Help, Verizon Doubled My ETF Behind My Back!

The spark had left his mobile phone relationship, and Dean left his iPhone 3G for a Droid. He happily paid an ETF to escape his AT&T contract, only to find himself trapped in a strange void between Verizon’s previous early termination fee for smartphone contracts and the newly doubled fee. Now, he tells Consumerist that due to the ETF change, he is trapped in a contract that he claims he never signed.

I was previously on a contract with AT&T for the iPhone 3G for a
little over a year. The Droid arrived, and I researched the phone and
services and decided to switch, paying AT&T a cancellation fee in
order to do so. I placed the order with Nov. 12, 2009. I
received the phone on Nov. 17th and could not activate it until Nov.
18. I read Verizon’s T&C’s and Wirefly’s T&C’s and whatever
documentation I received, especially noting that the early
cancellation fee stated on the Verizon terms and conditions was $175,
reduced $5 per month if activated after 11/16/06. Fast forward about
2 weeks when I received my first bill from Verizon wireless…nothing
out of the ordinary except the part that states that depending on the
device, if I cancel early I may face a $350 cancellation fee. I
called Verizon wireless Friday evening to clarify and spoke with S.
He told me that yes, the $350 ETF would apply to me, but to
fax me the T&C’s that I received and he would look through it and get
back to me. I faxed it out the following Monday and no one got back
to me. I called Tuesday, spoke with a F., and he emailed S. to
get back to me. Wednesday, I called again and spoke with H. She
asked me to fax the T&C that I had to her and she would review it and
get back to me that day. She called later that day and said that they
have to hold the $350 ETF and that I would need to contact Wirefly if
I wanted to cancel and return the device.

I contacted Wirefly and their return policy is to contact them within
14 days and no more than 30min of usage on the device. I have been
using this phone for close to a month, so am about 10 times over their
usage limits as well as far beyond the 14 days. I was told that I
would have to contact Verizon Wireless because it is Verizon’s terms
and conditions that are in dispute, not Wirefly’s.

I contacted Verizon again, forgot who I spoke with though, and plead my
case again that I have no problem with the device or service but am
not happy about being held to Terms and Conditions which were not made
available to me for 2 weeks after I had activated and used the device,
making me well beyond the return condition to Wirefly. I don’t
remember who she spoke with and she would not transfer me to a manager
or anyone else, she just maintained they will tell me the same thing
and that if I cancel, the $350 ETF would apply.

To throw things in perspective, I love the Droid, I have had no
problems with Verizon service so far, and have no intention of
canceling early, UNLESS there is an unforeseen circumstance that would
force me to cancel.

I have researched the ETF increase and also see that the FCC is
investigating the increase in Verizon’s ETF. I am surprised that even
with the FCC raising an eyebrow to this, why they would not make an
exception for the few people caught between the change-over such as
myself, over an early cancellation that may not even happen.

How would you suggest I proceed in this case?

The catch in Dean’s situation is that he has no intention of canceling his Verizon service at the moment, so the contract change isn’t relevant. Verizon doesn’t need to worry about the ETF that applies to a particular customer unless he tries to cancel.

Consumerist’s advice to Dean, and any other Verizon customers who find themselves in this situation, is to hold on to every scrap of documentation that you have of the original contract that you signed. This will be crucial if you do end up needing to break your contract early.

Otherwise, keep an eye out for a response from Verizon to the FCC’s questions about ETF doubling, and enjoy your Droid.


Edit Your Comment

  1. corkdork says:

    I’d find it very ironic if he decided to break contract sans ETF because Verizon changed the ETF (a material change of contract).

    • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Wouldn’t this constitute a change in contract terms, meaning he could escape the contract without having to pay the ETF at all?

  2. JohnDeere says:

    isnt this an adverse change in his contract. and shouldnt it allow him out without an etf at all.

  3. FatLynn says:

    Wait, wait, wait. The Verizon rep effectively told him that if he didn’t like the new ETF, he could get out of the contract by returning his device. I don’t think that’s how “material changes” work. If they made a material change to the contract, he can get out of it WITHOUT returning the device. Maybe I am misunderstanding Wirefly’s role in all of this, but if the contract was accepted with a $175 ETF, Verizon has to honor that.


  4. Geekybiker says:

    Well if they insist on changing the ETF from the paperwork you sign, it would be a materially adverse change to the contract just like all those texting rate increases, etc. It means you should be able to demand the contract dropped outright and go month to month with no contract.

  5. chadraytay says:

    I think the important detail most of the people posting to this missed is one word… “Wirefly”

    It appears that Verizon didn’t print him up a set of everything with a 175 fee and then change their mind and print up a completely different set. Wirefly printed/linked too/kept an outdated set of the terms and conditions available and directed/gave this to him as the info for getting a droid.

    Meaning, don’t blame verizon for a crappy phone selling site. :)

    • coren says:

      Well, unless Wirefly is copypastaing the Verizon info to their site…

      “I read Verizon’s T&C’s and Wirefly’s T&C’s and whatever documentation I received, especially noting that the early cancellation fee stated on the Verizon terms and conditions was $175, “

      I’d say he has a case against Verizon, but I don’t know where he got their terms from

    • sven.kirk says:

      That was my first thought when I heard ‘wirefly’. 14 days AND less than 30 minutes cannot test the reliability of ANY network.

      But what I don’t understand is, why is he complaining when he doesn’t want to leave.

      Another flamebait article…

    • Ickypoopy says:

      Wirefly is an authorized reseller (read: agent) of Verizon Wireless. Therefore, the contract terms provided with the purchase are the ones that would apply.

      He should simply keep all of his paperwork for the possibility of cancelling. He was good to dispute it now (hopefully to get record of the dispute in the account notes), as this will likely help when it comes time to challenge the ETF.

  6. haoshufu says:

    Wirefly is a VZW agent. Yes, you may be able to get out of the contract etf free but Wirefly does not let him return the phone. Furthermore, there may be a separate agreement with Wirefly to keep the account open for certain number of months or Wirefly will charge him full retail price of the phone.

    • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

      Pretty sure that if he could get out of Verizon’s side of the deal, that he could recoop most costs for his phone selling it privately on Ebay or another venue. I hear those things are hot.

  7. Jeff-er-ee says:

    I would suggest that, in addition to holding on to every scrap of paper and documentation, that you also do as the OP did and have a documented protest of the increased fee, even if it’s only a single letter to customer service. If you don’t protest, they may be able to squeak by with a, “Well, we told you and you didn’t say anything, so we can assume that you’re in agreement.”

  8. Colonel Jack O'neill says:

    He states:
    “I love the Droid, I have had no
    problems with Verizon service so far, and have no intention of
    canceling early”

    So, if he’s not going to cancel, then why is he making a big deal?

    • Blueskylaw says:

      There is an old phrase called: It’s the principal of the matter.

      What do you think they will tell him when they materially change(and you know they will sometime) his contract 6 months from now?

      They will say, why didn’t you say something 6 months ago. It’s too late now, sorry.

    • d0x360 says:

      Would you want to pay such a high ETF? He doesnt want to cancel now, but maybe in the future something happens? Maybe he moves to an area with terrible Verizon service.

  9. BuddhaLite says:

    The increased ETF actually went into effect on 11/15.

    The FCC won’t do jack and if they do Verizon will just stop selling BOGO devices.

  10. RPHP says:

    “Consumerist’s advice to Dean, and any other Verizon customers who find themselves in this situation…”

    Sounds like legal advice to me. Does anyone at Consumerist have a license to practice law? It is one thing to advocate on behalf of the consumer or provide information about what the law is. It is quite another thing to give out legal advice.

    • Coelacanth says:

      I don’t see how that’s considered “legal advice” since they’re not advocating hitting the court system. For that, they’d need real lawyers who’re licensed to practice law.

    • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

      Yes, if they quoted a LAW, or something similar…. then your point would be relevant. But it’s not.

      What Consumerist is suggesting is no different than people screaming “SAVE YOUR RECEIPTS!” or “Make sure you have copies of the cancelled check!”

    • Awjvail says:

      “VII. Information Provided

      You acknowledge that any reliance upon any advice, opinion, statement, or other information displayed or distributed through our Site is at your sole risk.”


  11. SacraBos says:

    Obviously if the new ETF is that much of a problem (and it may be), I could return the phone and issue a chargeback on the CC. However, the EFT only hits if he cancels within X years, so it might be a moot point currently.

    Kindof like some here that aren’t worried about that jacking of interest rates to 25.9% since they never carry a balance…

  12. Red Cat Linux says:

    I’m a current Verizon customer, but I don’t have a smartphone device. When the Droid hit the streets, and right about when Dean was making his purchase) I was doing some reading about the different plans and phones and considering a switch to this new device.

    On the Verizon site, it does indicate that the ETF for smart phones was going to be higher than regular phones. Looks like this info never made it to Wirefly in time. I would EECB about it.

    But in the event either Wirefly lets him return it, and Verizon agrees to grandfather him in, I would get real names, a case ID number, something in writing. Because a year from now when you transfer to Japan or whatever, they will know nothing.

    • ZeusThaber says:

      They actually give you an out in situations like that. I was surprised how many companies do.

      When I moved to Japan all I had to do was prove that I was going, and as a result be far, far outside of their service area.

      One approved Japanese visa later and poof. No ETF.

    • ZeusThaber says:

      that is to say, I assume this would apply to smart phones too.


  13. milrtime83 says:

    It sounds to me like it is more of a problem with Wirefly. I saw plenty of places that Verizon was increasing the ETF on smartphones activated after 11/15. Wirefly either didn’t have that information or chose not to make it very clear to customers.

  14. Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

    A lot of people are suggesting he return the phone… I don’t think that’s the issue. I think the OP just wants the terms and conditions he signed up for– although he doesn’t plan on cancelling his phone, that doesn’t mean in a year he won’t fall into financial hardship and have to cancel.

    I say the EECB.

  15. Xzigraz says:

    Don’t Verizon offer a 30 day trail period? I mean even tho the OP said he had been using the phone for 30 days, but he discovered the new ETF fee 2 weeks ago so maybe he can argue base on this.

  16. awer25 says:

    The contract he signed is what matters. I would look closely to see if there is any place that Wirefly’s contract incorporates by reference any part of Verizon’s contract. If not, he’ll have to sue Verizon if they charge him $350.

  17. menty666 says:

    The more I read about this stuff, the more I’m thinking pre-paid disposable phones are the way to go when my contract is up.

  18. Kirzen says:

    Two Words:

    Authorized Agent.

    If Wirefly is authorized to generate service contracts and provide binding contracts that tie you to Verizon, than Verizon is bound by the terms and conditions of the contract that Wirefly had you sign.

    Making any change to those terms and conditions an adverse alteration to an existing contract, nullifying that contract’s enforceability. The OP should keep their hands on absolutely every scrap of paper that he has, (its important not only to keep that copy of the T&C’s and the contract, but to be able to prove when you started the new service so that you can tie those T&C’s to your Verizon service and what other avenues were offered to you). At that point you call Verizon and say “Either you can give me a $175 contract and we can be friends, or you can go fuck yourself and cancel this contract immediately due to your own adverse change to its terms”.

    At this point they either buckle, release the contract, or insist that its binding. In the event that they insist that its binding I would EECB to get the decision overturned, and in the event that EECB doesn’t work, keep copies of everything and be prepared to sue them for it in small claims if you’re ever hit with the $350 ETF.


  19. NeverLetMeDown says:

    Sounds to me like Wirefly’s at fault here, they sent outdated T&Cs with the phone.

  20. mrdeeno says:

    This is Dean, the guy who submitted the story here.

    Just to update you guys, I did speak with Wirefly about the situation, and they said they would make an exception and allow me to cancel and return the device. I don’t know if it was technically their mistake or not, after all, the phone was shipped out Nov. 12, several days before the new T&C’s took effect. The phone did not arrive until Nov. 16 due to the weekened.

    Even if I do cancel and return the device to Wirefly, I am sure I still will not receive my activation fee back, and I am sure AT&T will charge me a new activation fee for un-canceling service. Either way, due to someone’s mistake (whether Verizon or Wirefly’s), it is still going to cost me out of pocket, not to mention the accessories I already bought for the Droid.

    I will attempt an EECB and see where I get.

    • pot_roast says:

      AT&T will waive the activation fee if you un-cancel. You will be helping to reduce quarterly “churn” and they’d be more than happy to. IIRC you have 90 days to re-activate.

  21. rwalford79 says:

    Technically, you signed up for service and activated that phone on the 18th, 3 days after the new ETF went into place. You are out of luck…

    However, since you purchased the phone, have T&C’s for the period you purchased the phone, but were unable by Wirefly, or Verizon to activate till AFTER the new ETF went in place, then you should be able to contest it.