AT&T Employee Misleads Customer, And Now He's Trapped In A 2-Year Contract

A little over a month ago, Mark gave up on his GoPhone SIM, went into an AT&T store with his iPhone 2G in hand, and signed up for a new two year, post-paid plan. The sales rep promised Mark that his corporate discount would apply, and instead of a contract presented just a receipt. Now AT&T is saying there’s no corporate discount on an iPhone purchase—even though he didn’t buy an iPhone, just the service plan—and that he can’t cancel now without paying an ETF because it’s past the 30 day mark.

In early January I found out that I could receive a corporate discount from AT&T. I’d had an iPhone since 2007, but used it with a GoPhone SIM, because I found the $60/month charges a bit outrageous for someone who never talks on the phone. They used to have an Unlimited Medianet plan for GoPhone for $20/month, and I rarely paid more than $30/month on service. When they yanked away that plan in November, I found myself jonesing for data, and fell right into their hands.

I went into the AT&T store on January 2, aware that I’d have to sign a 2-year contract if I signed up for a post-paid plan. I asked the man at the counter twice to please verify my corporate discount, and he twice assured me it would be 19%. He definitely saw that it was an iPhone 2G.

Instead of showing me a contract, as I expected, he simply printed a short receipt that indicated he had activated service and applied my GoPhone balance to the account. As far as I remember, nothing was signed.

This week, I finally received my first full bill; no corporate discount. I emailed customer support, and was shown a line in the contract stating that “There are no equipment or monthly service discounts available with the purchase of an iPhone.” [See the contract terms here.] I wrote back asking if my early termination fee could be waived, since I was given false information at the store. I was told no, but that I could upgrade to the iPhone 3G to receive the discount.

I replied that I was flummoxed that there are no repercussions for an AT&T representative using false information to lock in a sale, and that I’d write Consumerist to see if I’m being way off-base in expecting some sort of good faith offer to make up for what, at best, was miscommunication, and, at worst, consciously reeling in an unsuspecting sucker.

Mark adds, “This is one of those situations where I’m not sure what I expect from the company, and whether or not it’s completely my fault for being a less than astute customer.” It’s a valid question—how much should the company try to resolve a problem that’s at least partially the customer’s fault? In this case, however, we don’t think it’s your fault at all.

When you’re at the AT&T store, you’re relying on their representative to take care of the activation side of things. You expect them to give you accurate information. In fact, you have to do this—you don’t have access to their system or customer account records during the transaction, and if all they provide is a receipt, some verbal promises, and a “you’re good to go” message, it’s hard to see how you would have been able to identify and protect yourself from this issue.

What’s more interesting to us, though, is that you didn’t purchase an iPhone at the time you activated the service. We therefore don’t see how their fine print applies, which specifically states there’s no discount with the purchase of an iPhone.

Try calling their executive line to explain your case. Even if they refuse to approve a corporate discount, we would hope they understand that the confusion wasn’t your fault and that the ETF should be waived.

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