It all started because I wanted to decrease my wireless phone bill. I have been with Verizon Wireless for 10 years (give or take), but the bill I was getting from them was exorbitant. With a family plan of 4 smartphones with 15gb of shared data and a 19% discount from my work, I was still paying an average of $325/month. We decided to change providers. We looked around and choose AT&T. We went into one of their local official stores (not an authorized dealer). We must have spent over 3 hours working out the specifics, even agreeing to go with their newly acquired DirecTV instead of our current FIOS. Finally the rep, who was excellent, ran my credit information. What happened then was astounding.
Even though I have a credit score of 800, I was told I would need to put down $500 up front and was only approved for one phone. My wife, who works part-time, and earns ¼ of what I do, but had the same credit profile (joint), would receive a better deal! If we did it under her name then we would be approved for all 4 lines, but it would cost us 30% of the total cost of each phone as a deposit (around $800).
The next day I called AT&T headquarters and after 5 calls was able to speak to a supervisor. I was given the same line as her subordinates gave me (what are supervisors for anyway?), “we just put the information in, and use whatever we get back.” When I asked the why question, she said she didn’t know, they have no idea what other factors might be factored in when calculating my trustworthiness (my word), but she knew it was more than just my credit score and report.
I filled a complaint with the Department of Consumer Affairs for my county. AT&T sent me a letter saying my NCTUE score was 961 out of 999 (even after extensive online research it is still unclear whether 0 or 999 is the best possible score, so I am assuming 999). I had never heard of NCTUE (National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange – nctue.com), but it is apparently “housed and managed by Equifax” expressly for the telecommunications industry. To get your credit report from them you are asked to provide your social security number and part of your address!
Part of the reason we were attracted to AT&T was the phones that they were offering and the plans they had. But both in the store and on twitter they pushed what they said was my only option, their GoPhone program, which is s prepaid monthly payment program. Their top GoPhone plan, according to their website, is a whopping 4GB. This is per phone, so I suppose it is a decent amount, but that would be $55/phone/month (x4=$220/month). On top of that the phones we wanted were not available on this plan.
I did what I normally do in these circumstances, try twitter. This usually bypasses most problems and resolves whatever crisis I find myself in, after all what company wants bad PR (the answer, apparently, is AT&T)? I first tried tweeting @ATT, that account did NOT even respond, EVER. Next I searched and found @ATTCARES. I started a twitter conversation with that account (more than one person was tweeting the account). After some exchange of my information, I received this direct message, which said I was applying for something called a postpaid account, and that would require some deposit (and the first plug for the AT&T GoPhone service):
Not satisfied with this answer, either in its clarity or its conclusion, I asked first what a “postpaid account” was. I received this tweet in response (with another plug for the GoPhone Service):
This made no sense to me. My response was a bit terse, but to the point. I said it sounded like they trusted the refill cards that go with the prepaid accounts more than normal accounts, including mine which has a 10+ year history with Verizon Wireless and a 30+ year credit history. AT&T’s response (in the person of Spence) was:
I’m still waiting for the complete report from NCTUE (and hoping it will actually have some actionable information on it, as well as a definition of the score – I still don’t know if 0 or 999 is the most desirable score).
What disturbs me most of all is that this seems like a scam, yes a scam! I can imagine the board of AT&T having a conversation going something like this (back in 2013 when this went into place):
Board member 1: We need to get more people on to our plans.
Board member 2: Why not just advertise that we have the best plans available?
Board member 1: No one will believe us unless we get them to listen.
Board member 3: Why would anyone want to listen?
Board member 4: We have to scare them into listening!
Board member 2: That would be counterproductive, wouldn’t it?
Board member 4: No. Just make them think that it’s their fault.
Collective thinking …..
Board member 5: Can we use this to get more people on that “GoPhone” plan we’ve been talking about?
Board member 1: YES!
Board member 4: What about advertising the best possible phones for free and once we get them into the store we can tell them that they don’t qualify, but they could get the GoPhones.
Board member 5: That will do it. But how do we tell people who have credit scores that they don’t qualify? Have you seen those commercials where people come into places knowing their credit score in advance? It is anti-business!
Board member 6: I know! We’ve been a member of that NCTUE thing for a while, why not use that? We can say something like “We figure things on more than just your credit score and credit report.” Most people won’t complain.
Board member 4: And if they have such good credit, they could probably afford paying us a little extra!
Board member 1: Okay. Let’s do this. We’ll implement this system wide. Don’t let any of the supervisor in the credit area know what we are doing other than we’ll be using another credit checking vehicle beyond the standard credit reports. That way they won’t have to feign ignorance.
Board member 2: what about bad publicity? I can see this blowing up on social media. Someone might even write a blog about their experience!
Board member 4: Right! Tell our social media managers the same thing we tell our credit department supervisors. But as long as we don’t cave to ANYBODY, I think we’ll do great.
UPDATE 09/08/2015: I received the NCTUE report. The only thing of consequence on there was that I was late with a few payments to Verizon Wireless. Note that it wasn’t non-payment, but rather lateness (payments were mostly made after their closing date). The NCTUE report did not have anything saying what the best score would be, They did say they would be happy to provide me my score for $7.95. The other good thing that came with the report was a copy of the Fair Credit Report Act (FCRA). According to this act AT&T is violating federal law. The act says, in its second paragraph:
You must be told if information in your file has been used against you. Anyone who uses
a credit report or another type of consumer report to deny your application for credit,
insurance, or employment – or to take another adverse action against you – must tell you, and
must give you the name, address, and phone number of the agency that provided the
AT&T said they didn’t know why this was coming back the way it was but just that it was more than my credit score and credit report. So I fail to see where they told “the name , address and phone number of the agency that provided the information.”
I tried again to contact AT&T today and started an online chat at around 3pm. By 4:30 not only were my hands tired from typing, but I had gotten exactly nowhere. The first representative had told me it wouldn’t take as long as the hour I said it would to go through everything in order to apply again (just to see if I could get past the credit check). An hour or more later, he had given up and passed me off to the “Care” department, who didn’t really care at all. They can’t do any credit check until you basically tell them everything about yourself and give them personal information. Then I received a message saying I did not qualify due to my credit (no other reason listed), but that I might qualify for either a phone with a deposit and 2 year agreement or a GoPhone. By 4:45 I was still chatting with the 3rd representative who ended up being in the wrong department (they transferred me to the wrong person).
The more I try to do this, the more convinced I am that this is an outright bait and switch scam.
UPDATE 9/10/2015: I just got off the phone with Wally Phelps from the Office of the President for AT&T.He says his job is to resolve issues on behalf of senior leadership for the company. He apparently accessed my records of my transaction with AT&T and found that when they did the credit check all they got back was a code and the ruling to charge a $500 deposit. He said normally that they get an explanation, since he only had a code this time, he had to ask one of his analysts what it meant. It means that there is a hold, the reason they didn’t know, on one of my credit accounts. It is the same code that is returned if you, yourself, place a fraud alert on your accounts. It turned out that I did put a fraud alert on my credit account and instead of prompting them to ask for further information, they just asked me for a $500 deposit. Wally cleared my account so it will now work.
UPDATE 10/29/2015: We went back to the same AT&T store on 10/23/2015 and the person we originally spoke no longer worked there. We wanted to just do it, so we went through all the steps again, and low and behold the same problem occurred – even though Wally Phelps had assured me that everything had been cleared up. So we ended up putting the phones under my wife’s name (we have the same credit why does her check come out differently). We were told we would get almost $2000 dollar credit because we were doing our home phone and 4 cell phones as well as DirecTV. But when I looked at my account there was a 139.22 credit! I spoke to an AT&T rep through chat and she said that we should have received gift cards for $200 for each phone we traded in, but we received NONE. It turned out that the credit had been applied to the bill at the store instead.
So the credit hadn’t gone through, I have had to enroll myself in my employer’s discount plan because the representative didn’t, the DirecTV installer came to the house, used our ladder without asking, drilled holes in our siding and left them there without doing anything and left the ladder he borrowed leaning against the house. He said he would call his supervisor, but that never amounted to anything (never heard from anyone). When my wife spoke to AT&T about the install problem they were astonished and said they would get someone to fix it right away (so far nothing). This morning I found out that my home phone, which we also switched over, is no longer working. If anyone calls it, they get a message saying that the mailbox has not been setup, but the phone NEVER even rings!
I have written another letter to Wally Phelps, hoping he can somehow resolve this, otherwise I will be leaving AT&T (Verizon started sending me emails about coming back and offering me incentives the day after we signed up with AT&T).
UPDATE 10/30/2015: Some of the above was really my bad. To start off, it turns out that we had neglected to set up the AT&T phone router so that we no longer could receive calls. It turns out that some of the discounts were included at the time of purchase and I had not realized it (until I looked at the receipt). Other credits, that hadn’t shown up yet, apparently don’t show up until 45 days after the setup (they didn’t explain this well at the store, although it definitely was mentioned). So instead of the claim that we wouldn’t have to pay any bill for several months, we will have to pay the first bill at least and the credits will show up by, at the latest, our third bill. My son and daughter are doing the move over today (10/30/2015), so we will receive the trade in credits ($200/phone) from them as well. After 45 days we are supposed to get $100/phone, which will either be $400 or $500 depending on whether they include the home phone.
In the store they showed us how we could watch TV/Movies on our phones or tablets using the DirecTV app (even though it hadn’t been installed yet). It turned out that some things were only available if you had the service installed though. What was interesting about DirecTV was that, according to the AT&T rep and his manager, you don’t need to have it installed on your house, sometimes you get better reception if you ask to have it installed using a pole or tripod that is installed in your yard. If they can’t get reception on your house (below 95%), then you can ask to be refunded the $100 you have to lay out for the pole/tripod.
It also turned out that I remembered incorrectly about the free year of DirecTV. Yes, it is kind of free, but nothing is really free. It turns out that there is a cost that is figured into the AT&T mobile bill on a monthly basis. It is minimal, but it is there. I do remember now the rep, Rey, telling us something to that effect. Everything seemed to have turned out okay, but …
UPDATE 11/03/2015: Fast forward less than one week and horror strikes. My phone, the brand new Samsung Note 5, which has never been dropped or immersed or had any damage whatsoever, started showing only a multicolor screen on login. Mostly the screen remained black and sometimes it was solid green. the only way to turn it on or off was to hold the power and volume down buttons a the same time. The login looks like this:
Yes it looks that bad! And that was yesterday when I could actually see something. Today (11/03/2015), I can’t see anything. The phone still thinks it is displaying something though. I can take screenshots with a swipe of my hand:
I took these yesterday.
This is a hardship for me, since even if I eliminate all the fluff I have on the phone, either because I can do it or want to do it, there are many items I use on a daily basis that are causing me no end of grief. I have made an appointment with AT&T to trade in the phone for a new one. I”ll see how that goes.
UPDATE 11/04/2015: I went to AT&T to trade in my phone and my wife went to trade in hers. I have shown you above why I was trading in mine. My wife was complaining about charge time on her new iPhone6s – I suggested she use an iPad charger instead f the paltry 1A charge block that comes with the phone (I am still not sure why they would ship the phone with a charge block that takes 3 hours to charge the battery). When we got there the manager and a rep named Stephanie helped us. They were both very helpful and I had a new phone in no time. They suggested that my wife get either an iPad charger and charge for only the amount of time that the phone needed, or go to an apple store and complain. When we were in the store I kept getting a message on my phone that the SIM card wasn’t provisioned (SIM not provisioned MM#2). I was told that activating the SIM would take some time, but it should work soon. It didn’t. An hour later, at 9:20pm, I called the store (they were closed, but the rep answered the phone). I was told to try turning it off, waiting several minutes and then turning it back on – no such luck! I was then told to try popping the sim card and putting it back in. I tried that, and although the phone told me to restart – which I did, it still didn’t work. I had resolved myself to having to go back to the AT&T store the next day. When we got home an hour later, my phone started to make sounds – I was getting notifications. I started setting up my apps (always the worst part). Everything seems to be working now – I don’t know if this is an endemic problem to the Note line – I guess I’ll find out.
The other problem is I still can’t connect to my wireless at work. They say this is due to a conflict with the Aruba hardware and the new chipset on the Note 5. A colleague of mine said he had a similar problem a couple of years ago when he had a new nexus. The technician from the network group that helped him out found a way to fool the system into thinking he had a different handset, and he was able to connect to our work WiFi.
I was still worried about the security on this phone. I write a lot about security issue with computers and mobile devices. This makes me maybe a little to paranoid about security. To see what I was up against I ran some security checkers on my phone. On the first handset I received the results in the screen below when I ran the Zimperium Stagefright detector (this vulnerability has been around for years and was fixed by verizon on the Samsung Galaxy S5 with a push update):
As so0n as I was able I ran it on my new handset and instead of the first 2 CVEs being vulnerable, the first 3 were vulnerable! So I decided to check to see if the was a software update for the phone, and there was. After the update only the first 2 CVEs were still red. WHY ARE ANY STILL RED!? This is not only an old vulnerability, granted it had only been discovered a year ago, but it is potentially a disaster. The Stagefright vulnerability allows a multimedia message, which you may not even know you received, to take almost complete control of your phone, given the right circumstances. This can setup a payload of a ransomware trojan that will lock you out of your phone. The only workaround, currently, is to disable auto fetching of MMS messages in your default messaging application (imessage, messages, hangouts, etc.). So I am a little perturbed about this brand new phone being insecure. I spoke to AT&T and Samsung about this and they said they were not sure when the fix would be pushed out.