Bamboozled: ‘Fight back’ with $5000 at stake

John Abeigon got Bamboozled’s attention when he sent this e-mail:BB branding

‘‘T-Mobile thinks my daughter quit school and her job to spend a month 24/7 calling Guatemala to tune of $5,000.’’

Abeigon’s daughter Alida, 19, is an early childhood education major at Kean University. Abeigon has supported the bills for her T-Mobile cell phone service since she was a teen. All was well until Alida’s Sidekick phone started acting up in the fall of 2009.

The phone’s battery couldn’t keep a charge. They got a new battery. No better. Another new battery. Still, no better. She started to lose contact information and the screen kept going black.

Reports of data loss on Sidekicks were widespread back then, which T-Mobile acknowledged as a problem, and it even temporarily suspended sales of the device.

While T-Mobile was addressing problems with the Sidekick, the Abeigons tried to get the phone to work. In all, they visited five authorized T-Mobile dealers for help and called the 800-number countless times. When Alida was told by a T-Mobile rep the company would no longer be servicing the Sidekick, she and her dad decided the cost of a replacement phone didn’t make sense.

31610‘‘Finally in frustration, she called T-Mobile to cancel the service and tossed the phone into the garbage,’’ Abeigon said.

The phone went into a garbage can outside the T-Mobile store on Route 22 in Union.

That was Oct. 5, 2009. The cancellation would be official at the end of the billing cycle, Nov. 2. The Abeigons were willing to cut their losses and move on.


The next bill came in, sporting charges of $5,226.59 in long distance calls to Guatemala, including taxes and fees.

That was obviously fraud, Abeigon thought, and he called T-Mobile to report the charges and ask they be removed. He thought it would be quick and easy, but he was mistaken.

‘‘I’d call, they’d say they had to talk to a supervisor, and they’d come back and say they couldn’t do anything about the charges. ‘Your daughter had to have made those calls,’ they’d say,” Abeigon said.

He’d tell the rep to examine calling the history on the account, which showed no calls to foreign countries, but only local ones to Alida’s friends and family. Abeigon explained that from the date they canceled service, there were no calls made on the phone to his daughter’s regular contacts, only the ones to Guatemala. She obviously wasn’t using the phone at all. There must be an error, he insisted.

No luck.

Hoping to find a rep who would view the account with common sense, he called again. And again. Each time, he’d get the same response. So he started writing letters to T-Mobile’s customer service offices in Albuquerque, N.M.

The response was no better.

While the cancellation request was on record, T-Mobile said, no request to suspend service had been made. Therefore the charges would stand.

Abeigon wrote to T-Mobile again: “Alida called T-Mobile to inform them that:

a) The phone was no longer operable (no contacts, no battery life, etc.).

b) She wanted the service canceled, stopped, dropped, terminated. She was NEVER informed of the option to ‘suspend.’”

T-Mobile responded with another no, and this time, with an added threat.

‘‘If you choose not to make payment, collection activity will commence, possibly leading to outside collections,” the company wrote.

Abeigon refused to pay.

‘‘She never in her life called Guatemala and after she threw away the phone, she never called a friend or family member from that phone,’’ Abeigon said. ‘‘I was not going to lay down and let a giant like T-Mobile take more than $5,000 away from us.’’

That’s when he contacted Bamboozled.


Abeigon’s story sounded reasonable, so we gave T-Mobile a call.

The company wouldn’t talk details about the account, but in a day, Abeigon told us he received a call. T-Mobile agreed to cancel all of the charges, except for the early termination fee. Pleased, he agreed.

The early termination fee was a whopping $275, and there were only three weeks left on the contract, which Abeigon left only because of the problems with the Sidekick that T-Mobile was unable to fix. We called T-Mobile again, requesting it do something about that fee.

The spokeswoman listened and took notes, but again she wouldn’t discuss the specifics of the case. Later we received an e-mailed statement: “We regret this isolated incident and have taken every measure to correct it.”

We asked Abeigon to check the balance on the account to see if the early termination charge was removed. It was.

Thank you, T-Mobile, for doing the right thing.

Abeigon was very happy, but he didn’t understand why this problem couldn’t be solved by reps at the 800 number.

‘‘I have a list of a good 10 names of people at the 800 number who all saw this clear as day, but were not empowered to do anything about it,’’ he said. ‘‘Is T-Mobile hoping that a certain number of people will give up?’’

Abeigon said he hopes other customers will be persistent when faced with bureaucracy.

‘‘Fight back. Fight back, exhaust their appeals process and if necessary, go to the state authorities — or go to Bamboozled,’’ he said.