Straight Talk Plays Three-Card Monte With Customer's Phone Number

You might need to get a pen and paper out to help diagram the byzantine shell game that the folks at Straight Talk (the Tracfone prepaid phone service sold through Walmart) have been playing with Consumerist reader John’s phone number.

Until recently, John’s 19-month experience with Straight Talk had left him nothing to complain about.

And then a couple week ago, his phone (Phone A, for our purposes) got damaged and to the point where he needed a replacement.

A peek at the Straight Talk site showed he could get a refurbished version of the same phone for not much money. So he ordered the phone (Phone B) but when it arrived, he noticed a problem.

“I discovered that the back panel of the phone didn’t fit in place,” writes John. “The battery compartment could not be covered. The panel, which was packed separately, appeared to belong to a different model (though same brand) of phone.”

So John called Straight Talk customer service, navigated the overly complicated phone tree and then got put on hold.

“I was told that my old number (from Phone A) could be transferred to Phone B, and that I’d receive a new phone by FedEx (Phone C),” he tells Consumerist. “This would allow me to use Phone B (backless) until I received Phone C. Then (I was told), I could send Phone B back to Straight Talk and have what was Phone A’s number — now Phone B’s — transferred to Phone C. This seemed to be a hassle, but not a major problem.”

When John went online to check the status of his account, that’s when he discovered he’d gone down the customer service rabbit hole, never to return.

“I discovered that the number Straight Talk’s customer service rep transferred to Phone B was not Phone A’s number, but my son’s phone number (his phone, Phone D, is also a Straight Talk phone on my account, but I never mentioned its existence or its number to the Straight Talk rep).

“So. I called customer service and was kept holding for an inordinately long time… I was told that the number was still porting, and that process could be stopped, and Phone D’s number kept with Phone D and not assigned to Phone B. ‘Could [I] please hold?’ Yes. No problem.

“I held for about 15 minutes after which the rep came on to tell me that the port had completed, but that the number could be reassigned to Phone D from Phone B. ‘All we need is the serial number for Phone D.’ Problem.

“My son is a counselor at a camp for handicapped kids about 100 miles away. He has his phone with him, but I can’t call him on it because… THEY REASSIGNED HIS NUMBER and, once the number was detached from the phone, I could no longer see Phone D’s details on my Straight Talk billing website. Problem.”

John then had to make several calls to the camp to find someone who could locate his son and have him read off the serial number on his phone.

Another call to customer service — and another long wait on hold — later…

“I was told they had effected the transfer of the number from Phone B back to Phone D,” says John. “Now, though, they could no longer assign the number from Phone A to Phone B — the initial transfer (their fault, not mine) rendered Phone B’s Sim card invalid.”

At this point, the Straight Talk rep tells him that he can only receive Phone C after Straight Talk receives Phone B back.

In the end, John figures he spent close to four hours on the phone trying to sort this out, not including the calls to his son at camp, or the time spent shipping Phone B back to the warehouse or waiting for Phone C to arrive.

During this time, he says customer service reps repeatedly told him, he “could go deal with another phone company if I wanted to” and that “Losing [my] business was not a big deal.”

To make up for the hours wasted, Straight Talk offered John 15 extra days of service on Phone A and C.

“By the time I will have received Phone C, I will have effectively been without my phone for almost that same length of time,” writes John, “So this doesn’t seem like much in the way of compensation.”

John copied Consumerist on his Executive E-mail Carpet Bomb to Straight Talk. He also provided a phone number for the company to contact him, but points out that the “number won’t work until I receive Phone C and port the number from Phone A.”

UPDATE: After someone from Tracfone reached out to John through the comments on the story, John tells Consumerist he was put in touch with a person who “oversaw the progress of the phone I was to be shipped, upgraded the model of the phone, and added a generous compensation in the form of extending the prepaid service plans for both my new phone and my son’s. The phone arrived today (by overnight FedEx), and was all set up and ready to use.

“I thank for publishing my story and Consumerist followers who posted comments and advice. I hope that other Consumerist readers will learn from my experience that there can sometimes be (despite tons of empirical evidence to the contrary) ONE person in a corporation who knows that the best way to enhance corporate reputation and build profit is to see that customers have no choice but to say good things. The trick is to make sure that customers are never even tempted to say a bad word in the first place.”

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