted on the account you’d be given a free sim. However, with Prepaid, all you do is pay for the phone and the minutes, and that is IT. Otherwise, this is totally inaccurate.

  5. philipbarrett2003 says:

    Buy a phone & move the SIM card. AT&T still think mine’s in a Razr not the N95 in which it currently resides.

  6. calvinneal says:

    What B.s. I have never been charged for a Sim card. The day they charge is the day I am gone.

  7. Copper says:

    Buy an unlocked or AT&T phone on ebay or craigslist. They’re pretty cheap. No extra fees. Just move the sim card. You don’t even have to tell AT&T.

    My dog just chewed up my Krzr (still works though, just doesn’t ring, only vibrates), so I bought a cheaper Razr and sold my Krzr on ebay. I actually made $25 more than what I bought the other one for.

  8. Triskillion says:

    @Sam2k: As a sales rep I can assure you go phones do not report you to the fraud dept, nor should a cor store charge you for a sim. I hand them out for free on a daily basis.

  9. mrFanatic says:

    Kind of accurate… the rep just lied about what the $25 dollars is used for. To sell out a go phone one of two things must happen. Either the customer purchasing the gophone must have a gophone account currently or activate a gophone account at the time of purchasing the phone. This means that the customer must put some time on the account for it to be active and for the rep to get paid a commission.

    This is the only way an AT&T store can sell an under-contract customer a new phone at any sort of discount. The $25 the rep told you was the activation fee is actually $25 of airtime that was added to whatever phone number he activated during the sale of the phone. If you did not receive a sim card with $25 of airtime on it, the rep flat out stole your money. If you went back to the store with your receipt and talked to a manager, they would either give you a $25 credit to your post-paid account or give you a sim card with $25 of airtime on it and maybe even punish the rep who helped you (doubt it though).

    From what I understand (I work for AT&T if you haven’t noticed already) any place you buy a gophone will require some sort of initial airtime purchase. If you buy them from Wal-Mart or best buy, I believe they do not require an airtime purchase.

    It is hard to believe the rep lied to you so blatantly, especially since the commission on a gophone activation is a measly $1(usually not worth the sales reps time). I will normally explain to the customer that they have to purchase $25 worth of airtime to get the phone so cheap, but that airtime can be used to download ringtones or games. This usually makes the customer okay, especially because the only other option is to purchase a phone at full retail which ranges from $220-$500.

    One thing to note as well is that the gophone’s usually are only dual-band low quality phones. You get what you pay for. Your better off buying the phone from RadioShack, Wal-Mart, or best buy and returning the phone after you have found something better online or from craigslist. You cannot do this at the AT&T store because that $25 “activation” charge is non-refundable and you will end up paying $25 to rent a crappy phone.

    Side Note:
    AT&T used to discount the price of the phone an additional $25 to compensate for the $25 airtime needed. So, if the price of the phone $45 the rep would discount the phone to $20 and sell you non-refundable $25 in airtime. You thought you paid $45 for a phone and tried to return it the next day after finding your lost phone, but only recieved $20 back for something you spend $45 the day earlier. Since the “Nazi-like” crack down on discounting the rep probably had to make up some (what he thought was reasonable) excuse to cover up the $25 of airtime required to sell out the phone.

    TAKE-AWAYS:
    1.) You were robbed!
    2.) Not all AT&T reps are this bad.
    3.) Knowing your rights and options before going into a commission store is ideal!
    4.) Learn the system and exploit the loopholes, or be exploited yourself!

    Want the skinny on any other AT&T policies? Let me know …

  10. GearheadGeek says:

    @Sam2k: Except that you’re not “converting to a gophone”… the difference for the gophone is more the SIM (and its associated account) than the phone itself. They’re just using the gophone as a host for the postpaid SIM.

    The other posters’ advice about buying a phone on Craigslist or eBay is good, though, because you’ll have more variety to choose from than the goPhones.

    The crappy thing about all this is that the store doesn’t offer a phone at an unsubsidized price… you can’t just buy the hardware from AT&T, they want to hook you into the contract extension. That defeats the whole point of sticking with the older GSM format.

  11. Antediluvian says:

    Folks are right about craigslist and eBay, but even simpler (and faster and safer) is ask friends and colleagues if they have an old AT&T or Cingular phone. Chances are someone will have something if you’re not fussy, and it’s free.

  12. consumerd says:

    This also works for T-mobile to, when my SGH-T209 stopped working I used an old Nokia 6340i till my phone came back. Just popped the SIM out of the back and put it in the old nokia. I had unlocked the old nokia for $12 prior, and got the super unlock code from nokia after that. Now that phone recognizes any card you stick in it, boost, virgin, verizon wireless, AT&T, T-mobile, it just doesn’t care.

  13. ezacharyk says:

    That is odd. I switch my SIM card around a lot and have never had to deal with AT&T.

  14. elislider says:

    you can buy a GoPhone refurb for $20 or so from the ATT website, throw away the sim it comes with, and just use any ATT/Cingular sim with it. Or, just get any ATT/Cingular phone or any unlocked GSM phone on craigslist or ebay and throw the sim in that. ATT will never know the difference, they just love charging you for stuff that doesnt require anything on their end.

    Also, as stated, any old phone of a friends’ or relative’s that had ATT/Cingular will work.

  15. mikecolione says:

    The rep is either mis-informed, or just trying to get a new activation out of the deal. He’ll get charged back next month, but it’ll count towards his impossible goal this month.

    I’d go back, and ask for the manager. The rep shouldn’t even have sold you a Go Phone as you don’t have a prepaid account.

    In my area, we have a basic phone for 40.00 for customers in this situation. Not a Go Phone, it’s actually the same phone we sell with contracts but has been set up with special pricing for customers that can’t upgrade yet but have a broken phone.

  16. mikecolione says:

    @mrFanatic: Not sure what market you’re in, but in 38 we have the 2610 (that i referenced above) for 40.00. It was introduced to appease walmart and bestbuy that sell tons of go phones but never get activated. 99% of customers are ok with it since it’s much cheaper than the no commit price on other handsets.

  17. Neurotic1 says:

    @Sam2k: Dude you’re a moron. Fraud dept.? Give me a f#$^% break.

  18. redpeppers20xx says:

    First,go to Best Buy/WalMart/Gas station/drug store..buy goPhone off of rack for 19.99 + tax. Open GoPhone and insert old SIM. Toss new SIM into drawer and forget about it. Done.

    Second…I’m sorry AT&T tried to screw you over but do you really think switching to another carrier is the answer? So ATT got you on this issue…do you really think Verizon is any better?

    They ALL suck. Every last carrier from the big 4 down to the little mom and pop regionals and playing hop scotch isn’t going to solve your issue.

    Trust me,Verizon will do you wrong in some form or fashion…then what…hop to Sprint?

  19. nonzenze says:

    Sprint has done right by me since the year 2000.

  20. DJC says:

    Was this the ATT store off of El Camino in Palo Alto?

  21. mikecolione says:

    @Sam2k: It’s COR nor CORE. If your going to speak on an issue you should be well informed. You can use any SIM card in a Go Phone. The rep wanted to get something out of the deal (new activation) and used this naive customer to get it. It isn’t right, but it’s not fraud.

  22. warloc66 says:

    When my son’s phone was stolen, the rep at the AT&T kiosk at out local mall suggested she buy a $20 phone, then called AT&T and changed over the sim to my son’s old number. We didn’t even have the original SIM and we were able to switch it over without a problem. Sounds like your rep was just clueless.

  23. mac-phisto says:

    total b.s. to echo other commenters, $25 is the charge for a new SIM (if yours becomes faulty & you must replace it).

    you can buy any at&t phone (or any unlocked GSM phoen for that matter) & swap your existing SIM into it w/o incurring any kind of fee (except maybe an iphone). AT&T has no method of tracking IMEIs (the serial number on GSM phones), which is the only way to determine what phone someone is using.

    incidentally, if you do need a new SIM, c.s. is generally pretty good about crediting your account for the cost. if they suggest buying a new SIM, ask for a credit.

  24. dweebster says:
  25. dweebster says:

    @dweebster: sorry, forgot to add details: easily unlockable quad-band world phones for $20-30 dollars via AT&T. Screw them back….

    They’re great little phones, and after unlocking can use any GSM SIM without issue, don’t even need to unlock them to use with ATT

  26. Sam2k says:

    @Triskillion: You’re actually wrong on both accounts…or maybe its just my market. Either way, it does happen.

    @GearheadGeek: GoPhones are a different account type than a post paid account. GoPhones sold by AT&T are locked in a manner similar to the way that the normal phones are locked to work only with an ATT sim card. Such that when you put your postpaid sim card into a GoPhone it shouldn’t work. My understanding is that GoPhones have not always been locked in this manner but have been for at least the past year.

    @Neurotic1: Actually, I’m not. I have had many customers who have broken their phone and bought a cheap GoPhone to replace it. Either on the first call or after a few, their calls are transfered to AT&T’s fraud department and their accounts are suspended until they purchase proper equipment.

  27. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    Somewhere I have an old Cingular Samsung X427, I took out my SIM card and put in a RAZR. No muss, no fuss.

  28. Dtyler says:

    the activation fee is BS, i work in retail (and usually laugh at a lot of the stuff that gets mentioned on this site about my place of employment…i assure you) and the way we have to do things is, we do not sell the gophone unactivated, but the only part that is actually activated is the sim card, if they have thier old sim card (for thier postpaid account) then they can just swap that in there after we sell them the gophone, now…if they lost thier old sim card then i can see where the 25 dollar fee comes from, since the seperate sim cards are 25 dollars exactly in our store.

    oh and the only reason we do not sell an unactivated gophone in our company is because the salesman actually gets a “commission” of sorts on each prepaid phone sold

  29. SkittleKicks says:

    Huh, about 3 weeks ago I had an AT&T rep give me a whole new SIM for no money – my phone was giving me issues, I took it in, and they replaced it for free.

  30. Bodgy says:

    Never go to the retail stores. Especially one that is not company owned. The authorized retailers (Sam’s, etc) are notoriously bad. Typically they work on commission only and quotas. Even the small commission on a GoPhone is a sale for them and keeps them making their quotas.

  31. MrEvil says:

    Yeah, that’s complete Bullshit. A friend of mine had the same thing happen to him. His phone broke and he was still under contract. So rather than paying $200 for a new phone he bought a cheap Go Phone for $50 and swapped his SIM. The Go Phone worked perfectly fine and no call to GAYT&T was required. About a month later he found a deal on an unlocked SLVR for $140 and swapped the SIM to that phone when it arrived. Just buy the Go Phone from Wal-Mart, that way you don’t HAVE to activate the Go Phone SIM.

    That’s the whole reason the SIM card was put into the GSM standard. This way the user could swap or upgrade phones without ever having to call his wireless carrier.

  32. Sam2k says:

    @SkittleKicks: If you’re experiencing trouble then they are likely to give you a new sim card free of charge because its AT&T’s problem. However, if it is your fault or you just want to make changes that require a new SIM card, they can charge you for it.

    Each phone comes with like 10 SIM cards, so they’re not exactly highly counted for and it is mostly up to the discretion of the agent.

  33. jamar0303 says:

    Just buy an unlocked phone. They’re cheap too, depending on what manufacturers you’re looking at. Oh, and Sam2k: do tell me what market you work in because it sounds like an anomaly (notice that no one else is getting dumped to the fraud department for using a GoPhone with a postpaid SIM?).

  34. gamin says:

    I had the same problem with my phone and I can tell you that is B.S
    just go to wall mart (better after hours when there is no at&t rep)
    and buy a Go Phone then swap the sim card it works fine

  35. vliam says:

    @gamin: Yep.
    My last phone was a cheap Motorola Go-Phone that was around $14.86 at Wal-mart.
    Take it out of the package, throw everything but the phone, charger, and battery away. Pop in the SIM and go.
    The battery was even all charged up. I guess because they can’t wait for you to start burning time when you pay by the minute. Except of course, I wasn’t.

  36. Parting says:

    Just don’t tell At&T. They will never know :)

  37. yankeecardinal says:

    Let me tell you, had a gophone and on the 29th day they shut the account off and told me the only way that I could get the phone to work was to buy a new sim card. Now my husband has a phone and had the same time limit that I had and he had no trouble. I have contacted AT&T, and they have never gotten back with me, although I did receive an email saying that they received mine and would look into the matter. I guess they are still looking.

  38. riancurtis says:

    I work at at&t
    what the rep is doing is covering is own ass. We are not allowed to actively push a Gophone to a person who has a broken phone – the business model kind of forces them to buy a retail priced phone. However, if you buy the Gophone from walmart you can just put your sim card in there. What has happened here is the person came into the store seeking a phone, the rep offered him the pay as you go phone and in order to activate a gophone and MAKE THE SALE LOOK LEGIT we must sell a $25 prepaid pin to the customer.
    The benefit is you get a phone at a cheap price – and the phone is priced the same as Wal-Mart typically, BUT if you try to return the phone you can only return it for $25 less than you bought it for since the prepaid minutes are non-refundable.

    Sam2K above is right on. Authorized stores can charge you whatever they want, but reps at a COR store have to be smart about how they do things.

    I would say the rep was actually trying to do the customer a favor and the problem with that is that you have to explain that the $25 is non-refundable. Saying it is an “activation fee” is not the way to do it. This just means the rep was problem a freaking idiot.

    send me questions. i work here. literally – right now.

  39. riancurtis says:

    @mrFanatic: You are 100% correct. I should not have even posted my first comment. should have read yours.
    @Triskillion: No one should charge for a sim card. that is absolutely ridiculous.

    I should also add that I am the most lenient sales rep on Earth. I think the seventh largest company in the world -which trust me, treats its employees (at least me) very well….aside from the occasional commission changes :( – can afford to have a few reps out there who really just want to help people.
    My problem with at&t is this……it is the most reactionary wireless provider. C’mon….we have the most customers … we should be rolling out the unlimited plans and not following the price points that Verizon sets. I believe we can afford it. Innovation comes in more than just an iPhone.

  40. mac-phisto says:

    oh, forgot about this program. don’t know if it’s still active, but it’s one thing i used to like about selling at&t phones:

    at&t offers (or used to offer) what they call an “exception upgrade” to postpaid customers that are in need of a new phone (say, yours was lost/stolen & you don’t like to be extorted by that scam insurance). here’s what you can do:
    go to a corporate store (i don’t believe franchises or partners participate in the program, but i could be wrong) or call at&t customer service & explain that you need a new phone & a csr informed you of the “exception upgrade program”. to qualify,
    -your account must be in good standing
    -you must have been a customer for at least 6 months.
    -your last upgrade can’t fall under the program (you can’t do back-to-back exception upgrades)
    here’s what the program buys you:
    -a new phone at the price for 1-yr activation
    -you must sign a new 2-yr agreement
    -you cannot upgrade your phone again for the full 2 years (opposed to the normal 18 month requirement)

    exception upgrade is great if you’re mid-contract & you have no SIM to plug into a cheap-o phone. but if your SIM is fine & you just need a phone, go buy the $20 gophone – you’ll be just fine.

  41. bigduke says:

    Unless something has changed in the last month, this should be fairly easy. Just go to any retail store that sells the Go-phone. Buy one. Put your old sim card in the go-phone. Charge it up, turn it on, and you are all set.

    I have done this myself, as has another friend of mine. There was no new contract or anything, just a new phone that works with my old sim card. The funny part is when I go to the AT@T Wireless website, it shows my new phone as “My Phone”, so they are certainly able to see what I have done.

  42. rjhiggins says:

    T-Mobile tried to do the same to us. We just complained long and loud enough that they waived it.

  43. mrbiggsndatx says:

    @riancurtis

    ever heard of a POSA hotline suspension? that is what happens when we find a go phone being used on postpaid (done by an automated system that views the IMEI of the phone being used to make calls vs. the acct type). now, how often this is found is unknown, but dont steer the customer in the wrong direction. just give them the pros and cons and let them take the shot. always cover ur azz….

  44. taz757 says:

    I don’t know what the problem is for you. I went out a few months ago and bought a cheapo AT&T GoPhone from Best Buy when they had them in the bins around Christmastime. I bought it as a back up, just in case my primary phone decided to die. I mean, it was $20. Big deal. Well, my phone died and I needed to use it. Slapped my SIM in, powered it on and away I went. I didn’t have a single problem. Didn’t have to call and activate the phone, nothing. I’ve also had other family members do the same thing with GoPhones. Their main phone died and needed something cheap.

    You’re just transferring the SIM from one phone to another, that’s network-locked. You’re going from an AT&T phone to AT&T phone. Just do it. I have no doubt that it’ll work for you and you don’t have to pay any sort of activation fee as long as you’re using your original SIM.

  45. Bryan Price says:

    I bought a GoPhone from Sam’s Club (yeah, I know) at Christmas just like taz757, moved the SIM card from the daughter’s supposedly broken Moto V3, and it worked just fine. Yeah, it’s locked to the network, but it’s the same network.

  46. Sam2k says:

    @Bodgy: Your advice is actually completely backwards. It is AT&T corporate stores where you have to watch your back because the agents are being beat over the head by a sales quota. I know that walmart, sam’s, and radioshack are horrible for post sale customer service, but the independent agents don’t have any other selling angle. If you want service, go to one of the independant agents. They can’t waive fees or give out free phones, but paying a little is often worth the extra attention.

  47. Sam2k says:

    @mrbiggsndatx: Thank you! I could have sworn I wasn’t retarded.

    Let it be known that I am no longer the only person claiming that a postpaid account can be suspended for using a GoPhone.

  48. gravit8 : just not cool enough for...jalopnik? says:

    OKAY.

    From my own firsthand attempts at replacing a two year old razor, today.

    I walked into a radioshack. Went to the go phones, waited for the d-bag clerk to unlock the case, grabbed the $20 moto…something or other. Went to the counter to complete purchase.

    (This is where my experience diverges from the one I had just a few weeks ago, in the same store, when replacing another razor)

    The radiohack jockey tells me I need to activate the account. I said, umm, no, I just need the phone. To replace a razor until we’re up for the magic ‘renewal’ period.

    Then he went into the back room, telling me he had to check with his manager. I knew I shouldn’t have said anything about already having an account. Toolboy comes out insisting the phone wouldn’t work on my post paid account. In response, I took out the POS I’d bought in the store just a few weeks previous (with NO hassle, just $25 and out-the-door I went) and called the broken razor.

    IT RANG!

    He still insisted that I had to fill out all this info for the GP, and I’m reluctant to be putting any info on paper for such a BS reason.

    As for fraud, you’re fucking nuts. I’ve had this other go-phone for a while now, and I make dozens of calls a day for business and haven’t had any problems whatsoever. My region, if it matters, is Iowa.

    Now I’m off to find another cell store to find a cheap replacement. We’ll be getting the free upgrades in less than two months, and I’m not spending more than $30 on something to get through until then. Afterwards, we’ll have backup handsets so I won’t have to track down another.

    Thing is, I’ve been to a few other small cell shops already, and they all have something very similar to the go phone concept (most on GSM, so theoretically I could use any of those phones. Theoretically). And they’re all trying to get me to sign up for something just to get the cheapest handset they have. The bare minimum, I know the dif between the discounts they use to grab your nuts for two years and a cheap piece of plastic. The cheap plastic ones usually last longer, too…

    Why is the cell industry so dead-set against allowing for a cheap replacement bare-bones handset? They get over $1,000 a year from me and they’re practically refusing to help me replace the very equipment I need to use their service. I should be able to walk into just about any store and pick up an emergency handset…

    WTF?

    Lets all hope google won the bidding for the new spectrum. Maybe someday I can actually buy a handset I like at a fair price. Without a flippin contract. Or this run around. Eventually the big providers will have to let go of this retched business model.

  49. jhurley03 says:

    I used to work for AT&T customer service(the people that had to fix the errors of cor store agents and retail agents). That agent didn’t know what he was doing. There is no activation fee for going buying a prepaid phone to use on postpaid. If he just would have called customer service it would have been resolved right there. The agent should have also mentioned the 39.99 nokia 2610 option.

  50. Tony To says:

    Well the easy is either get used AT&T/Unlocked Phone from craigslist or buy a GoPhone at Target or Walmart.

    New GoPhones can be had as cheap as $15 or up towards $50. Average $20.

    Then put your SIM in the New GoPhone(should work for most of them but Samsung ones only takes the 3G SIM cards.)

    Or you can try to transfer you old number to the new GoPhone SIM.

    Why would they charge you $25 for the SIM when a new GoPhone with SIM Card goes for no more than $25 at Radio Shack.

  51. cooljoebay says:

    I say keep “ripping off” the companies. How do you think they became such rich corporations? Making that big of a profit isn’t natural. It requires a lot of unethical practices, and that starts by ripping off a certain number of customers. AT&T and Walmart screw people 7 days a week. If you really want to get what you perceive as your “money’s worth”, than rip their butts off. Who cares about laws and policies. Those things are put in place to protect the profits of companies, and the only reason the law protects them is because they are in the pockets of the companies. The consumer stands alone without any protection. People should trade phones, recycle phones, and be more efficient because companies HATE efficiency. They don’t want products to last long. Imagine how many corporate vacations would be jeopardized.