Pre-Paid Cell Phones Regularly OVER-Charged for Minutes

March 17, 2014

Here’s another reason to be wary of most things which are pre-paid.  Washington Post reporter Brian Fung conducted a test recently which confirmed allegations that both AT&T and T-Mobile routinely over-charge pre-paid cell phone customers for minutes they don’t appear to be using.  It’s a tricky little maneuver that the phone companies blame on complicated technology, that we mere mortal consumers could not begin to understand, or so they would like us to believe.

Here’s an excerpt of Fung’s report:

… prepaid customers on AT&T are routinely being billed extra for minutes they don’t appear to be using. If true, that means their available credit is being drained at unexpected rates — often without their knowledge — requiring that they buy more credit, more often. Critics allege the practice amounts to a subtle program of consumer fraud that, in the aggregate, delivers big bucks to wireless carriers.

According to the Switch’s hardware tests, as well as a formal complaint lodged with federal regulators, wireless companies are reporting longer call times than what a customer’s device will show. In the case of one AT&T subscriber, the network added as many as 33 seconds to his call after he hung up, allowing AT&T to bill him for an additional minute of usage. The Switch’s tests also turned up a similar phenomenon with T-Mobile’s prepaid phones.

Wireless operators generally charge customers a full minute’s worth of airtime for every fraction of a minute used. That’s uncontroversial. For example, a call that lasts for 1 minute and 10 seconds will be treated as 2 minutes. But it now appears that even calls that end before a minute is up are also getting treated as two-minute calls. Device testing shows the same holds true no matter how long you talk. One call that I made using an AT&T Go Phone should have been billed at two minutes. Instead, the account was charged for three.

Click here to read the rest of Fung’s report.