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Eternal vigilance

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March 21, 2014 by falcon7204

This is the story about a communications company (I won’t name any names, but their initials are AT&T) and how sometimes the choices you make get overruled if you’re not paying attention.

One day I received a text message saying “paperless billing has been requested for your account.” Really? I thought. I never requested anything. So I called AT&T to find out what was going on. It should be a simple fix, I thought to myself. Just a computer glitch.

The lady on the other end of the phone (whose name is being protected because she’s not the cause of the problem) asked me if I had made any changes to my account recently. According to her, when a change is made to the account paperless billing is automatically activated, unless the customer says no. When I told her I had made no changes to the account, I received quite a jolt. She told me both the rate plan and data plans I currently had were changed to one of their new mobile share plans. I asked her (politely, given the circumstances) who made the changes, because I hadn’t, and no one else on the account was authorized to do so. She told me the changes appeared to be generated from their U-Verse department, approximately ten minutes before I received the text message. Incensed doesn’t even begin to describe my state of mind at that time.

After over an hour on hold, she finally came back and told me everything had been put back the way it was (except for two of the data plans which were grandfathered – those would have to be worked separately, but they finally were reinstated) and I would receive a credit on my bill for my troubles. (And actually, in looking at the bill, the credit was actually the pro-rated amount I would have been charged for the services I didn’t want, but I don’t care how it happened, as long as I got the credit.) She also told me that the incident would be looked into and hopefully someone would get in touch with me when they figured out what happened.

That was troubling enough. But four days later, when I received my U-Verse bill, I discovered that my internet service had been upgraded – again, without my knowledge or consent. This time, I didn’t even get the courtesy of a text message telling me what had happened. I once again called AT&T, once again described what had happened, and this lady (a different one, and again her name is protected) indicated that this change to my account had come from the Retentions department. (Note to AT&T: If you’re going to change customers’ accounts without their knowledge or consent, don’t let the department in charge of keeping customers happy do it.) Later, she told me it was the Sales department – and their explanation was, well, since I had HD service and a slower internet, that the higher speeds were necessary to keep the picture from pixelating and possibly freezing. (Since I work in video production and do a lot with both HD and online streaming, I knew this explanation was patently false.) I told her to put things back the way they were, which she was able to do.

So, AT&T was oh-for-two so far. Today, however, they got the golden sombrero. (For you non-baseball fans out there, that’s four strikeouts in a row.) When I looked at my new U-Verse bill, I discovered that a service I actually wanted and was paying for – the home wiring protection – had been removed. Really, guys?!? The guy I talked to this time (again, protecting his name) told me that the service had been removed on March 7, but he couldn’t determine a reason why. He tried to get me to call the sales department to have it added back, but I told him to do it himself, and to his credit he did.

The wireless side of the house also had changed my account – again – this time, listing my wife as the primary account holder. Again, I told them to change it back to normal.

Did all of AT&T’s computers suddenly get stupid in the same week? I find it hard to believe that all of these occurrences were due to computer glitches. Some friends have suggested that perhaps it’s a scheme to switch people over to new, more expensive services without their knowledge, hoping they don’t notice, and when they get the bill claim that the old service has been changed to the new one, and sorry but there’s nothing that can be done. I’m frankly surprised my changes could be reversed, but perhaps it was because (1) I called quickly, and (2) I was insistent (and slightly rude).

A letter has been sent to Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T (and thanks to Consumerist for the physical address information – check them out for lots of stuff like this), but in the meantime (assuming I get any sort of response – and believe me, I’m not holding my breath) I’d like to ask all who read this a simple question:

Have you discovered that any or all of your AT&T services had been changed without your permission or knowledge? This would include wireless, U-Verse, home phone, and DSL internet. I’m going to take a very unscientific poll to see what the responses are. It’s totally anonymous, and feel free to forward the blog link along to any friends or family who might have mentioned that something like that has happened to them.

What will I do with the results? Not sure yet, but I’m sure both the Texas Attorney General’s office and the Federal Trade Commission would be interested in something like this, even if it is apocryphal and unscientific.

But, then again, if the numbers are large enough, they may be forced to pay attention. From what my wife and I can gather from our brief investigation on the internet, it appears this has happened before.

Since AT&T forces its customers to agree to binding arbitration, a class action lawsuit is highly unlikely. But pressure from Texas and the Feds might cause AT&T to rethink its strategy of “slamming” consumers, as the old Ma Bell did with long distance customers. Apparently, old habits die hard.

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