T-Mobile says it’s above the law

Won’t abide by it, even when told

EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE you hear of poor corporate behavior, but T-Mobile just told me that it simply would not follow the law. No, really, one of its droids was read the law, offered a chance to look it up, and still said no way.

It all started on Sunday morning when my house was broken into and burglarized. The main thing of value taken was my fiancée’s purse with her ID, credit cards, phone and other valuable things in it. When we woke up in the early afternoon and discovered we had been, at that point potentially, robbed, the first thing we did was try and verify the theft.

I tried to log on to the T-Mobile website to check the phone logs, one of the first things thieves do is to use the phone and credit cards. Unfortunately, the T-Mobile site would not take my password and locked me out. I ended up calling the company directly.

The first curiosity was that the T-Mobile operator, and she was very polite, said that there were international calls made earlier that morning, a few hours before we called in. Since we had called minutes after we woke up, it was unlikely to have been either me or my fiancée.

I asked what country they were to, and the operator told me that she could not tell me. No really, she would not tell me what country these numbers that I purportedly had called were in, but I was responsible for the charges anyway. In a real ‘Twilight Zone’ moment, T-Mobile was kind enough to say yes or no if I guessed specific countries. WTF is not adequate here.

Since the operator reset my locked out status, I logged in to the T-Mobile website, and saw that the calls were made to Mexico. Still on the phone, I ordered the line, one of two on my account, disabled. They complied. The total bill for the calls was about $8, and I asked that the charges to be removed. The T-Mobile operator said no.

Fraudulent calls

Can anyone tell me anything about these numbers?

I told the T-Mobile operator I did not agree with the treatment I was getting, that after having my home literally robbed, the company’s behavior was unacceptable. After some conferences with the mysterious person that operators talk to when they put you on hold, the still very nice T-Mobile operator offered to drop half the charges, I was then only on the hook for $4 and change.

Still, that was not acceptable. What if it was identity theft, and I didn’t discover it until $25K had been racked up on my account? The phone was stolen, it was reported in a timely manner, and T-Mobile would only stop charges after the line was disabled. How kind.

Then it got really weird. While I was trying to point out to the the still pleasant operator that T-Mobile was taking customer service to new depths, she stopped and said, “Oh”. This is the universal sign for, “things are not getting better”. The “Oh” was that $60-something more was now on the bill. After I had suspended the line. Imagine my surprise when the operator said I was responsible for that too, after the line was suspended. I told them I would think about what to do, but I felt I should not be responsible for the charges.

Since we now knew there was a real theft, we called the police, the credit cards companies, and everyone else that was relevant. To a person, they were all pleasant, helpful, and supportive. There were charges on the credit cards, dating from before the calls started on the T-Mobile phone. The credit card companies all said no problem, canceled the cards, and stared the reissue process. Nothing was charged to us.

After two days of trying to find evidence, figure out what was taken, and replace cards, IDs and other items, two open issues remain. The first is whether or not the Minneapolis police will go to the locations where the cards were used, two gas stations, and pull the camera footage. Having been told exactly when the charges were made by the credit card companies, and that they were at the pump, I went to both places. The managers were nice and helpful, agreeing that the suspect was almost assuredly on camera, but would only release the footage to the police. Fair enough. The police were informed, now it is waiting time.

The second problem is T-Mobile. Do we stick with them when we get another phone? If a company treats you badly, do you go back? If it had been thousands of dollars in fraudulent charges, then what? At this point it wasn’t the money per se, it was the treatment.

After Twittering about the problem, one helpful person, Dieman, pointed out something interesting, Minnesota (the state where I live, and all this took place) law SF298. This is a Senate File, basically the black letter language of the law, as it will be published when the laws passed recently are printed later on in the year. It is legally binding, and went into effect on August 1, 2009. I was not responsible. The text of SF298, as enacted, says:

Subdivision 1. Liability limited. A customer is not liable for cellular phone charges imposed by a wireless service provider that result from the unauthorized use of the customer’s cellular phone. There is a rebuttable presumption that any use of a cellular phone after the wireless service provider has been notified that the phone is lost or stolen is unauthorized, provided that the customer agreed to suspend use of the wireless device. Subd. 2. Unauthorized use defined. For purposes of subdivision 1, “unauthorized use” means use by a person other than the customer who does not have actual, implied, or apparent authority for the use.”

For the record, neither I nor my fiancée gave the burglar permission to make any calls, much less international ones, on our phone. According to the law, both letter and spirit, T-Mobile should not charge us for the fraud. In fact, it should know better than to even try and pin those charges on us.

On Tuesday, August 11, I called T-Mobile back armed with this information. When I call companies, I try to give them the opportunity to do the right thing. Call center personnel are often undertrained, overworked, or just make mistakes. This time, T-Mobile didn’t even make the offer to split the charges with me. Instead it was, “sorry, you are responsible”, a direct violation of the law.

I asked to speak with a manager. The first T-Mobile phone guy, again polite and pleasant, got Matt, badge #1232278. We chatted about how I would like the charges removed, and Matt politely told me to get bent. I asked for that in writing, and he told me that was not possible. The company was violating State law and refused to give me evidence that it was. Smart move on its part actually.

That said, I then told Matt that this was a violation of the law, and that the law specifically stated that I was not responsible. I asked if he was in front of a PC so I could point him to the Senate file. He refused. Matt did not say that he could not, he said he WOULD NOT.

At that point, I started reading him the statute, and it got really weird. Matt said that he would not obey the law unless he was directed to by T-Mobile legal. Hopefully T-Mobile phone center managerial training includes such things as not committing felonies, otherwise things could get ugly at its offices if T-Mobile legal doesn’t inform managers of such things. Didn’t humanity get past the ignorant cowardice of the “I was just following orders” defense at the Nuremberg trials?

So, that is where it ended. T-Mobile said it would not help its customers who were victims of fraud. T-Mobile went back on its promise of removing charges after a line was suspended. T-Mobile said it would not look up the law to see if it was in violation. T-Mobile said it literally would not obey the law when informed of it. That folks is T-Mobile’s customer service in a nutshell.

So, tomorrow it is lawyer time and new phone company time. Moral of the story, if you are in trouble, or have been victimized, T-Mobile will go to any length, legal or not, to victimize you again by making sure you get stuck with the fraudulent charges. Who could ask for more? S|A


Editor’s note: Charlie missed a phone number that was dialed with the stolen phone at 5:29 am CST 612.232.4535

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also available through Guidepoint and Mosaic. FullyAccurate