Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bell Mobility Needs To Burn In Corporate Hell

As alluded to in a previous post, Bell Mobility won the fraudulent advertising contest and won it readily. Any mobile phone will be advertised based on the price "with purchase of new two-year contract" (for America) or three-year contract (for Canada), and cruise lines are wedded to their "per person, assuming double occupancy" quotes; the advert lists one price, and then they pull a bait and switch, retracting that price and telling you the real price is actually much higher.

However, at least they tell you the actual price before you've agreed to pay.

And that's why Bell Mobility wins the fraudulent advertising contest.

I purchased the $15.75 prepaid plan from Bell Mobility. The terms of this plan state that after paying $15.75 up front and loading credit onto the plan, local calls will be billed at 20¢/minute, while long-distance calls within Canada and from Canada to America will be billed at 30¢/minute. (A conversation with their staff revealed that calls to the UK were billed at 49¢/minute though that didn't appear on my plan, and I managed to avoid making any.)

Circumstances obliged me to make many long-distance calls, primarily to Toronto to work out a hotel issue before I actually arrived, and some to New York. This persisted for a few days before my service abruptly cut out, claiming I had run out of credit and needed to top up. I had kept reasonably good track of how many calls I had made and I had prepaid $50 worth of credit, so it seemed I should have plenty remaining. I topped up (had to make calls, you know!) but being curious, I then called Bell Mobility support to investigate the mysterious disappearing credit.

That's when I learned all of my calls had been billed at 50¢/minute.

The terms of my plan clearly stated that local calls were 20¢/minute and long-distance calls were 30¢/minute; nowhere did any of my terms and documentation state that any calls were billed at 50¢/minute. When I explained this, the Bell service agent declared that when it said long-distance calls were 30¢/minute, that obviously meant 50, because a long-distance call has to be routed through a local exchange before it can be forwarded to its destination, therefore a long-distance call is both a long-distance call and a local call and is simultaneously billed as both.


If it says 30¢/minute, it's 30¢/minute. Not 30¢/minute plus any arbitrary thing you decide to add. If the ticket from Vancouver to Jasper is $100 and the ticket from Vancouver to Edmonton is $200, and I choose to buy a ticket from Vancouver to Edmonton, you can't retroactively charge me $300 on the grounds that the trip from Vancouver to Edmonton passes through Jasper. And yes, I explained exactly that to the agent, who was absolutely impervious to logic.

And get this: When I asked to speak to a supervisor, the agent refused, telling me: "I already explained the price to you, so you're not allowed to talk to a supervisor."

A second call did yield a supervisor, who merely reiterated the fallacious argument that because long-distance calls start their connection at local exchanges, they get billed as both separate local and long-distance calls, and added the new claim that the 20¢/minute charge specifically identified as being the charge for local calls was, in fact, the "airtime rate" automatically applied to all calls regardless of other charges.

And keep in mind that modern telephone networks are pretty much all VoIP-based; the days in which operators had to manually connect calls at switchboards are long past, so there's little functional difference between a local and long-distance call anyway, at least within Canada.

Not one to take that kind of thing from anybody, I disputed the top up charge with my credit card company and (so far) seem to have won a reversal. Of course, I only disputed it after I used up all the credit the top up yielded— Bell Mobility is legally obligated to honour the rate they agreed to, and by topping up, using the credit, and then charging back the top up, the total amount paid for the total credit used roughly equals the agreed-upon rate of 30¢/minute.

I even did the maths for you:

I gave them $50 to prepay the account, from which they deducted a $15.75 activation fee and $10 for data service. (Yes, smartphone.)

That leaves $24.25 to call with. At the agreed-upon 30¢/minute, that would yield roughly 80 minutes of calling; having billed me at 50¢/minute, I was left with only 48 minutes, so their fraud deprived me of 32 minutes of calling.

When I topped up my account, I added $15. Because that was also billed at the fraudulent 50¢/minute rate, it yielded another 30 minutes.

So by using the top-up credit and then charging back the fee, I recovered 30 minutes of talk time out of the 32 they owed me. (They can keep the remaining two minutes.)

Assuming the preliminary chargeback is approved as a proper chargeback, I will have paid for $24.25 worth of calling credit and used 78 minutes from that, for a final cost of 31¢/minute, reasonably close to the advertised rate.

However, I will not be buying service from Bell Mobility ever again.

And companies everywhere are advised that I will not be defrauded, even if it's only for CAD$17.43 ($15 top up, plus GST, plus currency conversion and foreign transaction fees.)

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