Cell-phone hassle lingered for months

MUKILTEO – Patricia Morrison says she never wanted a cell phone.

She was puzzled when one arrived on her doorstep in December. A $71.37 bill arrived eight days later, even though she’d never turned on the phone.

Morrison, a retired high school teacher from Mukilteo, says what followed was a three-month consumer nightmare.

She sent back the phone, but the bills kept coming until late February.

Justin Best / The Herald

Patricia Morrison holds copies of her cell-phone bills. Morrison engaged in a three-month battle over bills for a phone she never ordered.

“I never ordered that phone, and I wasn’t going to pay for it,” she said. “I told them I was the customer that wouldn’t give up.”

Complaints on rise

Morrison isn’t alone. Complaints about cell-phone service are rising in the state and nationwide.

The state Attorney General’s Office advises:

1. Contact the company by phone or mail and let them know you’ve got a problem.

2. Keep records. Note who you spoke with, what was said and when. If your problem isn’t resolved, ask to speak to a manager.

3. You may also want to contact these agencies for help: State Attorney General’s Office, 800-551-4636; Federal Communications Commission, 888-225-5322.

4. Still stuck? Consider filing a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

Learn more about wireless issues at the state Attorney General’s Office Web site, www.atg.wa.gov/ consumer/wireless.

In Washington, AT&T Wireless received the most complaints in 2004, mirroring numbers nationwide, said Sean Beary, resource manager for the consumer protection division of the state Attorney General’s Office.

The Redmond-based company, which merged with Cingular late last year, received 455 complaints in 2004, he said.

Morrison’s cell service was provided through Cingular-AT&T Wireless, with the phone sent by InPhonic. The Maryland-based company says it sold more than 750,000 phones last year.

The Attorney General’s Office says Morrison’s battle shouldn’t have happened, even if the phone was sent in error.

“This should have been resolved very quickly,” Beary said, saying the office has received similar complaints.

Fraud investigated

Cingular has a 30-day return policy, but “in these situations it can take some time to work these things out,” spokeswoman Anne Marshall said. “Customers need to realize there needs to be an investigation by a fraud department, and that may take longer than they want.”

Morrison said she spoke to a dozen different Cingular customer service representatives, bouncing from Arnold to Karen to Dennis, spending 32 hours on the phone before she received her last bill – for 64 cents.

“Part of the problem with the process is that you never talk to the same person twice,” she said. “That made it very difficult.”

About two months into her effort to stop the bills, Morrison said a Cingular operator told her she was sent the phone after responding to an online survey Nov. 18.

Morrison says she’s rarely online and didn’t respond to a survey, nor did her husband.

InPhonic said Thursday that the personal information used to start the account, including a Social Security number, birthdate and driver’s license, wasn’t Morrision’s. Her address was apparently the only correct detail.

“This is a very unique situation,” InPhonic spokesman Tripp Donnelly said. “There’s only a handful of occasions I’ve ever seen anything like this.”

When Morrison first contacted the company, they asked for her Social Security number and other personal information. She declined to give it to them, worried it would be misused.

She was unable to find out until this week how the account was opened, saying the company wouldn’t tell her.

Problem solving

InPhonic has a team that solves unusual problems, Donnelly said, including working with cell-phone companies.

“We don’t want any customer to go through this,” he said, adding that he wishes Morrison had sought additional help through the company.

Morrison said she tried working with both companies. She’s extremely frustrated that it took so long to get an explanation for what happened.

“There’s no way for a consumer to solve these problems on their own,” she said.

Morrison said her struggle cemented her desire to keep her home free of cell phones.

“I don’t want a cell phone,” she said. “I never did.”

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