T-Mobile Jumps on the Mystery Charge Bandwagon

Update and summary: My latest post on this issue is here. T-Mobile is in the process of adding pay-per-use data to every customer’s account, without permission and in many cases without notification. They are also neglecting to inform their customer service reps of this process, (or possibly instructing them to mislead customers?). The typical complaint seems to involve mystery data charges appearing on a bill, with customer service claiming that the customer themselves added or requested the PPU data plan. Customer service then tries to upsell callers into different data plans as a way to avoid exorbitant PPU charges. Many of these charges accrue while the phones are not being used, due to data pinging, app data requests, and other background processes that the user isn’t aware of (the same thing that got Verizon in trouble last year).

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After Verizon made the news for charging unauthorized “mystery data” fees, T-Mobile seems to have decided this scam was too good to waste. They must be hoping that people have forgotten the refunds that Verizon was supposed to pay out, or maybe they hope their ambiguous “notification” message is enough of an opt-in to make the lawyers happy.

On Friday, I received a text from T-mobile saying “Congratulations! You can now access the web on your phone and pay only for data you use. Go go <url> for more details”. I always ignore these spam texts, but apparently what this one meant is “Congratulations, we’ve automatically signed you up for pay-per-use data without your knowledge”. I never agreed to this, never opted-in, never even replied to their texts offering “great deals” etc. Then today, I got another text saying “You’ve used over $10 worth of data charges this month”. Huh????

After realizing I had a data bill, I checked my account and found that $17 worth of charges had accrued (this weekend alone!) at times that my phone wasn’t even turned on (such as 400k at 8:30am this morning when I specifically noticed that my battery was dead).  I use Wifi frequently but never use mobile web, whenever I lose my Wifi connection I get an error page saying I have no data plan, and offering to sign me up for one. So this “pay-per-use” data plan doesn’t even work for Internet access, just mystery data when my phone is turned off.

I called T-mobile to complain, and I *might* have gotten the charges reversed after a half hour on super-secret-no-music-we-hope-you-hang-up hold with India. They initially wanted to “save me money” by signing me up for a data plan, but I got upset and accused them of trying to entrap me into adding features I hadn’t requested. Between poor English and corporate doublespeak I can’t quite tell what the outcome was. I asked to talk to a supervisor, but apparently one wasn’t available. I kept asking if I’d be billed the $17 or not, and the customer service rep kept saying ambiguous stuff like “I cannot guarantee that it will be billed”, and “The charges may not yet be accrued this billing cycle”. She blocked data on my account and said that if the $17 charge shows up, I should call back to have it “adjusted”.

Here are some T-mobile support threads where people are noticing and complaining about this. Hopefully the discussions don’t get big-brothered away anytime soon:

http://support.t-mobile.com/message/39176

http://support.t-mobile.com/message/50262#50262

http://support.t-mobile.com/message/54187#54187

And some more related discussion:

http://iosjailbreaker.com/apple-news/t-mobile-turns-data-on-for-smartphones-without-plans-users-hit-with-huge-data-charges/

http://www.howardforums.com/showthread.php/1740503

Update 11/16/11: Here’s an update I posted today, with further complaint threads and some more thoughts on the issue: https://saveitforparts.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/more-t-mobile-feedback/

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