AT&T Won't Sell Man GoPhone Because It Can't Verify His Credit History

Nathan’s been having trouble this week buying a prepaid GoPhone from AT&T Mobility’s website. He finally found out the reason: they couldn’t verify his credit history. This is confusing because it’s a prepaid GoPhone and because his credit history is superb. “Cheryl refused to transfer me. I asked her if she was in any way motivated to find out what was wrong with their system and help me, and, to her credit, she answered honestly with a simple ‘no.'”

A couple of days ago I submitted a tip regarding my sudden inability to order a new GoPhone through the AT&T online store; my orders went through successfully, but were then later cancelled under mysterious circumstances no one I spoke with at AT&T could explain.
After several more calls and nearly an hour on hold I finally got to speak with supervisor Cheryl Johnson in the web store order processing department. Ms. Johnson then informed me that my orders were being cancelled because they had been unable to verify my credit history. This raises two interesting questions for which she had no answers:
1) What is suddenly wrong with my credit history in AT&T’s eyes? I’ve ordered from them without any problems in the past, and my score is in the upper 700s.
2) Why is AT&T performing a credit history check on a GoPhone purchase in the first place? Everything is prepaid and there is absolutely no chance that anyone attempting to establish a new prepaid account could possibly defraud them in any way. That’s kinda what “prepaid” means.
Ms. Johnson blatantly refused to answer either of these questions and simply read some pre-prepared rejection script that was obviously coming up on her computer screen as rudely as she could in an attempt to interrupt me in mid-speech. Once she finally ran out of things to parrot I asked why it was that a supervisor in the AT&T order processing department did not know how the AT&T order processing process worked well enough to explain to me why my orders were being cancelled, and she said that this was something the credit department handled. I asked for their number, and of course, they don’t take inbound calls and Cheryl refused to transfer me. I asked her if she was in any way motivated to find out what was wrong with their system and help me, and, to her credit, she answered honestly with a simple “no.”
So, beware: if you buy an AT&T GoPhone online they will make some ham- handed attempt at accessing your credit history.

Why does AT&T need to check credit scores for something that doesn’t include extending a line of credit? How is it that a secretly-derived score can prevent a customer from concluding a transaction, but nobody on AT&T’s side is willing to help solve the customer’s problem?
Maybe that CSR has your GoPhone, Nathan, and she really likes it.
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. dlynch says:

    sounds to me like Cheryl needs a new career.

  2. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    What’s next? Not being able to pay for something in a store with CASH simply because they can’t verify your credit rating?

  3. VikingP77 says:

    I can’t stand the wireless companies. Cheryl obviously sucks at her job. I hope she reads this!

  4. cmdrsass says:

    It’s not really about his credit. This is part of an anti-terror mandate. Pre-paid cell phones are how many terrorist cells communicate. The “credit check” is AT&T verifying your identity for the fed.

  5. Shadowfire says:

    It’s not just how terrorists communicate, but a lot of drug dealers and other criminals as well.

  6. I-Like-Cheese says:

    @cmdrsass: I’m with you, I ordered one recently and they don’t ask for your SSN. There is no way they could do a credit check properly without it.

  7. VikingP77 says:

    Who cares how drug dealers and others communicate. Must we POLICE everything????!!!! This is punishing the customer not the ones doing wrong.

  8. badgeman46 says:

    “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six”

    “He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name”

  9. humphrmi says:

    Can’t you buy a pre-paid phone in a 7-11? Do they ask for SSN’s and report the sale to the feds? I find that hard to believe, that a guy who makes sure there’s enough sausages spinning is an integral part of the homeland security system.

  10. azntg says:

    @I-Like-Cheese: You don’t need a SSN to pull up a report.

  11. TheRealAbsurdist says:

    OK, so Nathan can’t buy one from ATT’s site. What’s stopping him from going to Fry’s, Best Buy (yeah, I know, I know… shut up.), Circuit City (see Best Buy, above), Target, WalMart, or any of gods know how many other retailers and just buying one? The terrorist like is completely bogus, as I’ve bought them at most of the above places with cash, no ID required. And I haven’t blown anything up. Yet. ;)

  12. HalOfBorg says:

    K-Mart. Krogers. Sam’s Club (I think).

  13. badgeman46 says:

    Sue them for false advertising!


    “Why GoPhone
    With GoPhone, you can pick the plan that works best for you, or pay as you go. Either way, there’s no annual contract or credit check”

  14. uricmu says:

    This is not really new. When I moved to the US, AT&T (before being cingular) wouldn’t be willing to activate my prepaid since I didn’t have an SSN.

    My guess is that it is about tracing people (maybe government requirement)?

    In all other countries, people can get prepaid phones without any problems and completely anonymously. In my home country they were marketed to cheating married folks.

  15. uricmu says:

    @humphrmi: You can buy the phone, just like you can buy an iPhone. It’s a question of getting it activated, and you need Assholes Thugs & Thieves to activate it for you.

  16. stageright says:

    Bah. This one is simple – without access to your credit history, AT&T doesn’t know which offers for other products to market to you, nor which “partners” to sell your information to.

    That makes you not worth having as a customer, even as a pre-paid customer.

  17. 67alecto says:

    Very interesting. I looked into a Go Phone a few years ago specifically because I wanted something without a contract – there was a chance I’d be relocating out of the region. I was standing in the store and called At&T with the product in hand. I asked a few basic questions, but the rep kept asking me if I had bad credit. She asked me probably 5 times, each time I’d say my credit was fine (it’s stellar), but that I was simply looking for something without a contract. I finally ended up hanging up on her.

  18. iankasley says:

    You can get prepaid phones from AT&T, T-Mobile, TracFone, etc. at Target (and the like) for $20 & up, however I’m not sure if they require any personal information when you actually activate them.

    Considering one of the advertised selling points of prepaid has been “no credit check or card needed” it is rather retarded.

    I can’t recall what (if any) info I had to give Cingular years ago when I came back to the US from overseas and bought a prepaid SIM from them, however a few months ago when trying to add more minutes to my account I got routed to an actual person rather than their automated system, and they wanted my mailing address and all that for some reason. I gave it to them, but noticed that the info on my online account (at []) never got updated from the old address that was in there. (in fact, I’d been using it that way for about 2 years and was surprised it verified my credit card with the wrong zip code in there) Which makes me think they probably either wanted it to spam me with junk mail offers or alternately, the Department of Homeland Security loves me.

  19. deanie12 says:

    I think that’s just some policy of ATT. I’ve activated several prepaid virgin mobile phones w/o a credit check being done. They did ask for an address, though. I now have T-mobile prepaid and they didn’t ask for any personal info such as SSN or address.

  20. opsomath says:

    …is amazing. They only ask for your ssn if you’re trying to transfer in a number, and they sell ’em in dollar stores. Best wireless signal I’ve ever gotten, too.

    I refused to give them my ssn. Guess I must be a drug dealer.

  21. mikecolione says:

    We’ve never done credit checks for Go Phones. One thing that could be holding him up is the address reporting system. If, during the activation process, the address can’t be verified VIA the USPS addressing system, the order gets put on hold or if there is no contact info, the order is cancelled.

    Another thing is, he said he purchased from them before. He can only get 3 phones a year per Go Phone number by AT&T’s policy.

    I’m not saying these are the reason’s he was denied, but they are possibilities.

    That said, all carriers (including Virgin Mobile & Boost) require a name and address to activate the service. (It doesn’t have to be your real info, but if ordering over the phone the address has to be correct).

  22. mikecolione says:

    @badgeman46: That would be true if they were doing a credit check. See my post above.

  23. einstoch says:

    While I admit that the customer service department was completely wrong, I just can’t understand why he didn’t just place the friggin order online. It’s a bunch easier and doesn’t even require human error. I ordered a GoPhone 4 days ago and all the site asked me for was my name, address, and CC info. There is absolutely no place where you have to enter your SSN.

    People are afraid of the intertubes if you ask me.

  24. Crazytree says:

    does the guy have a constitutional right to a go phone?

  25. STrRedWolf says:

    Also remember, there’s two Go Phone plans — Pay as you go (or “Buy a card and load it up”) or Pick your Plan (Monthly charges). The latter uses a credit card on an automated system.

    I have the latter.

  26. unpolloloco says:

    credit score too high???

  27. morganlh85 says:

    I wouldn’t get worried about the “Credit history” line, they were probably making that up too.

  28. George_Seldes says:

    Interesting — I may be imagining this, but I seem to recall that there’s something in the Consumer Fair Credit Act that says you can’t call up someone’s credit history if they haven’t asked you to extend credit … maybe you wanna go see a consumer protection attorney and see if you have any grounds for an action here.

  29. tme2nsb says:

    I work for ATT – and yes, we ask this information for government tracking, plus we can report the information to local state agencies and police departments.

  30. TheUncleBob says:

    @tme2nsb: That seems silly, since I can just walk into the local Wal*Mart and buy a pre-paid GoPhone – with cash – and no need to give anyone any information.

  31. deverbative says:

    @humphrmi: I was rolling when I read that. I hope the guy who works at the one I frequent is not, because he has trouble with the cash register.

    As far as this story goes, I would say screw AT&T (These are the folks asking for immunity for wiretapping their customers, remember?) He should go get a tracphone or Virgin mobile. It’s expensive though. They don’t calculate cents per minute in a rational way from what I’ve seen. (I’ve never had one myself but I’ve known a few ppl that have.)

    Here is a stupid little thought: Do you think terrorists/criminals/drug dealers are more likely to bother with AT&T or go to the local convenience store? I think the convenience store is more likely. I could’ve sworn I’ve seen tracphones sold as a package deal with a carton of Dorals.

  32. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I bought a Go Phone from the Cingular/ATT website. No problems. I got it in a few days. But I chucked the SIM card that came with it. I had already purchased a pre-paid SIM from a local ATT store.

    I highly recommend going into the store to purchase the prepaid SIM. The rep will let you pick your area code and phone number from the pool of available numbers. If you order online, you are assigned an area code based on your shipping address, and are given whatever phone number that is next on the list.

  33. crazypants says:

    AT&T has almost always provided me with nothing but superb service, (fantastic coverage, great reception, awsome devices) clearly this is just an instance of one rep being a jerk, and I’m sure if you had called a few minutes earlier and spoken to someone else your results would have been entirely different.

    It’s really not fair to smear an entire company over one poorly trained rep.

  34. Amelie says:

    @Crazytree: Do you have a constitutional right to be a douchebag on these forums?

  35. Buran says:

    @crazypants: However, the rep is acting on behalf of the company since she is talking to him as part of an official job function. So, AT&T is refusing to help him.

    It’s worth posting here because this is violating their “no credit check required” bragging and they specifically refuse to make it right.

  36. Amelie says:

    @crazypants: I would say your experience with AT&T is rather extraordinary. I’ve yet to meet a customer in real life who has anything positive to say. When I last had them, they requested my birthday and social security number when I called about something. When I refused, they said they had it anyway.

  37. moorie678 says:

    @Amelie: of course they had it…they watch you when you sleep and know when you are awake…. you remember those cookies that you left for Santa… well guess what…SANTA = AT&T

  38. FLConsumer says:

    @crazypants: Other than one of the local AT&T stores having 2 outstanding sales reps for about 6 months, I’ve had nothing but trouble with AT&T.

    The best was when I was setting up an acct for a 2nd cell to route my work calls to instead of my personal phone (which has always been with Alltel). They wouldn’t take cash, but they would take a check. So, I write a check. They then tell me that the check bounced. Wha? Called up my banker. She looked it up in the computer. They didn’t even try to process the check and there was >$10k in the checking account. I’ve never bounced a check and never have bounced a check in my life. They insisted that I bring in a money order PLUS pay a $400 deposit. Say what? I have an excellent credit score, have a few credit cards which get paid off in-full each month, and no other debts.

    What makes this story really bad? There was a Wachovia branch across the street. I told them they could either walk the check across the street or I’d move ALL of my company’s phones over to Alltel.

    So, within a week of that conversation, I had my entire company (all 25+ cell phones) moved over to Alltel without incident. Dropped calls decreased dramatically as did our bills and my headaches.

  39. Eliamias says:

    @einstoch: Not to be a jerk, but teh first sentence is: “Nathan’s been having trouble this week buying a prepaid GoPhone from AT&T Mobility’s website.”

    So ‘online’ is the problem.

  40. kenblakely says:

    @Eliamias: For real. Why would you spend an hour on hold trying to work something out with a loser CSR when you can go buy a GoPhone (or TracFone, or Virgin Phone, or whatever) on any Staples/WalMart/Target/KMart/whatever?

    Geez Louise – get a life.

    And Consumerist: Surely there’s real issues out there to report?

  41. uncle_fluffy says:

    This has always been a mystery to me. When I go on vacation in Europe, I always walk into a vodafone (or whatever) store and buy a SIM for my cheapo euro-phone. I never get asked for my name or any other personal info. I pay, I get a SIM, and I leave.

    Cell phone compaines here in the US might not be as bad as banks and insurance companies when it comes to ripping us off and generally being a pain in the ass, but they sure are close.

  42. clickable says:


    You’re right, but it seems to me shady characters like these aren’t ordering by phone, having the shipment delivered to 125 Elm Street, Anytown, USA, please use side door for deliveries. They’re buying them in Walmart, for cash.

  43. morganlh85 says:

    I’m getting sick of people asking Consumerist why there aren’t any “real issues” to report…what exactly qualifies as a “real” or “fake” issue? This is a consumer having a problem with a company and the company is refusing to fix his problem. He ordered an item online and didn’t receive it. I don’t see how much more “real” this issue could get.

  44. einstoch says:

    @Eliamias: I realized that after I posted the message. It was really late, so my head wasn’t exactly processing everything correctly.

  45. y2julio says:

    @einstoch: Did you even READ the article or are you one of those assholes that go around blaming the consumer on this site?
    “A couple of days ago I submitted a tip regarding my sudden inability to order a new GoPhone through the AT&T online store; my orders went through successfully, but were then later cancelled under mysterious circumstances no one I spoke with at AT&T could explain.”

  46. einstoch says:

    @y2julio: I read the article, but it was really late, so I posted on what my brain could process at the time. I’m always for the consumer, unless they do something really stupid. at&t was the asshat in this case.

  47. LionelEHutz says:

    My tin-foil hat says that AT&T is probably just doing a Patriot Act check or seeing if they are on the pre-appoved warrant wiretap list because there’s no reason for checking anything out on a pre-paid customer in the first place.

  48. deanie12 says:

    I can’t see how it’s a government requirement to ask for this info, since not all of the pre-paid carriers do it. I’ve dealt with Virgin Mobile, T-mobile and I also activated a Net 10 phone for my niece. No one did a credit check or asked for a SSN. Of course I’ve heard that all the phones now have built in GPS, so if it’s on, they know where you are anyway…

  49. silbercoupe says:

    AT&T limits a household to three lines at a time with Go Phones. The purchaser noted that he had purchase AT&T Go Phones on prior occasions. If those purchases were recent, then he can’t buy any more phones from and would have to buy them from the retail stores.

    AT&T doesn’t ask for or check social security numbers when purchasing Go Phones.

    I have been buying refurbished AT&T Go phones from their website for a while. To get around the 3 lines limit, I use different addresses, names and credit card numbers.

  50. XianZhuXuande says:

    I wonder if our customer has a frozen credit report?

    I don’t understand, either, why AT&T wants to verify credit history on a GoPhone. Isn’t it basically impossible to get stuck owing them money with one of these things? They don’t need the credit report to collect or report in that case, which just makes it a bad and damaging practice to look it up. Perhaps they are simply concerned with having a complete profile on all their customers? In any case, I would not get a GoPhone if I had to endure an inquiry on one of my credit reports.

    If you can owe them, on the other hand, the credit inquiry is justified.

    Maybe this has something to do with ‘Know Your Customer‘ laws?

  51. juniper says:

    @cmdrsass: You’re absolutely right.

    Original Poster: It’s not about the credit. Are you on a watch list? Do you have a difficult time getting through airports? That would be a big clue. If your name is on a wiretap list, they will decline to give you service on a GoPhone because it will cost them proportionately more money to monitor you.

  52. bohemian says:

    Save yourself a bunch of stress & wasted time. Go to Target, buy a Virgin mobile phone and a prepaid card. No hassles. You don’t even have to deal with a human other than the check out person at Target.

  53. Scuba Steve says:

    @Everyone who stated the obvious:
    Maybe he doesn’t want to drive that far? Maybe he doesn’t have time to run to the store and Maybe he expects that if you can order a pre-paid phone online it won’t be a complete hassle?

    You couldn’t seriously tell me this was a “good” customer experience for this person.

    Because ordering online shouldn’t be a hassle just because the product is available elsewhere.. otherwise Newegg, Tigerdirect, Amazon, and eBay wouldn’t appear on this site at all.

  54. JustAGuy2 says:

    This isn’t a case of a consumer being treated poorly – this is a case of a company deciding it doesn’t want to do business with someone, for whatever reason.

  55. legwork says:

    Waitaminit, someone is disappointed that AT&T has started protecting people from itself?

    //Obligatory “Anybody but AT&T” sig.

  56. @tme2nsb: Are you (being your employer) aware that I can get a prepaid sim off the street in Lebanon, already activated on any mobile network without any ID required? Lebanon has had terrorism for far longer than the US.

  57. dantsea says:

    @tme2nsb: That is likely call center or sales center procedural voodoo, made up by a shift lead or supervisor to provide an answer that most people won’t further question.

    I and many others have purchased these phones, paying cash for hardware and airtime cards, never once having been required to divulge Social Security Numbers or mailing addresses. I’ve frequently provided AT&T with bogus addresses during activation because there’s no need for them to have that information. So far, Homeland Security has yet to come after me.

  58. humphrmi says:

    @JustAGuy2: Absolutely. Nine out of ten times, it’ll end up being a valid customer. One out of ten, it’ll be some nutjob who wants to (1) meet up with some cop he thinks is a pre-teen, (2) try to blow up the Sears tower, (3) (the most common) sell drugs to your kids. In this case, AT&T probably poorly chose to abandon this customer. Since they don’t have any way to tell whether he’s in the 9/10 or 1/10.

  59. Buran says:

    @mikecolione: Except THEY ARE. The original post says:

    “Ms. Johnson then informed me that my orders were being cancelled because they had been unable to verify my credit history.”

  60. Funny, that picture doesn’t strike me as a “Cheryl.”

  61. TTFK says:

    QFT on the Virgin Mobile phone.

    Virgin Mobile has better rates, better customer service and, most importantly, better phones. Their newest top model has a full keyboard, camera AND Bluetooth. They use Verizon’s network, so coverage is not an issue either.

  62. newfenoix says:

    I have to question the fact that she ran a credit check for a prepaid service. This is a violation of several laws and this CSR needs to be fired. And yes, I do agree that he should go to the local ripoff store and get his phone.

  63. maxmoon says:

    @Buran: The reason this is limited is because of Ebayers. At&T sells these phones at a loss. Hopeing to make there money back on prepaid cards. If they did not limit these phones then someone will buy 100 pantech phones for 10 bucks and then sell them on ebay for 40 each. I work for AT&T and thats the reason there is a check. And yes part of the check if because the govt wants to keep a check on its people

  64. khiltd says:

    I didn’t realize this actually got posted until today, but since reading comprehension is not everyone’s forté:

    1. I have not purchased more than 3 phones in any calendar year.

    2. I cannot purchase the phone that I wanted at the price advertised online at ANY brick-and-mortar store because it was an online-only deal; buying it locally would have cost me over $150 more and the phone simply isn’t worth that.

    3. I have no evidence to support the fact that they actually attempted to perform a credit history check, only Cheryl’s statements to that effect. Either way, she was clearly lying about something just to get rid of me and I doubt she was a supervisor of anyone.

    4. I have ordered two phones in the past with the exact same credit card and the exact same billing address (and yes, it matches the shipping address).

    5. I have not flown anywhere since 1999 so I have no idea how or why I would be on anybody’s “watch list.” Jihad jihad jihad.

  65. Terrorists use Tracphones, they don’t call wireless companies and try to set up accounts.