More AT&T Wireless Customers Boned by Cingular

Since first we spoke of troubles with Cingular, many of you have taken the time to write us with your own stories—especially stories about the troubles since the Cingular and AT&T Wireless merger.

Two in particular stand out, which we’ll pass on after the jump. The first, from Jon B., details his company’s troubles trying to develop mobile software for phones that work on Cingular. (If we were feeling particularly antagonistic, we would note how the troubles were making it difficult for third-parties to add value to Cingular’s service.)

Levi F. sends the second story, a tale of what seems to be a typical frustration for loyal AT&T Wireless customers who found themselves forced to migrate to the Cingular service.

The tragedy in all this is that the technology that the two companies used was very nearly compatible. All this SIM card swapping and forced new phones was almost avoidable.

Get ready for some quality kvetching after the jump.

Jon B. writes:

I work for a mobile phone software company. In the course of our daily work we need to test our software on lots of phones.

We signed up for a Cingular corporate account over a year ago and have a few lines activated. Everything was fine. Recently, we bought some new phones at local Cingular stores to test. We then tried to use them with the Cingular SIMs we already had. It didn’t work, as these phones were “SIM-locked” for Cingular.

We figured this was because the SIMs we had were originally ATT SIMs, even though when we signed up they were then called Cingular. So we called up our Cingular corporate sales rep and asked for replacement SIMs and explained the problem. It was no big deal, and a few days later we received a new set of SIMs complete with the Cingular Splotch.

We then tried them in the new phones. Still didn’t work. “??!!!” We said.

It seems that the SIMs we were sent were still really ATT SIMs; they were only masquerading as genuine Cingular SIMS. Because of this, they would not work in our new Cingular phones. The phone again told us to enter the “Subsidy Code” to unlock the phone.

I personally then called Cingular customer care and asked them about this. The confirmed that our Cingular SIMs were not really Cingular SIMs. They told me that I had to transfer to Account Migration to fix this. I then spent 1+ hour on hold over the course of two days. When I finally reached this group, they said that my old rate plans were no longer possible to use and that I had to sign up for new rate plans for all the phones. Gads.

I knuckled under to this pressure, as I could see no way out.

Then we got all the details done and then they told me to read out the SIM card serial numbers out to them, so they could do their computer system magic and turn these frogs back into princes. Alas, it was not to be. The SIMs we had were impossible to change. We had to go again and get new SIMs.

This time, my very patient IT manager went to a local downtown Seattle Cingular store. He got three new SIMs and then had a 1+ hour call with customer care for each SIM in order to active it.

There’s an Army acronym that comes to mind here…

My own recommendation, is that if you are an ex-ATT customer and want to stay with ATT/Cingular, you should go in and bite the bullet and change over to Cingular. I believe that the best way to do this is in a Cingular store, as those personnel are the most motivated to help you do this quickly. However, it *is* absurd.

I’m personally locked into them because I need a SIM-card based service and because T-Mo does not have coverage in a key place I regularly travel.

Levi F adds:

On the Cingular front, I thought I’d pass along the story of the nightmare that I endured with my phone…sorry it’s so long – this is the condensed version. I’ve glossed over the many hours of idiocy I encountered at every step of this transaction with every single Cingular employee I spoke with.

At the outset, I want to say that I had been with AT&T Wireless for over 6 years and been a VERY loyal customer (I was on the $299.99 plan when they had it and had many bills that went over 1K a month).

After having a new Sony Erricson T637 phone for 6 months, I started having problems with calls ( I would hear other people’s conversations, I just couldn’t make calls, etc.). I took my phone into a Cingular store and had the agent look at it. After looking at it, the agent told me to call warranty exchange to get a new one. I called warranty exchange and they send me out a new phone with instructions to send them the old phone. A new phone arrived ( no box, cover battery, etc. just the phone)..I popped my SIM card into the new phone and sent Cingular my old phone. So far, so good.

I quickly realized that there was still a problem. While trying to make calls, I would enter other people’s conversations, I still couldn’t make calls, etc. Another call was placed to tech support, who told me that since I had already sent my old phone to warranty exchange, that it must be a SIM card problem and they would send me a new SIM card.

A few days later, I receive a new SIM card. I put the SIM card in the phone and it works fine. So we’re done, right? Nope.

The next day, I get a box with my old phone in it along with a piece of paper. The paper said that since there was display damage on the old phone, they were charging me $209.99. There was an issue with a few pixels on the screen, which I had told the agent at warranty exchange about and the Cingular agent had seen. Now my old phone has major display damage due to the fact that my old phone had been sent back to me with no packaging material whatsoever. I put my new SIM card in my old phone and presto – the old phone works…it was just a problem with the SIM card, but due to Cingular’s warranty exchange program, if you have a SIM card problem, you’re fucked. So now I have 2 phones, both of which work just fine, and a $209.99 charge for a phone I don’t want or need.

In any event, I call Cingular to try to rectify the situation. First, I am told that they couldn’t do anything about it and I’m stuck with the phone. After a few hours of working my way up the Cingular totem pole, the agent tells me that they’ll overnight me a label so I can return the phone to them for a credit. 2 weeks later – no label. So I call back…they have no record that I spoke to anybody before, so I go through the whole thing again with about 5 different Cingular agents. After another hour or two on the phone, Cingular tells me that they will credit my account the $209.99 and it will take 1-2 billing cycles. After a month…no credit. Cingular says it’s still processing. After 2 months…no credit. I call again and Cingular tells me that the credit to my account has been denied! So again, I work my way up the Cingular ladder and again they say that they will overnight me a label to send the phone back. The last call was on December 21. On January 4, still no label…so I call again and they say that they’ll send me out a new label…in a shocking development, I’m still waiting on it. I’ve put in a complaint with the BBB and disputed the charge on the AMEX, but who knows what that will get me. I’ve since moved my 2 lines of service over to T-Mobile.

Please tell your readers to be very, very careful when dealing with warranty exchange at Cingular. Make them send you a new SIM card BEFORE you send your phone to warranty exchange. I’m not sure if there are any other options available to get your defective phone fixed…I wasn’t given any.


Edit Your Comment

  1. CMPalmer says:

    We went through the same thing. My daughter wanted a Razr phone for her birthday, but to add it to our “AT&T” account, we had to “switch” to Cingular. We had automatic bill payment set up already with Cingular (this was after the switch, so all of our bills said Cingular but we had originally signed with AT&T). We asked the rep if our automatic bill payment would switch and he fiddled with his computer and said that it would.

    It did. Two months later, my daughter and my wife’s phones stopped working. I checked my account and it was paid up. I called Cingular and they said it was paid up. I asked why my phones weren’t working and she said, “Oh, you have a previous balance of $90 from your AT&T account, plus $40 (or so) in late fees.” Yep, he switched my bill payment to the new account and we never received e-mail or paper bills for the old account which went delinquent. I paid the $90, but there was no way in hell I was going to pay the $40, but it took three more phone calls and an hour or more of my time to clear it up.

  2. scingram says:

    My girlfriend and I have had rounds of problems with Cingular. Some of it merger related, some of it customer service incompitence. But all of it fustrating. I have had my account disconnected (while on vacation, that is fun) because they could not handle an address change properly during the merger. I have had my SIM card mysteriously die on me twice when it was under AT&T, and been in the store when 5 other people had the same exact issue. My girlfriend and I wanted a joint plan, that was fun. Her phone was a CDMA phone, so not only did she have to give up her phone, and was forced to by a new one, she also lost her awesome monthly rate that she had for being a loyal AT&T customer for so long. And in the process of joining our accounts I was forced to switch to Cingular and was told that it would be fine, only to find out that my current phone would not accept a Cingular SIM card and that I would have to buy another phone. Which is totaly unacceptable seeing as I have a Audiovox SMT-5600 Smartphone that set me back some $200 just a year ago and works beautifilly. So some research and some $$ later I have a unlocked phone that works on thier network.
    If this is their idea of how they should treat their customers, then I am seriously frightened. I only stay currently because I am stuck in contract. What a pain.

  3. RowdyRoddyPiper says:

    I had a major issue with Cingular over three years ago. I went with Cingular because they had the really teeny tiny Nokia and that’s the phone I wanted, research be damned. Well long story short, within about a week of having the phone I realize it won’t work. The issue is I can’t get signal…really anywhere. I but a supplemental antenna, no dice. I call Cingular, from my land phone and attempt to explain things. They tell me there’s nothing they can do, their coverage area is approximate. The irony, is that I am standing on my balcony, looking directly at the Bell South building and holding my cell phone which shows no bars, as I’m having this conversation with them.

    My savior in this, as most things came from some late night internet wandering. I came across a Yahoo group dedicated to hating Cingular. In this sea of hostility waded a lone Cingular employee and good god was he helping people. I e-mailed him, explained my plight. He agreed that it was ridiculous that I couldn’t get a signal, in downtown (or uptown as they call it) Charlotte. He felt the Teeny Tiny Phone was to blame and offered to either give me a new phone and credit the price difference, or let me out of my contract all together. I ended up taking the latter option and going with Verizon (who I am in a death struggle with now). Through the whole ordeal he was courteous and totally efficient. I’ve e-mailed him and asked him to swing by to check out these horror stories. If he’s still with Cingular, he may be able to do something directly. If he can’t do anything he may at least be able to give some insights into the problems people are having.

  4. cestlavie00 says:

    My wife and I for a few years used to have the old AT&T Wireless service. The plan was for $39.99 per month for 650 minutes for each of us. Cingular wireless which now is the new ‘dis-honest’ AT&T were pushing us to move to their new service considering that all the minutes will be matched with the one we had with the old AT&T wireless.

    Basically they offered us 450 minutes plus extra 200 additional minutes with the 2 years contract. After about 6 months, my wife has noticed that for the past couple of months her minutes are reducing and the actual minutes is only 450 minutes with no additional minutes, and for any additional minutes over it, she would be charged!

    I called recently for multiple times to AT&T, and they say the 200 minutes was only a bonus minutes for a couple of months as a addition to our roll over minutes and after that it will turn to zero with no additional minutes and therefore AT&T can not do anything about it!

    How can a major company like AT&T abusing their own customer like this? I have been with AT&T for so many years as a loyal customer, and they don’t even seem to care no matter how I can explain to their customer support. Isn’t this just a monopoly where this kind of companies keep merging with each other so they can treat their customers in any they want to!

    The best choice would be to stay away from this unsecured and dis-honest company.