How times have changed. Even ten years ago, we could not have imagined how mobile phones have changed how we do business, how we stay in touch with friends and family, how we get from one place to another, how we check our bank balance and how we stay current with the news.
Many of us can’t manage life today without our cell phones. We now have the ability to communicate with family thousands of miles away, access all sorts of information (not all of it useful!) and share photos with our friends.
Through our phones, the Internet allows us to access information of almost any kind within seconds. It also powers social media apps that are a big part of today’s culture. Today, the average American consumes between 2 and 5 gigabytes (GB) of mobile data a month, a huge jump from 435 megabytes, or nearly half a GB in 2011.
Cell phone companies recognize our growing use and reliance on our phones and the Internet, which is why plans that offer “unlimited” data and minutes or high allowances are on the rise. The plans can be confusing, and many consumers don’t understand the details of the services provided by their cell phone carriers or recognize when they are being taken advantage of.
Common Issues Faced
The four most common complaints are:
“Slamming” – This is when a phone company illegally changes your service to local, local toll or long distance without your permission.
“Cramming” – This is when the phone company adds additional features or services to your plan without your permission, resulting in extra payments/costs.
Bill shock – When your phone bill has a sudden and unexpected increase, which isn’t caused by a change in phone plan or service.
False or misleading advertisements – This is when you purchased a specific service or plan, but what you’re given is different from what you understood you were getting. For example, purchasing an “unlimited” plan, but then being charged for using more data or minutes.
What You Can Do
Things you can do to protect yourself and avoid these common problems are:
Be aware of who has access to your account information. Ensure that you safely maintain your account information. Some scammers will send links through text or email asking you to input your cell phone carrier’s account information.
These links may say that you have received a discount or a special promotion or new plan. By putting in your account information, scammers will have access to your account.
Evaluate what plans and packages you select. Ensure that the plans and packages you select are best suited to you and your family’s needs. Most cell phone carriers’ “unlimited” plans start to slow down data speeds after a person exceeds 22GB. If you don’t believe you’ll need anywhere near 22GB of mobile data a month, or don’t call or text often, ask about other plans and packages available that may suit your needs and budget better.
Be aware of extra costs and charges beforehand. There are some packages and special offers that require you have, or upgrade to, a more expensive plan, but this isn’t often clear in advertisements. Before opting for a special offer or package, check for hidden extra charges that will be added onto your bill later.
Do your research. If you are looking for a new carrier, take time to research your best option. Compare plans and prices and take other consumers’ experiences and comments into account when making your decision. Take your time; it is often quite difficult or expensive to cancel a contract.
Ways to Protect Yourself
If you are having trouble with your cell phone plan:
- Contact your cell phone provider directly. This will give you the options to resolve the situation or file a complaint. Be sure to have all of your account information and billing on hand.
- File a complaint with the Department of Consumer Protection at http://www.portal.ct.gov/DCP/Complaint-Center/Consumers—Complaint-Center.
- File a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission at https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us.
And remember, a smart consumer is an educated consumer!
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.