Consumer Alert

Resolving a cell phone bill dispute

View imageQ. My contract with Sprint was due to expire in June 2012 when I lost my charger. I had to get a new phone, which meant another two years with them. After I damaged and replaced that phone, I got a letter from Sprint regarding “total equipment protection.” It stated that I was still covered with my new phone. Unbeknownst to me, I had been covered since June 2012. I called Sprint and told them I wanted a refund since I never requested the protection service. They stated that it wasn’t their fault that I never looked at the bill. Is there anything that you can do?

Mary Hurley, Quincy

A. When you sign up for a service you have to be sure what you’re agreeing to. It’s hard to come back and argue you didn’t order something when the company can show your signature on a document agreeing to it.

Similarly, looking at bills is important, even though most of us would prefer to look away when they show up. On phone bills (and credit card bills) it’s possible to find charges to which you did not agree or object. But if you don’t check the bills, you won’t find them.

Still, I asked Sprint to look into this and consider issuing a refund. As you know, a two-month goodwill refund of $16 is far as they would go. Sprint spokesman Mark Elliott said while he cannot discuss a specific customer’s account, he did say the company tries to be transparent during the sign-up process.

“When a customer buys a phone from us when they go into a store they’re given a transaction summary that tells them exactly what they signed up for and gives them a cost estimate,” he said. “It would show the rate plan and what it costs each month. If they were given an equipment protection plan, that would also show up in the summary.”

Your two years of paying for that insurance is a loss for you, but a lesson to everyone else. Read the terms of the agreement. And don’t pay a bill without checking it.

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