Sprint Refuses To Cancel Dead Brother’s Cellphone

Sprint refuses to cancel the cellphone service of a reader’s dead brother. The most they’ll “bend” for reader M is to “put the account on vacation,” at $5.95 a month.

This is despicable.

M, if you’re reading, check your email or write back. We’d like to follow this one up further. Also, check out this post, “HOWTO: Handle Closing Dead People’s Accounts.”

Lastly, can’t faxing over a death certificate and a letter testamentary do the trick? (A letter testamentary is a court document saying whom is the appointed estate executor).

Read M’s really really sad letter, inside…

    “Dear Consumerist,

    I love reading your stories and must admit I never thought I might be one. My brother passed away suddenly in December. I have been dealing with his estate since. Most creditors have been easy to deal with and have even offered their condolences. Sprint is an exception.

    I contacted Sprint to cancel his cell phone service. I spent over forty minutes on the phone. First I went through fifteen minutes of being on hold. Then I spoke with Alex. He was a bit gruff with me and didn’t understand why I did not have the account phone number memorized. I told him I called him from 611 and he should have the number. I also explained I had not received a bill from Sprint since his passing in mid-December. I had to look his number up on my own cell phone.

    Eventually Alex passed me off to another department, staffed by the lovely Marie. Marie would not cancel the account either and when I started explaining how an $80 bill was not worth Sprint’s time going after my brother’s estate in probate court she claimed she could not hear me, repeatedly. I told her it must the the Sprint network quality service. I live in a major city and had full bars.

    Marie’s claims of hearing impediment led me to ask for her manager. I spoke with Kevin. He eventually asked to call me back on a land line. I told him to call me back on my brother’s phone. In the end, all he would do was put the account on “vacation”, still charging $5.95 per month. I still do not understand why he would not cancel it since I had all the passwords they wanted. Sprint will not get a payment from the estate unless they pursue it in probate. They will spend more money on the paperwork.

    Thanks Consumerist. I do not care if you print this or not. I am happy to have vented.”

M, our sincere condolences for your loss. It’s very hard to lose a loved one. It’s even harder when a company is behaving callously and duplicitously to take advantage of your situation.

Based on what we know, your brother’s estate is responsible for the final bill and any charges up until your brother’s death. However, they cannot hit you with an early termination fee. Nor should your brother’s estate continue to be charged $5.95 for a dead man’s cellphone.

As we said in the intro, this matter can be resolved by faxing Sprint a copy of your brother’s death certificate, and by Sprint canceling the contract without being disgusting pinheads.

Although, it’s not like they don’t have a history of this behavior. See this post from October, “Sprint Harasses Grieving Mother For Two Years.” — BEN POPKEN

Related: HOWTO: Handle Closing Dead People’s Accounts


    “Dear Consumerist

    I am amazed you have already posted the story about my ordeal with Sprint last night. To clarify, my brother passed away in mid-December but the City of St. Louis Medical Examiner’s Office will not issue a death certificate for 8-10 weeks, meaning late February because he passed in his sleep and there was no apparent cause. In the absence of a will I have affidavits from our remaining family members nominating me to be the executor (we were the closest siblings). I will not be able to begin proceedings in probate court until the death certificate has been issued.

    All other creditors have been understanding of the situation. I know the estate (read “I”) will have to pay the Sprint bill in the end. First, the estate will notify all creditors and it is their responsibility to reply. After my experience last night I am happy to create a bit more work for them. Incidentally, this reminded me to call Cingular about an issue with my service. I was on hold for a few minutes but then Latoya was very nice and handled my request promptly. At least one person at the end of a customer service phone number understands her job title.”

UPDATE: Here’s another place M could send his complaint: shareholder.relations@sprint.com or Shareholder Relations 1-800-259-3755, press option 4.


Edit Your Comment

  1. KesCaesar says:

    My condolences as well. To be a little bit inquisitive- did they even ask for a copy of the death certificate? Or did they just refuse, flat out, to believe he was dead?
    I’m sure this is not the first time something like this has occurred!

  2. Metschick says:

    My Condolences as well.

    Faxing/mailing a death certificate should do the trick. (I would tell you what I did when my husband died, but now that I think about it, I just let the contract expire – 11 months later. I think I couldn’t sever that connection and the contract expiration gave me the “excuse”.

  3. My god, that image sends chills down my spine.

    Reading the story chills me further. I dont know what else to say.

  4. Ran Kailie says:

    Holy… when my brother passed a year and a half ago thankfully Cingular was wonderful about his brand new account and the phone that was lost in the car fire.

    They gave their condolensces, put the account on hold and within 24 hours of receiving the death certificate they canceled the account and sent us a letter in the mail to verify it had been done.

    Death certificates can take quite awhile to receive, but they were very understanding regarding the account.

    Shame on Sprint, just more reason why I will NEVER use them.

  5. JeffB says:

    Absolutely unbelievable! Who at Sprint thought this would be a good policy?? They are going to lose alot of business, and people remember stories like this one. I am currently in the process of reviewing wireless carriers for my company (47 lines, not huge but significant)…guess who is no longer under consideration? Companies with policies like this should be run out of business.

  6. This is unbelievable… big companies so are freaking stupid.

    BTW, you guys are unreal at finding appropriate photos for practically ANY article.

  7. fyrfyter says:

    There is a really easy fix for this. File a complaint with your state attorney general. The cell phone companies hate being bothered by politicians, especially when it could affect the standing of such a company in that state’s eyes. It worked with T-Crapola and my parents and sisters cell phone when she went away to college, and even though they said she should have 4-5 bars of signal, she didn’t even have one. Trust me, Some high level exec of said provider will call you within a couple of days and easily cancel your account. He will most likely complain about them losing the cost of the handset, and how they are getting screwed in this whole process. Offer to send the handset back. They won’t take that offer even if you do, just do it to be nice. Voila! Out of the contract, and you can cancel it.

  8. Sheik says:

    Losing loved ones is always hard. Its too bad that Sprint had to make it even harder.

    That photo is awesome, where is that sculpture?

  9. Benny Gesserit says:

    How about a big “BOO” for the City of St. Louis Medical Examiner’s Office.

    Making the grieving wait eight to ten WEEKS is horrible.

  10. mhzrush says:

    My condolences go out to your family.

    By the way, as an ex employee of Cingular, the account should have not been suspended unless there was an authorized user on the account that had permission to do so. What happens if it was a prank and the person was not dead? That would mean account access was granted to an unauthorized user which is strictly prohibited. Instead, the CSR should have notated the account stating that they told the user to send in a death certificate, and upon receipt, cancel the account.

    When a representative doesn’t know what to do, they usually transfer you to someone who can’t even help you, it is called “passing the trash”, I know this because I did it frequently. I was a Sales representative, I received identical training as Customer Service Representatives regarding account privacy, fraud, etc… I had access to the same systems that CSR’s did, but we were discouraged from helping people on their accounts unless you could sell them something, because you wouldn’t make commission for it.

    You shouldn’t make a big deal out of a dead persons account. After all, they probably won’t mind if they have a TEMPORARY past due bill. Once the company receives a legitimate death certificate, they are legally obligated to drop all charges incurred after the death, and possibly pursue past money owed if there is anything to go after. Most likely they will just write it off. The medical examiner probably had to do an autopsy, thats probably why the certificate is taking so long.

    All wireless companies are the same when it comes to customer service, it is just your ‘luck of the draw’ whether or not you get a knowledgeable representative.

    And also, I don’t know how this works at Sprint, but at Cingular Sales when people would ask for a ‘manager’, we did not actually have one, they are just people who walk the floor and answer representatives questions. You were probably not talking to a manger, or even a supervisor, most likely someone who just knows the systems a little better and provides support to representatives.

    At Cingular, you just got someone who was in a better mood thats all.

    I will stay a Sprint customer because they have the nation’s largest wireless broadband network (so does Verizon, they both operate on the EV-DO data network), and the technology is awesome.

    I live in Saint Louis, Missouri and Cingular STILL doesnt have UMTS or HSDPA access in my area, and thats a shame because Sprint and Verizon are getting ready for their next high speed data rollout before Cingular upgrades their EDGE crap.

  11. taintparty says:

    I’m glad you can’t steal my phone, call in, and cancel my account. You’re his brother, not a spouse or parent. This is not disgusting, this is legal business. Corporations have you and every other of their million customers trying to scam them every 10 minutes. How do they know you’re not calling in from your own phone trying to break your contract.

    While it’s no good that your brother passed, don’t expect everyone in the world to start shedding a tear for you and giving you special treatment. If it was a mortgage, do you think the bank would call up and say “we’ll take care of it for you?” It may seem like “just a phone” but that’s what Sprint does for a business. This lets me know that a scammer isn’t going to easily cancel my plan just to screw with me.

    Wait for the death certificate, then you actually have proof. Which is really all you need. BUT, you’re one of those special treatment people who thinks that the rules are for others and you get special treatment. The rules are there to protect the millions of us who don’t want our plan cancelled by our “brother.”

  12. Ran Kailie says:

    By the way, as an ex employee of Cingular, the account should have not been suspended unless there was an authorized user on the account that had permission to do so.

    Not sure what everyone else what taught growing up, but my father always taught us to have someone else with the ability on important accounts to make judgement calls in emergencies. Thus I always have either my father authorized to my account or my mother along with perhaps my fiancee.

    In my brother’s situation his phone was on a shared account with my mom, he’d gotten her a phone to keep in touch after he got back from a tour of duty in the middle east. With her authorization we had no issues. But regardless I was also an authorized person on the account, as I was on all of my brother’s stuff from when he went overseas with the USAF.

    Common sense people, in emergencies save your loved ones the hassle and set someone as your “executor” now.

  13. “Making the grieving wait eight to ten WEEKS is horrible.”

    It’s not unusual. Unfortunately these things move terrifically slowly. Sometimes you can get a little speed out of it by calling and very politely making your case for urgency to the county coroner or clerk, and then the state department of vital records, but it’s just a slow system.

    Also, the last thing most grieving people want to do is repeatedly call state offices to try to expedite the death certificate. I sometimes do it for clients; most of the people in the offices are terribly nice and helpful about navigating the system, which can be quite confusing, especially if there’s anything unusual about the death. But still, grieving people just don’t want to be calling the coroner every other day to try to expedite.

  14. kpishdadi says:

    My condolences!

    I’ve been through a ‘cancel account’ ordeal with Sprint before. When you tell them you want to cancel they transfer you to someone who’s sole job is basically to pursuade you NOT to cancel.

    In my case my contract was about to expire, I called them up to tell them I didn’t want to renew it and I wanted the phone shut off on the day it ends.

    After telling the lady on the phone numorous times I didn’t want to renew, she kept trying to convince me to stay by offering me various offers & discounts, even a free phone.

    Finally she got irritated at me when I firmly told her I would not be renewing, PERIOD. 10 minutes later my phone was shut off.

    The next week I got a bill in the mail for $200 (disconnect before contract ends fee), even though I specifically instructed her to turn it off the next day when the contract would be ending.

    Goes without saying… I’ve never purchased a Sprint phone since, and will be avoiding Nextel also.

  15. VBDon says:

    Well Duuuhhhh, just ignore the bills for a few months. Sprint will eventually cut off service and write a nasty note for your brother’s credit rating. I doubt he’ll need a loan anytime soon.

  16. Jim says:

    This happened several years ago (the company was CellOne…) to a friend of mine and his late father’s phone. After YEARS of trying to get it cleared up, he went to the store and came unhinged in front of people rather than on the phone with customer service.

    He credits it to “fear of (his) wrath” and them “not wantin’ any killin'”, but they finally agreed to cancel his late father’s phone contract.

    It’s disgusting, but I find it interesting that I have only heard of it with cell phones. Surely this must happen occasionally with cable, internet, or utility companies. Since we don’t hear about those, can we assume they know how to deal with death better than cell phone companies? If so, why don’t the cell phone companies just copy what other service providers do in these other industries?

  17. TinaT says:

    Good point, jimg. I’d like to know the answer to that as well.

  18. oneeyejack says:

    First, I want to express my condolences to the family.

    With that being said, I think that someone has to put it out there, Sprint is not wrong in making sure that they are not victims of fraud. If any of you were a victim of fraud in the past you would understand that being vigilant is something that must be done.

    Why is it that when a company is protecting their interest from fraud people seem to think that they are monsters?

    I understand that 8 – 10 weeks is a long period of time, that is 2 – 2.5 months. But according to the article they did offer “vacation” for $5.95 per month. That means that the most you will be paying is what $18 in a worst case that it takes 12 weeks to get the death certificate.

    I understand that $80 a month is hard to swallow, but how is offering to place the phone on a reduced plan being unreasonable by Sprint.

    I know in this day and age everybody has the right to their own opinions, but opinions based on facts and not just a one sided email are better.

    Don’t get me wrong, I hope that this issue can be resolved, but at the same time I can see why Sprint would not jump all over this and do it just because you say so.

    When you sign up for cellular service you agree to a contract. Most cellular companies state that there is a process for canceling service and it is your duty to follow those procedures.

    I find it funny that so many people on here are upset because Sprint is trying to protect their interests. The situation is sad, there is no denying that, but if Sprint let every person who called up, not willing or able to provide proof, cancel then they would be out of business.

    In conclusion, think of the whole situation, not just a one sided article/email.

    Once again, I am very sorry for the loss of your brother, and I wish all the best for you and your family in this hard time.

  19. customerassist says:

    I am a Sprint employee and would like to contact this individual to find out if he/she has had a satisfactory resolution.

  20. geenzenbacher says:

    I can understand the frustration people are feeling with Sprint. My situation is a different though. My son is stationed in Iraq and has the military clause for deployment. He is receiving overdue notices and his account has been forwareded to collection agencies. I was able to call three times before and received good results. This last time was a nightmare, I was put on hold for 30 plus minutes and than had a very rude customer service rep who refused to put me in touch with a supervisor. I cannot beleive they are charging our military 5.95 a month and to add to insult their contract is extended when they get back. Nothing like a company making money off our military serving our country.

  21. i_luvmysldr says:

    I realize this is way past May and kinda old, however, I have a few points to make.

    1. Regarding the comment just above mine, it’s called the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Relief Act. You provide the creditor with a copy of the orders for deployment and they are not billed nor charged interest the entire time the orders are in place! My husband just returned from Iraq after an 18 month deployment……fight it! $5.95 will almost buy 2 gallons of fuel! I know I don’t have $5.95 a month to pay for NOTHING!

    2. Next, in response to this entire situation regarding death and creditors…..um, it’s called the FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT! When we, as consumer’s apply for a contract with such a company as Sprint, all we have to do is give them a full name, social and date of birth so that they can review our credit history. They don’t ask for an ALIVE CERTIFICATE at that time, now do they.

    If companies such as Sprint are SO CONCERNED with protecting themselves from fraud, you’d think they’d run a check for a death certificate at the time of a credit check. For all they know I’m using my dead grandmother’s name social and D.O.B. to obtain credit!

    They have access to the Freedom Of Information Act and on occasion, date of death for a consumer is provided to consumer credit reporting agencies. As big as Sprint is, they don’t pay a “per look up fee” to get that information the way a smaller company or and individual would. They probably pay a monthly fee or something to that affect.

    And besides that, regardless of the fact that they are trying to obtain information to collect a debt from whoever it is they’re speaking with as in the case of the mother and son, they in NO WAY WHATSOEVER, have the right to harrass, insult or just be generally rude to the person they are speaking with!

    At least the brother called Sprint in the first place. Sprint can get over themselves and need to stop harrassing people. The only reason they do it in the first place is because they are so large and feel that they can get away with it! If the brother is willing to send the DC when the coroner releases it, the intellegent and decent thing for a corporate conglomerate like Sprint to do would be to assess the vacation fee to the account until they receive the DC. At the time they receive the DC, they should then dismiss the charges up to the point the brother passed away, including the vacation fee. If the DC is not received by a voluntary sender in a specified length of time, then Sprint can look up the DC in the Freedom of Information. If there is no DC, then bill for the vacation fee as well as any previous charges, late fees and termination fees if necessary. It’s really very simple, if Sprint is really just “protecting themselves” instead of being completely inhumane and insensitive, there are ways to do it properly and with accurate information, as well as excellent custmomer representation and care!

    3. Finally, I was in a management position in the call center of reputable company. We handled both inbound and outbound calls. Yes, there are times that a CSR will “pass the buck” if they happen to be having a bad day. It IS very difficult to deal with upset persnickety consumers. But, we did allow them to speak to supervisors or management if they requested. As a CSR, you have to learn to control yourself and train yourself to deal with the difficult people. If a CSR refuses to let you speak to manaement, they they are generally afraid of repercussion for inappropriate handling of the consumers promblems. But in the case of Sprint, they’re only interested in receiving their payments and making a buck!

    In this case, the brother is NOT in the wrong with his request. He doesn’t think he’s above the rules and Sprint needs to learn how to handle consumers! The customer “IS ALWAYS RIGHT”! Even if they are actually wrong, there is a way to handle a situation without insulting or harrassing them and being a bit more understanding to ore helpful and compassionate to their needs and problems. Sprint is too big for their own britches now and think they can afford to lose a few customers because of this.

    It’s really simple: The brother should not send payment on the “vacation fee”, nor any other payments. For now, he should send a letter, along with proper documentation stating that he’s the executor of the will and estate of the account owner. State in the letter that you know the account is in vacation status at this time and that you will not make payments for this or any past charges until the death certificate is received and then forwarded to them. State in the letter that you’ll agree to pay all accrued charges to the account and honor the contract if the DC is not obtained. Once he receives the DC, he can forward it, along with payment for charges incurred on the account up to the point of the date of death.

    If Sprint has a problem with that, let them incur the charges to pursue it, otherwise, tell Sprint or anyone else for that matter, to go piss up a rope!

  22. Anonymous says:

    Sprint was my first nightmare of a cell phone provider. I used to stand in line at the 42nd street PCS store like once a week, with dozens of other angries, trying to get help with the bill or service, or whatever.

    To kill time and not someone I’d call their tech department, hoping for a resolution that never came. What would come, though, is a charge for the call on my next bill. Yes, Sprint would charge minutes for the call and justified it by saying the in-store phones were free to use. To me, they were like a corporate monster that had you over a barrel and were going to milk every bit while it was still early in the game without many rules.

    That store was a chaotic mess of people yelling at employees and complaining to each other. There was like a comradeship built around a mutual hate for Sprint. By the time you’d get to the window the staff would be even more angry than the customers so it was impossible to get help. It was the weirdest thing. I never saw anything like it, then or since.

    One time I was trying to swap out a defective phone, and they didn’t have even a loaner for me, and I was like, ‘what am I supposed to do, Sprint sold me this phone’, and the girl screamed at me, “I ain’t Sprint!” haha. For a while it was a joke among my friends, whenever anyone had a complaint about anything the response would be “I ain’t Sprint!”, which doesn’t go over too well with boyfriends. You have to get your material somewhere.

    I never got satisfaction at the Sprint PCS store on 42nd Street west side. Never.

    In 2003, had I not left the country, Sprint probably would have driven me into therapy. I skipped out on my ending balance of $200+ because I was so pissed. I finally did pay it this year.

    In London, on the other hand, I had a great mobile experience in London. Sprint could learn a lot from Virgin Mobile in London.

    I wrote this as a blog post here: http://www.cloudoutloud.tv/2008/11/i-want-in-on-that-sprint-settlement/