AT&T / unethical billing practices
I had visited a ATT store while in Santa Cruz in August, scouting a place to live. I found that place and I called the ATT store to order the service while I was back in xxx packing, so I could get internet started ASAP. I am partially home-bound and the internet is my connection to the outside world. It is very important to me. So I called from xxx and got an installation date, then I moved to Santa Cruz. When I got there, a day early, I went to the ATT store and they told me the order was in and there would be no problems. But that installation did not happen. They had the house number wrong.
ATT finally comes to do the installation and at this time I'm told I would be getting Uverse and not the DSL I had signed up for, and that would have been fine if they still gave me a the package I signed up for. A package implies one bill...a combined account. I did not have any choice but to accept this. I was NOT told I would get two separate accounts. I had been in my new house for almost a week without internet so I agreed. If they had told me at this point that I would be getting two bills, I would have refused it even tho that would mean a longer wait time. When I decided on ATT, I had been looking at several providers and plans. For the same price, I could have gotten ATT internet only, plus a VoIP phone but decided that since it was the same price I would just get both services from ATT and pay ONE BILL.
So they set up the account finally and everything works. Then I get a bill. It was for over $200. Now the account was supposed to be $49 a month. This bill apparently carried a $100 charge for a modem. I was never told I would have to pay for the modem. When I called they said that this money would be refunded in the form of a gift card...now remember that. They are supposed to send me a gift card for $100. It was also explained to me that the $49 was a special rate and that I would be billed at the regular rate for 3 months and then credited back that amount on future bills. This made no sense to me, but I accepted it. So I paid a lot of money, way more than i was supposed to pay because I was told I would get this amount credited back. Then I get another bill, this time in the mail, asking for a different amount of money than was on the first bill. Since I had such difficulty the first time I had to go through ATT's phone tree, I decided to go in person. I went to the ATT store where I purchased the serviced and asked them to sort it out for me (these stores fyi are not owned or operated by ATT). They told me... THIS IS THE BILL YOU PAY, THE OTHER ONE YOU CAN IGNORE. So I paid the overcharges on the one bill and two weeks later I get a late payment notice with a threat of cutting service if I don't pay. So this lead to probably my second phone call with ATT. This took hours and at the end of this call I was painfully and unhappily aware of the fact that I was getting two bills and that they would maintain two accounts here. So I had to pay the second bill, but I do have to say that someone at ATT did go through my billing and gave me a lot of credits to try to make the bill more inline with what I was supposed to pay. But it was very confusing, and it took over an hour. She credited one account for items charged on the other account. Now since they cannot by law combine the service on fiber optics with the service on copper into one account...why is it that I was constantly overcharged on one and credited on the other...a process so confusing I lost track of how much I was actually paying. It never came out $49 a month. This should never have been sold as a package. And then my gift card arrived.
Instead of the $100 as promised, the gift card was only $75. This took another phone call and over an hour on hold to fix, they just credited me another $25 and then I paid my bills with the gift card. So you might think...what is she ### about, she got the refunds right? Well what I am ### about is the necessity of having to call ATT every month and spend HOURS on their phone tree. This was one call...the first agent told me that they were ATT Phone and that I needed to speak to someone in Uverse and they transferred me. That next person told me I had to speak to someone from Uverse California, that they were in the midwest, and they transferred me. This time the agent told me that they were ATT Phone California and that they could not help me with Uverse, and they transfered me...to someone who said they were Uverse but not California and that they would transfer me again. This is typical of how these conversations went, getting transfered form one agent to the other. If ATT can't combine Uverse with traditional phone accounts then their phone trees should not cross, they should have a totally separate system for each, but apparently they don't.
The frustration that I felt going through these phone trees, and I had to do it about 4 or 5 times, was enormous. Why is this so difficult? Why can't someone look at this account and fix it? Well we are up to I think late January now, and I get another notice from ATT, saying that because I have made changes to my account that I no longer qualified for the discounted phone service and my account would now cost $10 a month more. I did not make changes to my account, ATT did and now apparently they want to charge me for their mistakes. So again, I had to go through that damn phone tree, speaking mostly to people who were incapable of helping me. But I did get it rectified.
Even tho they did rectify problems, I lost my faith in ATT. In the 4 short months that I had my account with them I probably spent 4 to 5 hours on the phone with them, which I think it totally unreasonable, especially since the majority of people I spoke to had no clue as to how to handle this problem. But mostly I felt like this company was hell bent on ripping me off...and this may or may not be true, I do not know what drives them but I assume it is profit, and every month I had this service I was charged for something I was not supposed to be charged for, and at the end of January I came to the conclusion that I had to sever my ties to ATT and close my account or they would literally drive me crazy. So I did. I was told by an agent at the time they would charge me a termination fee and I went on a tirade about why I should not have to pay it that the reason for closing the account was the problems I had with billing and those were ATT's fault. But she did not do anything about that. A month later I got a bill with a $22 credit from Uverse. Then I get another bill for about $34 from ATT phone. I called again, my idea was to have them credit the $22 to the other account. I was not looking for a freebie but I told the agent that I wanted to pay the due bill with the credit and that I would pay the balance upon reciept of an itemized bill stating clearly what the charges were for and that this would be the last bill...I wanted assurances that no other bills would show up...but this was more than the agents could handle and I ended up hanging up on them after the 6th transfer because I was too frustrated at that point to be reasonable. But I did find an email address for billing problems so I sent my complaint there. In the meantime, I get a call from a collections agent that ATT sent my $34 bill to collections. Of course I was livid, I had not sent them to collections for not sending me back my credit! Well finally I got a response to the email. A nice apology, she credited the full amount to my account, closed it, and said that they would recall the collections and they gave me a confirmation code. But they were clear in their email...I'm sorry I can't help you with Uverse and right now calling is the only way you can contact Uverse billing. Well the last thing I wanted to do was go through that phone tree again, and since I had a $22 credit I thought well, I don't have to deal with this. Then, a few days later, I get a check from Uverse for the $22 and change. So, you would think that this is the end of the story... but its not.
Two weeks later, I get a bill from Uverse for $36, a new charge, for early cancellation. I had to set the bill aside for a few days, just thinking about made my blood pressure go up. Of course, I knew that this would happen, that is why I insisted on getting an itemized final bill before I paid the $12 difference between my balance and credit...I KNEW THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN! So after sitting on it a few days, I finally called and spoke to a helpful person who at the end of the conversation, credited me the $36 and marked the account as paid in full. Now if this was a normal situation, I'd say, phew, this is over...but I am waiting to either have a problem now with the collection agency, or I will get another bill. I'm just waiting.
So some of you may still be saying...what is she ### about? Well, I do not have itemization of the charges I incurred during my 4 months of service. The electronic billing is very difficult to follow, finding the itemized charges, its like a hidden feature. Also, I could not open my Uverse account and my phone account at the same time, the browser would not let me, so I could not look at the bills side by side. Also once I cancelled the service I lost access to online billing, so again, no way to see what the charges are for. I never wanted two accounts, I wanted one simple bill.
I suspect that much of the confusion leads to overcharges and that the typical consumer is too busy, too trusting or just doesn't care to check. I would love to see an audit of ATT accounts to see how many are being billed innapropriately. I would love to see an investigative team look into this and see how much money ATT is making by overcharging.
The gimmick with that gift card to reimburse me for the modem, I would love to see an audit done of this system to find out how much of that money goes unspent. I suspect that ATT benefits financially from all this confusion, but I am not accusing...just suspicion based on experience. Because if this is not a deliberate fleecing of their customers, than it is an indication of gross incompetence, that this new Uverse service was rolled out without much thought as to how this would affect customers. The actual service might be just fine, I have no complaints about the internet speeds or phone service I was getting, all of my complaints revolve around their billing. I have heard of other cases similar to mine. One woman set up a phone account with internet that was supposed to be for her business. She got the bill for phone but apparently the bill for Uverse went to a different address, she never got it, and the internet account she used daily for her business was turned off. I know I am not the only one having these problems. I searched the internet and found thousands of complaints.
I consider phone and internet essential services. No one should have to jump through as many hoops as I did, no one should have to spend that many hours on the phone with a service provider. It is ABUSE. People need their phone and they need their internet connection, and they should not get fleeced in the process. People get stressed out enough dealing with money issues, the recession, and life in general, no one should have to spend hours getting transferred from one agent to another just to dispute a bill.
For me, the main complaint is that I did not get the package I signed up for. For whatever reason, ATT can sell fiber optic Uverse accounts here, and in some areas, they can combine that with a fiber optic Uverse phone account, but in my area, for whatever reason, the phone accounts are not available. Had ATT informed me of this, I would likely have opened Uverse internet service with them and opted for a VoIP phone. But they did not inform me of this and when you factor in their ethically questionable billing practices into the mix, I could no longer continue to do business with them. I found another company from whom I was able to purchase a combined internet and phone package for $55 a month, and I have gotten two bills and both of them have been exactly the amount I was told it would be. No gimmicks, no special rates, no contracts, no early termination fees AND...TWICE the internet speed of my Uverse account and here's the kicker...this company rents the copper lines from ATT in order to provide this service. So this company can provide me better service for less money using ATT cables than ATT can provide me.
I encourage EVERYONE to scrutinize all of your bills. Because it is not just ATT, most of their competitors are doing exactly the same. Beware the 6 month or 12 month special rates, and beware the promised refunds and rebates. Audit your bills for a year if you can and challenge all the over charges. Get yourself on a plan that is a flat rate for service. And if you can, leave the big companies and sign up with an upstart like Sonic (with whom I have service in Santa Cruz through a LOCAL company called Cruzio) and let the big boys like ATT know that they can't get away with it anymore!
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