Shirley W. was aware that her phones were under contract but was told her early termination fee could be waived. It was almost a year before she learned that her fees were not waived and her account was sent to collections.
Shirley was a T-Mobile customer since 2002 and had four phone lines with the cell phone carrier. In the summer of 2007, Shirley's family moved to Lake Arrowhead, an area up in the mountains. Before moving, Shirley and her husband went up to Lake Arrowhead. While there, they both noticed that their phones had no reception. Shirley phoned T-Mobile to tell them what had happened.
"The first operator I spoke with asked for my new address and told me that the address does not have service. I would have to go with a different cell phone company but I had only one line that was out of its contract—the other three were still under contract—so I would be charged early termination fees. I said that I did not think that was fair—that I was moving somewhere with no coverage and I would have to pay to end the contract.
"The operator said that if I moved to an area with no service, I would be let out of the contract without the early termination fee. I needed to send a copy of the rental or lease agreement and a very specific letter with information about who I am and where I was moving to and requesting a reversal of the early termination fee."
Shirley says she did all that and included a note in the letter stating that, if T-Mobile needed any further information, they could contact her at her new phone number. She says she did not hear from T-Mobile again.
However, T-Mobile was not done with Shirley. In May 2008, she received a letter from a collection agency stating that she owed $900. She was stunned because she had not heard anything from T-Mobile indicating that there was a problem with her account.
"I called T-Mobile and they said that I had to call the collection agency to transfer the account back to T-Mobile. However, the lady I spoke to at T-Mobile said that my name was not on the lease agreement that I sent to them. This is not true. Both my name and my husband's name are on that agreement. But, I could not do anything until the account was sent back from the collection agency.
"Next, I called the collection agency. They refused to send my account back to T-Mobile until I sent in a letter in writing disputing the charges. They would then contact T-Mobile for further information. I wrote up the letter, with the same information that I sent T-Mobile, but I didn't hear anything back. I called the collection agency two weeks later and they confirmed that they received the letter but had no other information.
"So, I called T-Mobile again. I told T-Mobile what had happened and the man said that he would file a form stating that the collection agency was not cooperating and I would get a phone call back in 48 hours. No one called me.
"I phoned T-Mobile yet again. I got the impression that every time you contact someone different at T-Mobile you get a different answer. This time they told me that the problem was that they did not receive my moving information 90 days before canceling the service. I was never told that I had to submit the information 90 days before ending the contract."
Shirley found the email addresses of some account executives at T-Mobile and sent one of them an email. She soon received a call back from the executive who said she had never heard about the 90 day moving notice. The executive agreed to waive the early termination fees.
"I've heard people saying that there should be something regulating these cell phone services because people have a lot of problems. They [cell phone carriers] can do what they want. They told me they would take the charges off but I'm facing these extra charges now. There has to be something done to regulate these cell phone companies."
If you have been charged an unfair early termination fee, contact a lawyer to discuss your legal options.