Hank Investigates: Cell Shocked
Some people got the sales pitch by phone, some by mail, some by fax. Free cell phone they were told, lots of minutes, great rates! They signed up, and that's when the trouble began.
First: customers tried to use their new cell phones
"I demanded they turn on my phone right away!"
"The phone just stopped working!"
Then: they worried how their bills could be so high!
"I was really angry. I was beside myself."
"Three bills a month for one phone!"
Finally: they wondered why no one would help them.
"They just didn't want to talk to me."
"Their treatment of me was despicable!"
All these people, and dozens of others, called 7News to complain about their cell phone billing and service, and when we investigated, we too were cell shocked! At federal, state and local agencies, we found thousands more cell phone complaints! Thousands of customers griping about one company: Worldcom Wireless.
Hank Phillippi Ryan
"When you looked at these complaints, had you ever seen such a thing?"
Robert Williams, President and CEO, Better Business Bureau
More than 6,000 complaints at the Better Business Bureau alone! All arrived in just 3 months.
"It's the largest single problem the better business bureau has ever had."
Look at these: people billed for phones they never ordered, phones they don't have, phones that never worked, people billed far more than they expected. Warren Benson of Boston stopped his service, but Worldcom sent him bills anyway.
"So here are 1, 2 , 3 bills -- were you using the phone?"
"Did the service work?"
"So you were being billed for a phone that didnít work."
"Right. How can they do that?"
Janet Roy of Natick sent her phone back, unused. She soon got a bill for 2,900 dollars.
"I kept telling them I returned the phone. I returned the phone. I told everyone I spoke to."
Soon after, she got a bill for 6,600 dollars!
"At one point in October, I just cried. I just sat there and said I can't take it anymore."
And who you gonna call? Angry customers say when they tried to reach the service department, they got nowhere.
"Every time I called them, I was on hold for a half hour or longer"
"Iíve spent a total of four hours on hold"
"This is nuts."
WorldCom officials refused an on camera interview: but they admit, they grew too fast.
"Due to an overwhelming response to our WorldCom Wireless offerings, (they told us) our sales began to outpace our service capabilities."
This former WorldCom saleperson says that's no surprise, she was told, "push the phones."
"What was your managerís goal?
Former sales exec
"My managerís goal was to sell, to sell phones. And that these customer billing issues were not our problems."
She was so overwhelmed by customer complaints, she finally quit. Others kept on selling.
"Did the people at the top know there was a problem?
Former sales exec
"Yes, everything was kind of hush hush."
How can it happen? The fast-growing cell phone industry is virtually unregulated -- there are no set government standards for cell phone service or billing practices. The FCC says regulations arenít needed -- a bad company wonít survive.
K. Dane Snowden, FCC
"Word of mouth is a very powerful thing and we're seeing that every day."
In an unprecedented move, WorldCom has now sent its own staffers to help the BBB plow through all the complaints. It's also increased the staffing and hours of its in-house call center. But nationwide, thousands of complaints remain unresolved.
"I never used their phones, I never opened the boxes, so why would they charge me?"
Customers who just wanted a simple cell phone -- finding themselves unable to communicate with a communications company.
"You canít do this to people"
If you have an unresolved problem with WorldCom, the company says you should call the phone number on your bill. WorldCom tells us it has now set up new systems to help you.
To resolve a problem with WorldCom Wireless:
Call 1-800-254-8991 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the most personalized assistance, customers should use the number on their WorldCom Wireless phone bill, as there are different numbers for different calling plans. Please have your account number, cell phone number, and a direct contact email or phone number available.
WORLDCOM WIRELESS STATEMENT:
WorldCom Wireless sincerely regrets that some customers are experiencing difficulty getting through to customer service and others have experienced billing delays.
WorldCom Wireless wants to assure our customers that our goal is to provide them with the highest level of service and systems. We appreciate our customers' patience and value their business as we continue to work as quickly as possible through these issues.
We also want to assure our customers that we are taking the following steps to provide them with the level of service they expect and deserve.
We are adding resources to ensure the specifics of our customer contracts are clear, concise, and provisioned in accordance with the products and features documented in each individual agreement.
We will implement third party verification for all telemarketed and direct marketed sales channels.
We opened an additional call center and began expansion within our existing centers. This expansion includes hiring more customer service professionals and increasing our hours of operation.
WorldCom Wireless customers may call 1-800-254-8991 or may email at email@example.com. However, for the most personalized assistance, customers should use the number on their WorldCom Wireless phone bill, as there are different numbers for different calling plans. Please have your account number, cell phone number, and a direct contact email or phone number available.
OTHER RESORCES FOR ALL CELL PHONE USERS:
Federal Communications Commission, FCC
Massachusetts Attorney General's Office:
Better Business Bureau:
Wireless Consumer's Union: