AT&T Says Your Jesus Phone Can Be In Three Places At Once, So Pay Up

Wow, those iPhones really are amazing. Chris’ iPhone can make a call from Nicaragua the same time it’s incurring a data roaming charge in Mexico—all without leaving Chris’ side in the U.S. Some skeptics will probably just say there’s a problem with AT&T’s records, or the phone’s SIM card was cloned or something, but AT&T believes. That’s why they want Chris to pay that bill each month it keeps happening.

Here’s his story:

I have been an AT&T/Cingular customer for some time (5+ years). I own small business and have 7 phones with them on a small business plan, my normal monthly bill is well over $300. Shortly after Mother’s day this year I started getting $2000+ bills for roaming in Nicaragua and Mexico. Neither I nor my phone have ever been to Nicaragua. I called AT&T and they actually fixed the problem in a few days and gave me a credit. So far so good.

However, the next month’s bill came and the calls are still there, and the next month and the next month. Finally I had them shut the phone off completely, because they couldn’t stop the billing. So the phone is now off, and I am still paying monthly service on it. However, they managed to rack up over $6,000 in charges for roaming in Mexico and Nicaragua before I forced them to shut it off.

Here’s the kicker, AT&T says the phone is in both places at the same time. Their own bill shows a call being made from Nicaragua at the exact same minute it is incurring a data roaming charge in Mexico. When I point out that this is physically impossible they just respond with “pay the bill,” I imagine it to be similar to what dealing with the Mob must feel like.

I won’t get into the byzantine mess that is AT&T’s dispute issues process (to be fair, in the 5 years before this incident, I always thought they were pleasant and helpful when I called for anything); suffice to say after over 12 hours on the phone with AT&T (who have a wonderful system that won’t allow you to call anyone back), they finally shut my phones off today. This is despite swearing just last night that my service wouldn’t be interrupted.

For the record, despite all these issues I was a “good” customer and continued to pay the portion of my bill that was legit.

Please help, or at least if you can’t help publish this so other people can stay away.

Serves me right for buying an iPhone.


Hey, we didn’t say it, he did.

Chris, have you tried these numbers?


Edit Your Comment

  1. cotr says:

    i sent this in to Consumerist… but they have been holding my deposit for over 4 years and even though i still have the physical contract, they wont give it back because they want more evidence since their own contract isnt.

  2. ThatShortGuy says:

    “The accumulated filth of all their e-mails and texts will foam up about their waists and all the teenagers and politicians will look up and shout ‘Restore us!’ and I’ll look down and whisper ‘Error 1603.'”

  3. Ein2015 says:

    Small claims court… I’m sure a judge will get a GREAT laugh. :D

  4. mariospants says:

    This is simply incredible. I’m still not sure why we have to resort to calling executives in order to clean up what amounts to utter and complete incompetence. What is wrong with the CS system that they can’t even handle such an obvious FUBAR?

  5. flamincheney says:

    These phones have GPS. Couldn’t they just check out the physical location of the phone at the time of the charges????

    • iEddie says:

      @flamincheney: Only the iPhone 3G. The original iPhone doesn’t – it uses cell triangulation, which would give you the area it COULD be, but not the exact area like GPS.

    • GMFish says:

      @flamincheney: “These phones have GPS. Couldn’t they just check out the physical location of the phone at the time of the charges????

      What’s the point? It’s quite obvious that AT&T simply does not care about the facts, they just want the money regardless of whether the customer actually owes it.

      • flamincheney says:

        the point is that they could have the tech to verify the OP’s statements internally. It just makes the whole situation that much more of a clusterfuck.

  6. yankerosa says:

    There you have it folks… the time of the antichrist has drawn nigh. Does anyone else think it’s not merely coincidence this guy’s name is CHRIS! HMMMM??!!!

  7. GMFish says:

    I keep hearing these horror stories about the iPhone and ridiculous billings, and I cannot help but wonder when it will start effecting sales. I know for certain I’ll never buy one.

    • DreamTheEndless: Death's little brother says:

      @GMFish: Oh come on now – This clearly has EVERYTHING to do with AT&T and nothing to do with the iPhone. Apple didn’t create AT&T’s cell network or fubar billing system or poor customer service policies…

      Please – why are some people so desperate about finding any excuse to trash the iPhone?

    • pigbearpug says:

      @GMFish: I think you mean affecting. Sorry, pet peeve. Can’t help it.

  8. lodleader says:

    not the jesus phone?!?!?!?

  9. flamincheney says:

    The fact that the iPhone is exclusive to At&T is the biggest reason I will not buy one.

  10. RandomHookup says:

    I’m sure there’s a Holy Trinity joke here somewhere.

  11. KristinaBeana says:

    After this post and the ensuing comments I would have a very difficult time not calling another CSR just to ask if they have accepted Christ as their personal savior. And exactly which was the father, the son, or the holy ghost between the calls from Nicaragua, Mexico and the US.

  12. BethDemonice says:

    I had the EXACT same problem with Sprint. They said my wife was incurring data charges on her phone in another state AT THE SAME TIME she was talking on the phone to her mother. Had to use the numbers on this site to handle it.

  13. TemplaEuryclea says:

    Same problem a few yeas back in Southern Oregon (Klamath Falls), I was getting inbound calls from a tower in eastern Washington. They credited me the first couple months, then after they “investigated” the issue, they informed me that I would need to pay the charges. The rep actually tried to tell me it was possible for the call to be reouted throught that cell tower, because the land out west was so flat and open. I then proceeded to cancel the account, but not after they sent my former employer a bill for the amount in dispute which they payed.

    Will be interesting where this goes. Keep us posted

  14. floydianslip6 says:

    When I had to deal with random AT&T (at the time cingular) billing issues (my phone was apparently calling itself every minute for several weeks) the only thing that got prompt and immediate action was asking for their (a supervisors) help in filling out a form from the attorney general’s office that reported telecom companies for sketchy billing practices.

    Within 24 hours of bringing up the attorney general my matter was resolved, and this was after months and months of back and forth with CSRs and their supervisors.

  15. Jiboo says:

    I have had some massive problems with AT&T and their jacked-up billing. I was a customer with them for six years. In 2003, my phone died, but my contract with them had expired and I was month-to-month. I re-upped for two years to get another free phone.

    They sent me the new phone, and obviously I kept the same phone number, but for some reason … they started double-billing me. Two bills, same phone number. I called them and it was supposedly straightened out. They stopped sending two bills and said I wasn’t responsible for the balance of the second bills.

    But what do you know, a couple of years later I have a bill collector calling me … saying I owe AT&T $221. This was when they had become Cingular, before “resurrecting themselves” again, so that made it really impossible to get a straight answer on anything, or to get anyone to help. Cingular wasn’t willing to deal with “old” AT&T accounts.

    Bottom line, I am *still* trying to fix this five years later. I am no longer with AT&T. I ended up paying the outstanding balance because I wanted to get it off my credit report and stop the collection calls. At this point I think I’m just out $221, because I’m really just sick of dealing with it. I have proof that I only had one phone number and one account with them, as well as proof that I always made the payments on the account, but I am unable to get anywhere with them, especially now that I paid them off. Mob indeed.

    • jhurley03 says:

      @Jiboo: I used to be a CSR and what most likely happened is that when you renewed your contract the sales rep opened a new account(because they get more commission), and switched your number to the new account and didn’t cancel the old account. If you still have your old bills from 5 years ago, you should look at a bill from before you renewed, and after you renewed to see if you have the same account number.

  16. lol_wut says:

    The SIM card was likely cloned. If that was the case, why didn’t AT&T just issue the customer a new SIM card? Wouldn’t have that small expense, and few minutes over the phone at each point along the way to ensure it was properly routed, been the best course of action?

    I know billing from other markets (roaming) can be delayed by several months – perhaps it has improved significantly from the time I spent working for Cingular as they were growing up into a GSM carrier. I would think, though, that if the customer has a bill that clearly shows calls originating from one tower in his “home base” (local calling area) and a string of other calls within the same time frame in two completely different areas that this would be more than enough evidence to warrant a credit & re-bill and likely a change out of his SIM card.

    With such a gross oversight, a lack of common sense and a lack of consistency in your customer service experience, OP, I would suggest that you get in contact with the local media, the attorney general, the BBB, the National Guard, etc. Your provider serves your business, and as many people who depend on their wireless devices for business know – it can often be considered your lifeline. I used to deal with customers with nearly 200 lines of service and heaven forbid even 1/4 of them went down. (One time we [Cingular] disconnected ALL of them)

    I would also advise to take the opportunity to shop the competition (Blackberry Storm, anyone?) and see if you can get a better rate somewhere else. Not only should AT&T credit you the false charges, they should also let you out of the contract w/o penalty if this is how they are going to treat you.

    • socalrob of the 24 and a half century says:

      But he most likely has been just dealing with normal call in CSR’s who can only do so much and aren’t allowed to think. I have had to deal with them, been called a Liar by them ( I should have saved the voicemail of the CSR saying that and played it for them ) when the CSR refused to look in their own trouble notice system (took a tech support agent both times to fix the issue)… basically the CSR’s dont care.

      Most actual AT&T store employees dont give a damn about anything and just want sales. I finally found a store where the employees are semi-decent but its a 10 mile drive (compared to 2). Its a problem plauging big business. Too many customers and undertrained staff who doesn’t want to get fired.

      Our society has become the perfect pawns for business. The general population is a mindless walking zombie and it shows with stories like this. The military would be proud. If only the country wasn’t full of obeisety.

    • sjaguar says:

      @sw4383: I know billing from other markets (roaming) can be delayed by several months – perhaps it has improved significantly from the time I spent working for Cingular as they were growing up into a GSM carrier.

      As of a few years ago, roaming partners have 30 days from the time the call was completed to pass it through a clearinghouse to the home carrier. There was plans to cut that limit down to 15 days. But, I got out of the industry before that limit became a hard limit. Of course, it is possible to bypass the clearinghouses and send data directly to your roaming partners (though that is rarely done). There is also a special process that will let you submit calls outside that 30 day window. However, that process is expensive and does not always allow the calls to be passed from the serving carrier to the home carrier. (The home carrier can choose to reject those calls.)

  17. chrisjames says:

    Try reporting to the FTC, maybe the FCC, and get a lawyer. Unlike what some posters have done or may be suggesting, don’t pay a cent of the fraudulent charges or accept anything less than a complete reversal, credit marks included. It may be wise to cancel completely and stop paying all charges, even the correct ones, but that sounds too impetuous.

    Seriously, ask a lawyer.

    • chrisjames says:

      @chrisjames: FTC, FCC, or maybe just your AG? They could at least give you some advice.

      • Canino says:

        @chrisjames: I’ve had very good luck filing complaints with the FCC. The magic words are “billing fraud”. Put that in the complaint title and in the complaint body. Insist that you are being fraudulently billed.

        The FCC sustains (you win) about 1-2% of the complaints it receives. I had 2 separate FCC complaints sustained against Sprint for a total of over $2500. Once the complaint is sustained, you will be dealing with an exective specialist who can and will take care of the issue.

  18. Tank says:

    if it was a SANTA phone, i could see it, but not a JESUS phone…

    • Difdi says:

      @Tank: But a Santa phone would be even worse for him! Not just in three places at once, but roaming all over the world in a single night! Heheh…

  19. lol_wut says:

    I would continue to voluntarily pay what you are contractually obligated to pay – the monthly fee plus any overages you are 100% responsible for. I would also suspend the account to prevent FUTURE usage.

    It isn’t enough anymore for a company to hire people off the street and train them how to operate a computer, read off a script, and sound somewhat polite on a good day. Those kinds of jobs were meant for the fresh out of high school crowd. As consumers grow more tech savvy, and devices get more sophisticated, so too will the billing that goes along with it. Every company needs to have those that operate in the black & white – sounds to me lately like a lot of service providers have far too many in the black & white. Not everything is a open-shut case. There will be problems from time to time.

  20. This was back six or seven years ago when most phone companies didn’t have a basic plan that included nation-wide calling. I had a calling plan that was limited to my home state of Arkansas and kept getting billed for roaming charges in Arizona because someone at AT&T could figure out that AR wasn’t the state abbreviation for Arizona. This happened three or four more times before I told them I was done and switched phone companies.

  21. ViperBorg says:

    Say it with me now.

    Wait… it’s over $6000 at this point?
    Eh, sue em anyway, plus court costs because they are being such freakin idiots.

  22. ninjatoddler says:

    I loved your selection of a scene from the upcoming comic book based movie, The Watchmen. Dr Manhattan, what’s with that long face?

  23. jhurley03 says:

    I used to work for AT&T. If I was still working there, I would call you and get this corrected. They can check to see if there is another account with the same sim number. They really should just give you a new sim and monitor the account, and if there are no more problems, then they should credit you the amount you don’t owe.

    One more thing you should do, is call customer service back and they can put into the computer the amount that you are disputing, and then you just pay the correct amount until this gets resolved,if it ever does. They should then be able to turn back on your service.

    I think I still might have the direct numbers of supervisors, area managers, and the director of a call center. If I find them, I will send them to you.

  24. shufflemoomin says:

    AT&T’s phone system won’t let you call them back? I smell irony in there somewhere…

  25. agentdanascully says:

    The very first cell phone I ever owned was one built and serviced by AT&T, back in 1996. During that summer, my father-in-law was admitted to the hospital in Wailuku, Maui, HI, with a fatal illness, so my husband and I flew from our home in Anchorage,Alaska to be with him for his final two weeks. During that time, I left my phone on so that my kids could call us at anytime. (Not EVER did AT&T inform me of ‘roaming’ charges that phone could incur if I merely turned the thing on, not even in the contract) Long story short, compounding the sadness of the passing of my FIL, was a bill that AT&T had sent me a month later, with $750 billed to my phone, just for having my phone turned on for those two weeks.

    After reading all the posts here and reading similar ‘got screwed’ stories, it’s clear to me that AT&T stands for “Ass Tactics & Thievery”.

  26. ifstone says:

    I just went through an amazing runaround getting AT&T DSL hooked up here, so no surprise. The company has some terrible management problems and should be broken up again, along with Verizon.

  27. redkamel says:

    yeah, take them to court. I dont see how you could lose…especially when they already credited the account once therefore accepting what happened. I think its obvious to anyone you are right. I dont even know if I would settle, because I would really just want to watch a judge lay into the ATT rep.

  28. Hanzo says:

    About ten years ago Nextel billed me for an 18 hour phone call to a number in Chicago. I lived in Pennsylvania, didn’t know anyone from there, never called that number before or after, and certainly didn’t make an 18 hour phone call.

    In fact, at the time I supposedly made the call, my phone was broken, and I was awaiting a replacement (shipped direct from Nextel).

    I fought them for months over the deal, and finally they agreed to remove the charge. I then cancelled service and paid a ridiculous ETF (on the order of $500 IIRC).

    A few years later, I was contacted by a creditor demanding a ludicrous sum. When told that it was Sprint, I figured it was a case of mistaken identity or a scam. Nope, Nextel apparently sold my account to a creditor who just never caught up with me (I moved frequently). And then Sprint absorbed the debt (or something along those lines).

    After eight years of the credit ding (and sporadically trying to fight them on it), I finally gave up and just paid the creditor (AFNI).

    About a year ago, I started watching my credit report very closely, and I noticed that there was still a hit from AFNI. I contacted them, *still* Sprint. I dug out the old information (including the confirmation of payment), they claim they have no record of me paying it.

    I’ve disputed the charge with the credit agencies, and each time it comes back as a valid charge.

    I’ve basically given up, and decided that i will suffer this forever.