Cingular Charging Me $349.99 For Phone I Already Returned

Chris exchanged his messed up Blackjack with Cingular (now the new AT&T) under warranty replacement. Now Cingular (now the new AT&T) can’t find the phone that he sent back and keeps trying to bill him $349.99 for it. Repeated calls to customer service are unsuccessful and provide contradictory information.

At one point, a Cingular (now the new AT&T) rep, offered a refund, but it won’t show up for two months.

Essentially Cingular (now the new AT&T) wants him to pay the $349.99, let them keep it as an interest-free loan, and then they say they’ll refund that.

That’s not good enough for Chris.

His complaint letter, and our advice (hint: it begins with the letter E), inside…

(Photo: feelingcingular)

Chri writes:

Let me give you an overview, and see if this is something you’d be interested to hear about:

In January or February, I experienced data issues with my Samsung Blackjack phone, and went through a variety of troubleshooting steps including resetting the phone, getting a new SIM card, and finally Cingular Customer Support suggested I exchange my phone under warranty. When I received the refurbished(!!) phone, I followed Cingular’s instructions to apply the label, seal the box using included tape, and drop it in any USPS mailbox.

Fast forward a few months. By the second week of April, I began receiving harassing phone calls from a Cingular warranty logistics contractor claiming that they had not received the phone, that I need to send the phone back to them, and that if they didn’t get the phone within a few days, I would be charged $349.99. Obviously, I was caught by surprise as I had sent the phone back ages ago. When I spoke with their contractor, they were rude and unhelpful, unable to tell me anything. When I contacted Cingular, I was told that they did receive the phone, but didn’t have a tracking number. After many more hours of phone calls, on April 17th or so, I was assured that everything will be taken care of, and I should not have to worry. After all, I did my part, and if the phone is lost, it isn’t my fault.

When I checked my bill on May 7th, I saw my bill was increased by $349.99. Obviously, the Cingular rep had either lied to me to get me off the phone, or just screwed up. I spoke with a helpful rep by the name of Melissa Brown (who works 10 hour shifts, and has 3 kids at home to support — she told me this while we were waiting for someone who could actually get things done) who tried to help me solve my issue. She determined that I was in fact charged, and spent almost an hour and a half trying to find the tracking number for my returned phone that comes up only as a ‘*’ in their system. When she was unable to find the tracking number, she put me in touch with a gentleman by the name of Mike M. from the warranty exchange. Mike went through the entire ‘are you sure you mailed the package’ process with me, and finally determined that he is able to provide me with a credit — it would take up to two billing cycles from now! Until then, I was told, I would have to pay the entire $349.99, and have the
amount credited back to my bill at a later date. So, in effect, Cingular was asking me to provide them with an interest free loan for $349.99. Unacceptable. Melissa, the customer service rep claimed that she could put the disputed amount on a ‘payment plan’, so that nonpayment of that amount would not cause Cingular to terminate my service. I had spent over two hours at this point, and I felt this was the best that could be done. At that point, I thanked them, and we ended our conversation.

Today, May 8th, after all the lies and screw-ups I’ve witnessed with Cingular, I felt that I ought to check up on Cingular to see if I was in for a surprise. Of course, there was no surprises here. When I called in, a barely-intelligible rep told me that I was responsible for the entire $349.99 plus my monthly bill, and failure to pay that will result in late fees and suspension of service. I immediately asked for her supervisor. After approximately 30 minutes of waiting, her supervisor determined that yes, what I was told on May 8th (which was completely different from what I was told on May 7th or in April) by the latest rep is correct, but she would try to figure out a way to prevent that from happening. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly busy, and she would have to call me back in 5 minutes. It’s been over an hour, and I’m not expecting a call back any time soon.

Unfortunately, I got suckered into a contract with these jerks, and I can’t leave under fear of EVEN MORE charges. I’m at my wit’s end, and I don’t know how to resolve this situation so I can go on with my life without fear of harassment from Cingular or their arbitrary bills. If they had told me that I would be harassed every few hours by Warranty Exchange to return a phone that I had already returned, and eventually charged for someone else’s screwup, I would have told them to shove their broken phone, and cancel the contract with ETF and go with another provider who might possibly screw me over less.

So, Consumeristas, what can I do in this situation?


Christopher in NJ

Chris, all you gotta do is these three things: escalate, escalate, escalate! Get your issue into the hands of decision making people. Make noise! Squeaky wheel, meet grease!

1-404-236-6000 Corporate HQ. Try asking for Mr Sigman’s office. (There’s also the other management listed here)
How To Launch An Executive Email Carpet Bomb


About 35 direct numbers to people’s desk and cellphones in the corporate offices. For an up-to-date list, go to

Letters to Cingular can be addressed to:

Cingular Wireless
5565 Glenridge Connector
Atlanta, GA 30342
Main phone number: 404-236-6000

Media Relations Contacts
National Contacts

Media relations planning and strategy, principal company spokesperson
Mark Siegel
Executive Director Media Relations
404-236-6312 (office)
404-374-2799 (wireless)

Corporate initiatives, marketing, sports-oriented sponsorships
(To apply for sponsorships, please go to Please do not email or call about applying for sponsorships as funding decisions are not made by public relations)
Clay Owen
Senior Director Media Relations
404.236.6153 (office)
404.538.0124 (wireless)

Public policy initiatives, regulatory and legislative issues
Rochelle Cohen
Senior Director Media Relations
202-419-3007 (office)
202-341-5967 (wireless)

Consumer offers, handset/product initiatives, youth programs,
sponsorships (non-sports related)
Jennifer Bowcock
Director Media Relations
404-236-6319 (office)
404-213-1204 (wireless)


Kelleigh Scott Beal
Manager, Media Relations
404-236-6321 (office)
404-285-0172 (wireless)

Business-to-business initiatives, industry analyst program
John Kampfe
Director Media Relations
973-637-9387 (office)
908-432-3473 (wireless)

Technology and network initiatives, industry analyst program
Ritch Blasi
Director Media Relations
973-637-9449 (office)
908-512-1760 (wireless)

Hispanic and Diversity Public Relations
Maria Schnabel
Director, Hispanic Public Relations
404-236-6432 (office)
404-401-7477 (wireless)

Regional Contacts
Please refer to specific states

Northeast Media Contacts

Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington D.C.
Alexa Kaufman
Director Regional Public Relations
301-489-3610 (office)
301-742-0888 (wireless)

Delaware, Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York City
Ellen Webner
Director Regional Public Relations
973-637-9357 (office)
201-532-7292 (wireless)

Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and Upstate New York
Kate MacKinnon
Director Regional Public Relations
781-690-5057 (office)
508-498-5547 (wireless)

Northeast Regional Backup
Susan Ramsey
Director Regional Public Relations
973-637-9467 (office)
203-722-1145 (wireless)

Southeast Media Contacts

Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi
Dawn Benton
Director, Regional Public Relations
404-236-5305 (office)
404-202-6335 (wireless)

Kelly Starling
Director, Regional Public Relations
561-775-4259 (office)
561-301-1414 (wireless)

Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina
Laurie Parker
Director, Regional Public Relations
615-221-3690 (office)
615-202-3463 (wireless)

Southeast Regional Back-up
Caroline Crowe
Director Regional Public Relations
678-867-4330 (office)
404-808-8254 (wireless)

Central Media Contacts

Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska,
North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin
Chris Comes
Director Regional Public Relations
847-765-3602 (office)
312-282-0539 (wireless)

Kansas, Ohio, Western Pennsylvania,
Indiana, Missouri, and Michigan
Tara Traycoff
Director, Regional Public Relations
314-543-6435 (phone)
314-809-6112 (wireless)

Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas
Frank Merriman
Director Regional Public Relations
469.229.7613 (office)
214-538-3496 (wireless)

Central Region Backup
Meg Frainey
Director Regional Public Relations
469-229-7784 (office)
214-497-6072 (wireless)

West Media Contacts

Arizona, New Mexico, Northern California, and Reno
Lauren Garner
Director Regional Public Relations
Phone: 925-819-5362 (wireless)

Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming
Mike Broom
Director Regional Public Relations
425-580-7710 (office)
206-390-5993 (wireless)

Greater Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, and Hawaii
Art Navarro
Director Regional Public Relations
562-468-6520 (office)
949-300-1329 (wireless)

West Regional Back-up
Mike Broom
Director Regional Public Relations
425-580-7710 (office)
206-390-5993 (wireless)



Edit Your Comment

  1. protest says:

    wow, what the hell is going on down at cingular??

    over the weekend one of my phones broke so i called in to get it replaced under the insurance i purchased for it when i bought it a few months ago. the first rep informed me that since the phone was technically a PDA it was not eligible for coverage under their insurance plan. so i asked him why a cingular rep would sell me insurance for a phone that was not “eligible” for said insurance.

    he apologized for my inconvenience and told me he would put back the $8 i had paid so far for insurance but that i would have to buy another phone at full price because it was too soon after i had renewed my contract to get the discounted price. i called bullshit, argued with him until he put me on hold and then agreed to send me a new phone for the $50 deductible. too bad i had to call back 3 more times to get someone to put the order through because the original guy lied about noting the situation on my account.

    after reading this article i am wondering if they are going to ‘lose’ the broken phone i send back to them!

  2. JDAC says:

    That does suck.. but the Cingularmonster is so damn cool.

  3. AskForMore says:

    Wow, I had a similar experience with T-Mobile a couple of weeks ago, when they claimed that the phone they received was not the one I sent!!! They wanted to charge me a $500 restocking fee, but I emailed the CEO and executive customer service waived the fee.
    I seriously suggest that anyone who wants to return a phone, try to do it at a retail store instead of mailing it to the returns center, and get a signed receipt from the store.

  4. DashTheHand says:

    Reasons why the iPhone will fail for a dollar, Alex.

  5. nucleotide says:

    I had an issue with a phone company’s (NEXTEL) incompetent billing. A charge appeared on my bill that customer service could not explain. After several frustratingly unproductive calls to NEXTEL, I filed a complaint with the FCC. Within two days a high-up NEXTEL exec called me to explain the cause of the charge and issued a $100 credit for my trouble. BTW, the charge was due to a botched electronic transfer from BofA that occurred 6 months prior to the mysterious charge on the bill.

    Moral of the story… if you don’t get anywhere on your own, bring in Big Brother.

  6. I remember when I was with T-mobile, and had a phone whose screen would flicker in and out. After the 3rd replacement, the rep informed me it was a known defect of the model, but wouldn’t replace the phone with a different model, even a less expensive one. Needless to say I left T-mobile, went over to Verizon, and have been somewhat happy since, though that may just be a fluke.

  7. I’d be pissed off if I were him, and make sure everyone he can contact knows what’s going on. He’ll get them to leave him alone, and an apology. The sad fact is the fools who keep lying to customers won’t be punished because they’re impossible to find and I swear they don’t use real names on the phone.

  8. Skiffer says:

    Hehe…recursive branding:

    Cingular (now the new AT&T (now the old Cingular (now the new AT&T (now the old Cingular (now the new AT&T (now the old Cingular…..Segmentation Fault))))

  9. froggy says:

    do you remember when Cingular used to have the best customer service of the wireless carriers? oh, good old times.

    My advice – always tape your conversations with the CSRs.

  10. Albishor says:

    Same thing happened to me a few years back with the same company. It took me over 8 weeks to get back my money for a Motorola v600 ($349) that I returned because Cingular had the worst service in Tampa, FL. Seems like four years later they still haven’t fix that problem!

  11. tellahoohooo says:

    Cingular will try to short cut you for money any way they can…I had problems with them for a while…My service was disconnected for non-payment after I had signed up for automatic bill pay via the website. The day after the bill was due my phone was turned off. After about 2 hours on with customer service and being bounced around, then walked through the online auto-bill pay, I was assured that I wouldn’t have to pay any late/re-activation fee’s because they could see that I had signed up for the autopay but due to some un-nameable glitch i was never charged.

    Next month, sure enough the fee’s were on my bill, so another round of customer service, where at first i was responsible, then wasn’t, then was, really depending on who I was bounced to. Finally a “supervisor” informed me that i would have to pay the fee’s and they had no record of my original call disputing the non-payment. After about an hour on the phone I was assured that everything was set up for automatic bill pay, and that i would receive the credit on my account for the late fee’s in two billing cycles (just like him). Not acceptable, but still doesn’t make me pay it in some a$$backwards way.

    Due date comes, and my phone, mid call is turned off. Thinking i just dropped the call (fewest dropped calls, raising the bar my a$$) I tried to re-dial and was confronted by an operator saying your service has been disconnected due to non-payment…

    In for the third round of calls to customer service, to avoid a second month of late/reconnection fee’s, this one went pretty much like the first, no record of my previous calls and the same promise to be reimbursed in 2 months.

    So the I pay this time and get double charged, once for the single payment, then the 2nd for my online auto bill pay which was seemingly now working, only after the fact. I disputed one payment w/ my bank, and it was promptly returned to my account w/ very little hassle.(thank you B of A)

    Since I couldn’t cancel my contract w/out incurring the $250 early contract termination fee I’ve stuck it out. I canceled the auto-pay and made my brain remember to log on and pay and did receive the refunds I was promised.

    I can tell you this, once my contract is up, i’m taking my number & interest free loans to someone else.

    I say just put up w/ the crap until you can get out, you’ll get your money back.

  12. mkguitar says:

    As much as I hate to say it I have had quite good service from CingATT. All this is with the warranty people:
    New contract in 2/06- Sony w600 dies after 2 months they got one out within a few days. Some months later the replacement dies…they said we have too much trouble with them…have a samsung.
    I say I’ve spent much on chargers etc. They say If you bought ’em from us we’ll return or exchange. no rect needed.

    i didn’t like the samsung features and when CingATT started carrying the W810 I called and asked if it was possible to do something…the rep “lead” me into saying I was having calls dropped regularly.
    They sent me one.
    Each time they sent a prepaid mailer with a tracking number. It was easy for them to track the box.
    This last time I got a call May 1 asking if I had returned the phone. The next day i got an email asking same.
    i called them and was told that tracking showed it rec’d April 30th.
    So they can track it.

    As much as I’d like to hate them they have been good with the equipment. coverage is another thing but as an Int’l traveller I need GSM. T mo would not offer me anything to keep my business when my contract ended so CingATT was the way to go.

  13. it would take up to two billing cycles from now

    Does everything take two billing cycles with Cingular?

  14. emax4 says:

    Why the Apple logo as an eyepatch though?

  15. funtasticguy says:

    I believe that the main lesson in all this is if you decide to return something, you need to get tracking service and insurance.

    Indeed, a few weeks ago, I had to return a Blackjack to Cingular. I returned the phone because I found it too slow for my needs and ordered a Cingular 8525 (great phone by the way) in its place.

    Once I had the address to return the Blackjack to Cingular, I went straight to post office and shipped it back with Delivery Confirmation and Insurance in case it got lost or damaged.

    A week later, I checked with the local Cingular office (in person) to see if they had received my Blackjack. At first, the lady rep. said they had not received it (even though I had already checked online and determined they had received the Blackjack). Upon supplying the lady with proof, she changed her story and told me that my refund should post soon on my credit card. Another week later, my credit card has posted the credit from Cingular.

    Again, always get tracking service and insurance! You might have to pay extra for shipment, but it covers your back in case something goes terribly wrong.

  16. aj74666 says:

    I had the same problem a few years ago. I received two treo phones that were defective. I called and was told to return. I did and received credit for one. I called and repeatedly asked for credit for the second phone. They told me it was lost and told me that I should have known that returning both phones in the same box would result in one being lost. ?????I emailed and called over and over, no progress. End of story refused to pay and they sent me to collection, this hit my credit report and every other day I get a call from Oxford Financial with some person yelling at me to “be a man and pay my bill” ..moral never return a phone via the mail.

  17. poot says:

    I am Chris. I have an update:

    After I had that last discussion with customer service, I went ahead and called ‘executive’ customer service. The woman there was helpful, took my information, and told me I would get a call back in 72 hours. That was on Wednesday morning. I have not yet recieved a call from this department.

    Later that night, I finally recieved the call from Cingular customer service who told me that I would be recieving the credit, and that they would notify me when I did get the credit. I have not recieved a call from them since.

    As of two days ago, the credit mysteriously posted on my Cingular account. There is no record of it except that my balance which was once over $400 is now back to my usual bill amount. I look forward to seeing my bill next month.

    So, that’s the end of the story, I hope. I’ve had great customer service experiences with Cingular in the past, so this is a surprise to me. I’ve always treated the customer service reps with respect, and they’ve always taken care of me. I didn’t care for the attitude I got from many of the reps I spoke with, and I sure didn’t like to have to spend so much of my time to solve someone else’s problem. I’m happy that this worked out in the end, and I feel that many genuine problems with Cingular are generally made right.

    I’m going to call exec customer support and see why they didn’t get back to me, but I’m considering this situation resolved.

  18. Landtat says:

    They did the same to me last year during the phase in of the “NEW”.
    What they forgot to do is make me sign a new contract including AT&T. My contract is with Cingular, not AT&T. I kept the smartphone and told em to take a hike. They never charged me a cent or sent me any bills. Breach of contract is a wonderful thing.

  19. cgmaetc says:

    Thanks for posting this, Consumerist. I went thru a similar debacle last summer with AT&T/Cingular, and I’m still trying to sort things out. In a nutshell, I had an AT&T account that I owed about $175 on that month, but instead of being rolled over when AT&T & Cingular merged (the first time), it went to collections as a bad debt and then accumulated massive late fees and penalties, unbeknownst to me. I guess they just created me a whole new account when they merged. I paid the debt ($692) via money order to the collection agency. A year ago, I noticed an auto-payment from my checking account to Cingular for $692. The old debt was tacked onto my Cingular account because the collections agency never reported it. (I later learned it was also a negative ding on my credit report.) When I contested the debt and faxed in the proof of payment (along with a letter from the collections agency saying I paid the bill in full) to Cingular, they said they didn’t care what kind of proof I have, they don’t have any records of me paying the debt than and they were keeping my money. Plus, in order to restore service, I would need to put down a $500 deposit because I was a “risk”. So I paid for their mistake, TWICE, have a blemish on my credit report and I need to give them more money just to get my phone turned back on?

    In hindsight, I shouldn’t have paid it the first time, but they bullied/guilted me into doing so, and I didn’t know then what I know now. With the numbers you provided, I can escalate this issue and hopefully get my refund.

  20. oldbluebox says:

    The Orange Monster (Cingular), now known as The Big Blue Ball (ATT)

  21. ungsunghero says:


    How many years ago was that?

    Nearly five years ago, I opened a new line of service and was charged ~$95 on my first bill (two months of service + activation). The following month, I got a bill for about $140. Even though they charged my CC $95 for the first bill, it was never reflected on my statement.

    Since I used Cingular’s Autopay to pay the bill, I didn’t notice the overage until after the $140 charge appeared on my credit card. Eventually, they caught their mistake, and credited my account the overage, leaving me with a $100 credit. I sent a few emails to support, asking them what happened, and they blamed the website for the errors. They also insisted that they credited my account for the overage “as a courtesy.”

  22. asherchang says:

    @^, lol

  23. banned says:

    Not to defend cingular here but you mailed a $350.00 phone with no tracking number and no insurance??? I don’t want to blame the victim but c’mon. I just warrantied my $125.00 video card and you can be sure I got a tracking number and insurance just for cases like this(cost $25 but worth it). I worked for T-Mobile and these things happened there as well. No matter what you send, get it insured. Yes I agree to escalate nicely and often, however if it were t-mobile, you’d be stuck with it. The only difference is T-Mobile does keep tracking info. The problem is for every situation like this, there are 10 people that use this like an excuse , and commonly get caught by looking up which phone is in use. Cingular has no reason to believe your side because weather you are a 2 month or 10 year customer, nobody wants to pay $350.00 and will say anything to avoid it. Good Luck.

  24. Joafu says:

    Aarrrrggh (now the new AT&T)

  25. macinjosh says:

    I’ve had good service from Cingular too. On two occasions, I went waaaaay over on my data usage. I called up and got a higher plan, retroactively.

    Also, I just bought an 8525, and they matched the price on a monster discount offered by an online merchant. (Although apparently this was more for the benefit of the gent who authorized it than mine.)

  26. xplnlife says:

    I am an old school att customer with tdma.

    I have a DIGITAL ADVTG 350 plan that includes 1050 MINUTES, mob 2 mob, unlim night and weekends for $39.99. I am now on a month to month contract.

    I have been battling with cingular/att to get a comparable plan that is also MONTH TO MONTH. I have been offered 450 mins w/ 200 bonus and a free new KRZR phone for 39.99. I was told month to month is not an option.

    This sucks lily white butt in my opinion.

    I am looking for advice on how to get what I want from this company!!! Does anyone have any experience with this situation.

    ARG. save me.

  27. bugsbenny36 says:

    I have the same problem, albeit with a PDA. After waiting 2 months for the return labels, I sent in for exchange a Palm Treo 650, they have not yet received it, even though I sent it back 2 months ago. I guess I was naive in not insuring the mail.
    It has happened before, but after calling them, they “miraculously” found it, this time however they have not. They already cancelled my service, I called them to complain stating that it was an unresolved issue and that my phone cannot just be shut off without warning, he agreed and turned it back on for no charge.

    What really gets me peeved is the fact that I had specifically asked if I could return it to a Cingular store and they told me no, not I’m stuck and do not want to pay for a phone I do not have.

    I’ve called, they’ve called but for some strange reason, no one can help me, they keep sending me to all the other departments, they send me back… Frustrating to say the least