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AT&T Slaps Family With a $19,370 Cell Phone Bill 725

Posted by timothy
from the hearts-and-minds dept.
theodp writes "Mama, don't let your babies send e-mail and photos from Vancouver. A Portland family racked up nearly $20,000 in charges on their AT&T bill after their son headed north to Vancouver and used a laptop with an AirCard twenty-one times to send photos and e-mails back home. The family said they wished they would have received some kind of warning before receiving their chock-full-of-international-fees 200-page bill in the mail for $19,370. Guess they didn't read the fine print in that 'Stay connected whether you are traveling across town, the US, or the world' AT&T AirCard pitch. Hey, at least it wasn't $85,000."
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AT&T Slaps Family With a $19,370 Cell Phone Bill

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  • Oh Noes! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by k_187 (61692) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @04:42PM (#24904625) Journal
    You charged me exactly what it said in the contract I signed said you would! How dare you.

    I would think that in the interests of PR, AT&T might send you a text or something when you go international roaming and pass some threshold of use, just to warn you. But really, if you pay extra to call Canada long distance, don't you think your cell phone/data card would work the same way?
  • Disgusted (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cerberusss (660701) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @04:43PM (#24904635) Homepage Journal

    Some people here will undoubtedly react in this topic, saying that this family "brought it onto themselves" or "should have read this or that".

    I'm saying I'm disgusted, utterly disgusted how these companies treat their customers. Why isn't there a procedure in place that calls the customer upon reaching some limit like $500 or $1000 and warns them?

    Why not? I'll tell you why. Because this is how the world works. But I'm still disgusted.

  • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris.beau@org> on Saturday September 06, 2008 @04:44PM (#24904641)

    This sort of thing has been going on for decades with cell phones and roaming. It is all too easy to get hosed by unexpected charges. They really should be forced to inform you anytime the fees on a call will exceed 10 times your normal per minute fee BEFORE connecting the call or in this case Internet connection.

  • Too bad.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @04:49PM (#24904693)

    Too bad that our FCC does NOT require reasonable access and reasonable charges on OUR public airwaves.

    Instead, the FCC whores out our frequencies for billions of dollars, and we then get re-charged for using those frequencies. What a crock of shit.

    Question: How much did the roaming agreement with that "roaming carrier" cost AT&T? 10$? 100$? ... Free (peering agreement)?

  • by weston (16146) <westonsd @ c a n n c entral.org> on Saturday September 06, 2008 @04:54PM (#24904749) Homepage

    You charged me exactly what it said in the contract I signed said you would! How dare you.

    I expect that in a world where most either read their contracts in great detail (and are sufficiently educated to understand the ramifications) or refused to sign anything that took them more than a minute to read, this would work out great. I'm not sure which plan you're advocating, though, and I expect either plan would actually impede carrier sales.

    I would think that in the interests of PR, AT&T might send you a text or something when you go international roaming and pass some threshold of use, just to warn you. But really, if you pay extra to call Canada long distance, don't you think your cell phone/data card would work the same way?

    I think the particularly telling piece of information is that if you want a plan where they do limit your charges and notify you when you reach thresholds.... you have to pay extra. They're called prepaid plans, and there are no surprises (well, within limits), but for common use cases, it's guaranteed you'll pay 2-4 times the amount a customer on a given rate plan will.

    Why the cell phone companies can't combine the limits on prepaid plans with conventional rate plans is an interesting question, but I suspect the answer is not a technical limitation.

  • Re:Disgusted (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @04:59PM (#24904815) Homepage

    Nevermind the whole "treat them like a 2 year old" nonsense.
    How about being on the lookout for apparent fraud patterns?

  • Re:Disgusted (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rachel Lucid (964267) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @04:59PM (#24904819) Homepage Journal

    How does placing a cap in at, say, $500 worth of charges count as babysitting?

    Who the hell actually WANTS to pay $500 worth of charges without knowing it?!

  • Re:Disgusted (Score:5, Insightful)

    by photomonkey (987563) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:02PM (#24904875)

    I'd warn a lot earlier. Like when you're 50% over your plan.

    Contract or not, this isn't a business game, it's a game of gotcha with customers.

    Lure people in with words like "unlimited," "free," "included" and then trickily word an overly verbose contract to make exceptions for everything.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:17PM (#24905027)

    What planet are are you from? One where it really is OK to charge 6 months wages to send email using a system in use by millions of people.

    Its a sign the markets aren't competitive, the corporations immoral and some individuals so brainwashed that they blame the victim.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:18PM (#24905041)

    Isn't there a common law rule about contracts that "unconscionable" clauses are not enforceable? There is no way a sane person would agree to purchase services at these prices or anticipate this level of charges. It's like ordering "a bottle of red" at The Olive Garden and getting a rare 1940 barolo priced at $20,000.

  • by stephencrane (771345) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:20PM (#24905063)
    That's nonsense. It's not disabled by default on all ATT phones. In this case, we're talking about a data card, but it's the same point. You don't have to call to turn it on. I've seen two instances recently where people got hit for 7000 and 9000 bills, with no change in usage behavior. Some folk troubled inside can sneer at these people and justify their disdain behind the fact that an 26-page agreement lists roaming data charges in fine print. These same agreements also say you've signed away half your legal rights because ATT would find them inconvenient in certain situations. Fuck that as a justification. There are tons of cellular service providers that have much better warning systems, like a text or pop-up with fee information, or tools you can use, like self-setting a limit on how much costs you can incur before service temporarily disables. There's no reason why people in this day and age shouldn't expect more. Casual data use goes up every year as files and options take up space, yet somehow it always seems that those with few competitors seem to continually put off revising their rates for networks long paid for. This was Canada in 2008, not Sierra Leone in 1998. The most galling thing of it all is the proof right in what puto is saying. We all know that all that stands between a $20,000 bill and a $100 bill is a fucking SKU. They design the circumstances to encourage these mistakes, or they just don't care enough about their customers to deploy solutions already on other providers' shelves.
  • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:24PM (#24905093)

    Bullshit. My gf just went to india, germany, and russia and texted and called me without tell AT&T anything.

    This is another customer 'gotcha.'

  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:35PM (#24905199) Journal

    Most people, though, simply do not grok how much data a short video or a few dozen lightly compressed photos use up, though. It's not like voice, where everyone understands what a minute is. A few minutes on a data call can transfer just a few kilobytes, or possibly tens of megabytes - and most people who aren't IT people or telecommunications experts simply don't understand this.

    It would be more customer-friendly to by default have the international roaming plan bar calls once the charges reach, say, $100 - instead of let people who aren't IT experts unexpectedly run up gigantic data bills.

    That's before we get to the rip-off profiteering that is international roaming.

  • It seems to me ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LaughingCoder (914424) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:36PM (#24905209)
    ... that the mobile carriers could save themselves a great deal of grief if they provided a fact sheet to their data subscribers. Sure, the contract said $0.019 per KB, but most people have no idea what that means. Now, if they handed them a sheet like the following:

    Here are some typical charges at $0.019/KB ...
    1 email would cost about $0.02 to send or receive
    1 web page would cost about $0.20 to display
    1 3.2 megapixel picture would cost $6 to send
    1 10 megapixel picture would cost $20 to send
    1 minute of DV video would cost $5200 to send


    In other words, express the charges in terms of something they can understand. I'm sure if this family was given a fee schedule like this they would have suggested that their son not send home the pictures.
  • Yes, because everyone needs to be treated like a two year-old. No, we can't expect people to act like adults and be responsible for their own actions.

    Real grown-up responsibility has more than a watch-out-for-yourself component. There's both an individual and a social component.

    And a reasonably convincing case to be made that among others, most cell carriers don't take enough responsibility in helping people signing contracts understand the whole thing. Or that a reasonable person would find it highly surprising there are corners of the covered terms of service which if you wander into can subject you to fees 2-3 orders of magnitude larger than your conventional bill.

    Think about it this way: when the people in question got the data service, do you really think they *never* asked what the service cost? It's highly unlikely. What is highly likely is that they asked, got the standard answer about the most common usage, and were simply not informed about the additional usage fees. They took an incomplete answer as a complete one.

    You can argue that the contract is a complete answer, but here we have a problem: contracts are not intended to be effective vehicles for communicating terms of agreement to consumers, they're designed to be effective vehicles for specifying terms to the legal machinery. If you want to argue that the contract is the answer, you may as well argue the source code of a piece of software serves as a FAQ or Manual.

  • by weston (16146) <westonsd @ c a n n c entral.org> on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:45PM (#24905309) Homepage

    As I've said elsewhere in the thread, expecting contracts to serve as effective communication to the customer is like expecting source code of a program to serve as a FAQ or a manual.

    Contracts are not really intended for (nor good at) effective communication of agreement terms to a customer. Especially when drafted entirely by the legal department of one side agreement, their purpose is something else entirely, which is to communicate those terms to the legal system (and, maximize the interests of the side that drafts them under the fullest extent possible under the law).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:48PM (#24905335)

    I'm used to no sympathy from AT&T people. This is why I haven't done business with them for 10 years, except for when AT&T bought Cingular, and then I left the day my contract expired.

  • Re:Disgusted (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mabhatter654 (561290) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:50PM (#24905349)

    it's called a credit limit... they have those on credit cards for a long time and they are heavily policed for fraud. If a bank allowed this they'd be looking at massive SEC and banking fines for such reckless credit behavior.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lysergic.acid (845423) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:51PM (#24905361) Homepage

    and it's that kind of attitude that popularized predatory lending practices which created the current mortgage crisis. similar systemic problems have also been observed in the credit card industry, with credit card companies intentionally targeting the most financially distraught members for higher credit ratings knowing that they won't be able to pay off their debts.

    if you lend money to someone who you know can't pay you back or afford the interest rate, and then they file for bankruptcy as a result, why should anyone bail _you_ out when you're in financial trouble? in these cases it's not borrowers who are trying to convince lenders to approve loans they know they can't afford it. it's usually the other way around, where the lenders convince borrowers to take out loans that any conscionable lender should know not to approve.

    most people who fall victim to these practices are first-time homeowners. they're not mortgage industry professionals who are familiar with lending contracts. so it is understandable that they can be misled to sign into a loan which they are unable to pay back. such excuses cannot be made for the lenders. they should be well versed in sound lending practices.

    the deceptive use of fine print doesn't clear a business of responsibility for unethical business practices.

  • by zappepcs (820751) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:52PM (#24905367) Journal

    If someone slapped me and my family with 200 pages of paper, no matter what is printed on them, I'd be filing assault charges.

    This is the kind of thing that should be covered by a user's bill of rights. Fair play and fair thinking in business is something we all have a right to expect. We have lemon laws for cars, and consequently have the right to think we'll be treated fairly by telephone companies. That we often are not is evidence of cause for legal action.

    We'll get there, and instances of stupidity like this will push the line in the sand. Think about it, my bank calls me to make sure I really want to spend money on my card if it is outside the norms of my usual activity. Why would phone companies not also do this? ..... exactly.

  • by gary_7vn (1193821) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:00PM (#24905429) Homepage
    How much does it "cost" ATT to pay for that kind of bandwidth? 20 cents? 1 cent? This is theft, grand theft, 20 grand theft - 20 cents for the actual cost of course. On what basis is it justifiable for a corporation to make that kind of profit? Comrade Lenin had it right.
  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by squidguy (846256) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:03PM (#24905451)
    You forget that AT&T has to pay the foreign carriers that you are roaming on ultimately.
    Sure, AT&T (or Verizon, Vodafone, T-Mobile, et al) make $$$ as the "home" carrier, but the real cost in roaming is the fees the home carrier has to pay to the local provider. And for the iPhone (which this case apparently isn't), Apple gets its shill too.
    Unfortunately it isn't cheap, but how does this make the corporation immoral? It costs BILLIONS to build out the telecom systems worldwide. And yet, they are supposed to make a profit for their shareholders and pay a ton of bucks to state, local and federal governments in taxes and fees. They won't give airtime and data bandwidth away for free...nor should they.
    If the user is ignorant enough to not pay attention to legal contracts and published billing tariffs, then they must be a victim of modern day Darwinism.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:03PM (#24905453)

    What kind of credit check do you run on these people before granting them a $20,000 line of credit with zero collateral? I can't imagine you get many people to actually pay those $20,000 bills.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by C10H14N2 (640033) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:05PM (#24905467)

    Considering I have ATT, I travel internationally, I use data to work using VOIP and RDP over VPN when I do so and have never had a bill from them exceeding $300, yeah, I find this pretty fucking ridiculous.

    It is reasonable to expect charges in Canada to be roughly the same as roaming agreements for many years have included Canada as a basic service. Yeah, it's AT&T's fault if they weren't told they needed that for CANADA when they TOLD THEM THEY WERE GOING THERE.

    I can see charging, double, triple, even ten times as much barring that petty nickle-dime $14 (or whatever the hell it is these days) service fee for included international roaming, but 32,200% more? I'd say that's a tad out of line because you know full well AT&T is buying that airtime in bulk and sure as shit isn't remitting more than about a couple ten bucks of that $19,320 to fucking Rogers.

  • Re:Apple? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stuart Gibson (544632) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:08PM (#24905493) Homepage

    Actually, you're not far wrong. By default the iPhone disables international data roaming, you have to explicitly tell it you want to use data when not on your home network.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:09PM (#24905501) Homepage

    So? Don't sign it...

    If all the cell providers have basically the same contract, then there is no real choice. You're not dealing with a free market when providers collude to fix service agreements, you're dealing with a cartel. And as long as there are self-righteous apologists sticking up for the cell phone cartel, nothing is going to change.

    AT&T runs commercials all the time advertising their accessibility in Europe and overseas. I don't remember anywhere in there hearing that charges could be as high as $20,000.00. If AT$T had to disclose that in a service contract, no one would sign up for their service.

    It's time consumers stop being victimized by service contracts where one side reserves the right to change the terms at any time. That's not a contract, it's a hostage. And stop wagging fingers at consumer caught in silliness like this. These people could very well be facing financial ruin.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by spire3661 (1038968) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:10PM (#24905509) Journal
    Hiring a lawyer should not be the normal part of signing a consumer grade phone contract. A house is another league altogether.
  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by somersault (912633) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:11PM (#24905515) Homepage Journal

    Unfortunately, unethical behaviour does not necessarily correspond to illegal behaviour.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spire3661 (1038968) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:13PM (#24905539) Journal
    It does NOT cost $20,000 to send a few megabytes of data on a network in use by millions. No telecomm bill for a single, consumer grade line should be allowed to be billed at that rate.
  • See: my bank. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by C10H14N2 (640033) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:16PM (#24905557)

    I've had calls from my bank's fraud department when they see a spike in, say, clothing purchases at department stores -- because I hardly EVER do that.

    If they can call me because charges amounting to less than 10% of what flies in and out of my account roll through over a weekend -- not just because of how much, but because of /where/ -- AT&T sure as hell could flag an account that is fast approaching 50 times normal usage in the space of 24 hours.

  • by somersault (912633) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:21PM (#24905603) Homepage Journal

    It's pretty funny seeing you guys talk about this as if it's a novelty! "Pay as you go" is very common in the UK and has been for at least 8 years. For the levels of usage that I used to have as a student, a contract wasn't worth it - especially as contracts back then only gave you about 100 free texts a month, unless you wanted to pay crazy money.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bullet-Dodger (630107) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:27PM (#24905663)
    Exactly, if you don't want a full-time job reading through fine-print you're perfectly free not to have phone service, cable TV, rent a house, buy a car, or install any software. If you didn't see the clause about forfeiting your first-born, it's your own fault.
  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zippthorne (748122) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:28PM (#24905667) Journal

    How about just a meter on the phone that says "how much this is costing you" and/or "how much you owe so far"

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JesseMcDonald (536341) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:34PM (#24905739) Homepage

    You're perfectly free not to enter into a contract with any cell provider. There is no inherent right to have cell service on whatever contractual terms you wish. That all cell providers have similar terms (which isn't even true -- see TracFone, for example) is no different from all cell providers requiring monetary payment. It doesn't automatically make them a cartel, even presuming that there was anything wrong with being a member of a cartel in the first place.

    These people could very well be facing financial ruin.

    So? If they are it's their own fault. They claimed that they both read and understood all the nuances of the contract when they accepted it. They have no excuse for being surprised by the financial repercussions.

  • by neapolitan (1100101) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:45PM (#24905821)

    Exactly. It is definitely not a technical limitation, but designed to enhance profits.

    I am always irked when I travel to a new city, spend $60 on my VISA card, and am called 5 minutes later for a "fraud alert" early warning. Or, better yet, dine in a restaurant in another city and have it "declined for my safety" due to unusual activity.

    For any of you guys saying "Oh, this is good," remember this is designed to protect the Credit Card company, not you. Almost all cards limit your responsibility to $50 for fraudulent transactions. You can rest assured if you were responsible for your own well being, as in the case outlined, you would not get an early warning. Similarly, there is no financial incentive to do so in the case of AT&T above, who can now harass the customer to pay a huge amount of money, and then look "generous" to let them off with only a couple of hundred dollars in fees.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:48PM (#24905847) Journal

    How much would sending the data with a pre-pay sim on this foreign network have cost? $10? Less? Let's assume that this network hates AT&T and charges them an order of magnitude more than it charges random people off the street with no contract, so it's $100. That means the other $19270 is pure AT&T profit. This kind of pricing is why the European regulator is investigating the EU mobile phone companies for price fixing on international roaming charges for data (where the per-MB cost is often more than the cost of a 3-10GB on the home network). Possibly the US regulator should be doing the same thing (or don't you have one?).

    If more people would realise that they can just put a pre-pay SIM in their phone when they travel, then this would be less of a problem. I keep half a dozen spare pre-pay SIMs lying around so when people visit from abroad they can use them without incurring international rip-off charges. People have largely stopped using them if they don't want data, since international calls in the EU are more reasonably priced, and even text messages are not much more overpriced than they are normally. Data is still ludicrously expensive though.

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:54PM (#24905909) Homepage

    Ok, I've been burned by a child on a phone plan not understanding the limits of an "unlimited" text messaging plan and running up a $500 bill. I ended up paying it because I didn't want to mount a full scale protest at the phone company headquarters, which is probably what it would take to remove the bill.

    The fact is that phone companies make it WAY to easy to run up HUGE bills. It isn't like you have any choice - every company does it.

    When you're about to do something to raise your bill by an order of magnitude somebody should get your consent. And I'm talking at-the-moment for a specific action consent - not a line in a 10 page contract. Even if you read the line it isn't fair to allow companies to enforce it.

    Imagine if every auto shop in town had a huge sign in bold print stating that per shop policy they reserve the right to bill you up to 100X the quoted rate if they end up feeling the need to do more work than was originally quoted. Would that make the practice fair? Disclosure isn't enough.

  • Re:Apple? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by maztuhblastah (745586) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @06:57PM (#24905931) Journal

    Steve Jobs did nothing.

    What?!? Do you mean to tell me that the president of the company that made the phone refused to help with a bill from the carrier? Why how selfish of him not to intervene in a dispute that didn't involve Apple!

  • Re:Disgusted (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rich0 (548339) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @07:01PM (#24905955) Homepage

    It isn't even a matter of clauses buried in fine print. The problem is that this is "standard practice" and it is anti-consumer. Even if the first line in the agreement was 48 point and said "note that when you use your phone internationally you could end up being assessed charges far in excess of normal" it wouldn't be fair. It should simply not be possible to use a phone in a way that could run up that kind of a bill. If nothing else phone providers should be required to allow their customers to set a monthly limit on their spending - if the provider somehow lets the consumer go over the limit without express consent from the account owner they end up eating the cost.

    And I don't want to hear about how roaming billing cycles are too slow to allow that kind of realtime assessment of charges. If they can route a 32kbps digital phone call from my home to a point halfway around the world such that it only takes 2 seconds for the phone to start ringing and there are no gaps in the audio, then they can send a 10-byte estimate of the cost of the call per minute and do a database lookup.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dan541 (1032000) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @07:07PM (#24905987) Homepage

    I had to call my provider to have international roaming turned on, they do it so idiots don't run up huge bills then fail to pay and leave the carrier owing money to their roaming partners.

    Here in Australia you have to go overseas to use international roaming so its not as important, but in Europe or the United States people should be allot more careful.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rich0 (548339) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @07:07PM (#24905997) Homepage

    So? If they are it's their own fault. They claimed that they both read and understood all the nuances of the contract when they accepted it. They have no excuse for being surprised by the financial repercussions.

    Should people be free to enter in to ANY kind of contract? Suppose the contract stated that if you didn't pay your bill on time you would become indentured to the phone company until such time as you paid the bill? If you're in really hard straits should you be able to sell yourself into slavery?

    Boilerplate contracts are generally enforcable, but courts have discretion to determine the fairness of any such contract. This is for good reason - they don't represent a meeting of the minds, but rather a deal in which one side has far more bargaining power than the other. When every phone provider in the country has onerous terms your only option is to not own a phone.

    Go ahead and try to live without a credit card, phone, cell phone, internet, or anything else that requires signing a boilerplate contract with one-sided terms. Sure, you can still live that way, but why would you want to? You can't even go to the hospital without signing a boilerplate contract. In some cases you can be treated as if you had implied consent to a contract if you were treated while unable to make decisions.

    Look - I'm fairly libertarian - more so than most. However, consumer protection laws are very necessary in this day and age when just about every cost-effective industry is an oligopoly.

  • Re:Lesson learned (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bullet-Dodger (630107) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @07:10PM (#24906015)

    Abuse the rules? Umm the contract stipulated the charges, its not ATTs fault the customer ran up time and got an automated bill for 19 grand.

    They advertised 'Stay connected whether you are traveling across town, the U.S., or the world' but hid deep in the contract that it'll cost you 100 times more. You have a strange definition of abuse if that doesn't qualify.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lysergic.acid (845423) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @07:25PM (#24906171) Homepage

    that's very true. but that's why it's important to report these type of stories.

    even though you can't legislate ethical behavior, a well-informed public aided by a responsible media can help to bridge the discernible disconnect between morality and legality. that's why it's important to have media institutions which have a sense of journalistic integrity. bad publicity can often still make profit-driven corporations do the 'right thing'.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by darth dickinson (169021) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @07:52PM (#24906385) Homepage

    so it is understandable that they can be misled to sign into a loan which they are unable to pay back.

    What? You mean the monthly payment, interest rates, and repayment terms are not right at the top of the document, like federal law mandates?
    People made financial decisions with their emotions, instead of their brains, and got screwed. Most (if not all) of them knew what they were getting into, and thought that they could sell the house, or refinance, before the ARM adjusted up, and couldn't, because life happened. Honestly, who buys on an adjustable rate when rates are at near-historic lows? Which way do you think they're going to go?

  • by berashith (222128) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @07:53PM (#24906389)

    this is the fun of our credit system. no need to actually be responsible as a vendor anymore, just give out horrible lines of credit to anyone, and when they walk away and cancel you simply report the infraction and remove any chance of this person buying something for the next 7 years.

  • Re:Too bad.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bangzilla (534214) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @08:29PM (#24906619) Journal
    Re: "Instead, it's illegal for even me to make a receiver for certain channels. That's a load of crap." and "Also, these frequencies are the publics, not some corporate interest... but that's not how the FCC sees it."

    Indeed the frequencies are "owned" by the public. And we have elected our leaders and placed our trust in them to manage said airways in our best interests. So it's not a "load of crap" - it's what we have asked our elected officials to do. If you don't like how the system is run you have a wonderful opportunity this November to select the person you want to look after your needs and interests ;-)
  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 06, 2008 @08:38PM (#24906687)

    You obviously don't know why Rogers in canada is called 'Robbers', Yes it would cost a domestic user the same amount, they charge 5$ a MB.

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @08:50PM (#24906769)

    You can get unlimited plans but they cost more money. I think what you want is an unlimited everything, worldwide plan for $20. I would like bread to cost a dime. I do not see that happening.

    I don't think that is what anyone is asking for. Reasonable charges is what I would be asking for. Let's say you have an iPhone with a contract in the USA and you take it to France. I'd say a _reasonable_ charge would be the same monthly charge as a French customer would have paid on top of your normal US charge. And an alert popping up before you start getting charged informing you of the situation and giving you the choice of accepting the fees or not using the phone. Or lets say I have a data plan costing £20 per month for up to 3GB. Now if I got charged another £20 if I exceed the limit (with a new limit of 6GB), that would be reasonable. But charging £1 per Megabyte = £3,000 for the next 3GB, that is entirely unreasonable.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `dnaltropnidad'> on Saturday September 06, 2008 @08:51PM (#24906773) Homepage Journal

    So now we need to tell people what they can charge for their service?

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lysergic.acid (845423) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @09:24PM (#24906977) Homepage

    well, that's sorta like saying someone who's dumb enough to get conned/scammed deserves to be scammed. i certainly don't promote ignorance (in fact, i find the overwhelming level of ignorance in our society quite frustrating) but you can't support, or let businesses get away with, unethical predatory lending practices.

    and let's be honest here, who has never missed/skipped over a few lines of fine print when signing some kind of business contract? whether it was through conscious choice or accidental, we've all skimmed over parts of contracts or legal forms to some degree. i mean, who has never misread a word or sentence while reading a book/newspaper/magazine/street sign/etc.?

    the very nature of fine print is inherently deceptive. that is precisely why businesses use fine print to conceal warnings, disclaimers or terms/conditions which consumers may be put off by. you can call the use of fine print a marketing tactic to make your service/product look more appealing. and it's considered completely legal usually. but at some point this kind of manipulation of consumers crosses into overt dishonesty.

    if you have a 20-page cellphone contract full of verbose wording for trivial details and standard terms of agreement, but buried near the back you have, in fine print, a special clause that requires the signee to hand over all his personal assets to you and surrender himself to disciplinary flogging if he uses his phone to make a business call on the sabbath, then this probably wouldn't be considered a legally-binding contract by any sane court.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 06, 2008 @09:39PM (#24907087)

    Kids figure this because they have no reason not to.

    When AT&T uses terms like unlimited, Nation wide, etc. people take it as it seems. Then when you get a phone that allows you to do something, they assume they can and bingo, $1000 phone bill.

    All phones should warn you when you use a feature that is not in your plan. If AT&T says they can't do it, they are full of shit.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Z34107 (925136) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @10:32PM (#24907379)

    bad publicity can often still make profit-driven corporations do the 'right thing'.

    Because the "right thing" never happens on its own because someone is "profit driven."

    I know that I, being profit-driven and therefore working a full-time job, ran over 3 orphans on my commute this morning.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Miamicanes (730264) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @11:17PM (#24907623)

    > Fees, yes. 100x what you normally pay? Not so much.

    Which brings up another point... just TRYING to get a straight answer out of most carriers about the exact charges (taxes, "fees", surcharges, and all) that will be incurred is damn near impossible. Even if they give you an answer, it will always be with a disclaimer that effectively lets them off the hook if they're wrong, and gives them free reign to add on as many other fees as they like. About 3 years ago, it took me about 40 minutes with 3 Sprint reps to get a straight answer about how much it would cost to use my phone as a modem while roaming in Canada. And best of all, the rep was wrong, and the ultimate charges were about 40% more than I was quoted.

    Telling someone, "additional charges may be imposed" is bullshit. Throwing up a Windows Mobile dialog box the first time you try to initiate a data session in a foreign country that says something like, "If you continue, each kilobyte of data you send or receive will cost US$3.74 including all applicable charges, fees, taxes, and tarrifs... do you REALLY want to continue? would be another matter.

    IMHO, this IS an intellectually-consistent libertarian position. Libertarianism assumes free-market transactions made between informed buyers and sellers. If the seller has a government-protected monopoly or oligopoly, and can't/won't even give the buyer a straight answer about how much something is going to cost, the seller has no right to complain if a court sides with the customer when they try to turn around and impose charges amounting to roughly 200 times a normal monthly bill.

  • Re:Disgusted (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ignavus (213578) on Sunday September 07, 2008 @12:31AM (#24907883)

    Plus: who is in the best position to know the bill?

    The telecom knows the exact bill at all times, but doesn't inform the customer. The customer may very well not know the bill at all (because of convoluted billing systems) until too late.

    So the onus *should* be on the telecom to keep the customer informed of the bill. For example, my ISP usage is capped (Australia) so my ISP provides a usage meter so I can see exactly how much bandwidth I have used this month. Any time I want, I can check the meter to see if I am running out of bandwidth quota. The same thing should apply to any open-ended billing account - e.g. I can find out my current credit card bill any time I like.

    A "hidden" billing system is a form of entrapment: "Come and use our system - you'll have to guess what your bill is until we hit you with it at the end of the month."

  • by aliquis (678370) <dospam@gmail.com> on Sunday September 07, 2008 @12:38AM (#24907917) Homepage

    Is it that simple? Will that make it go away? You won't just get jailed and still have to pay it (and maybe much more?)

    But yes, one would hope they would find it unreasonable themself and not charge it.

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by j79zlr (930600) on Sunday September 07, 2008 @01:49AM (#24908169) Homepage
    I agree with your post in the domain of phone contracts. They are too long and too legally written to be understood by a lay person. But as far as mortgages go, a large percentage of the problem is/was people who simply thought that they were going to get rich off of it. When you are making $50,000 a year you should know you shouldn't take out a 100% mortgage on a $400,000 house regardless of whether or not someone would offer the loan. Some of the onus falls on the lender, but a lot of it falls on the borrower. Personally I don't mind the bank lending since that is what drives this country, what they shouldn't have done is offer the 80/20 loans with no PMI. The situation we are in is exactly what PMI was designed for and they somehow managed to fuck that up as well.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 07, 2008 @05:20AM (#24908727)

    I have my doubts it cost AT&T $19,370 to send JPEGs and emails the ~300 miles from Vancouver to Portland.

    So, you believe everyone should sell you things at their cost?

    More like $100 or less.

    Mind telling us where you got that figure? Oh, that's right - you just made it up.

    So that's a [b] 20,000% markup [/b] above cost!

    And then summon moral outrage at a fictitious markup - *very* nice!

    This is just pure greed on the part of a corporation that is severely overcharging for a relatively cheap service.

    Yeah, we should all be able to just decide what we want to pay - that's only fair.

    Let me guess, you're a high school or college student in your "teh Man is oppressing us!" phase?

  • Re:Oh Noes! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sirambrose (919153) on Sunday September 07, 2008 @07:23AM (#24909183)
    They require a phone number when signing up for service. They could call that one if they really wanted to.

There is no opinion so absurd that some philosopher will not express it. -- Marcus Tullius Cicero, "Ad familiares"

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