Friday, July 23, 2010

"One Ringy-Dingy,...."

I've never been much of a phone talker since my teenage years--I don't do all that much talking off the phone, either, but that's another story. So when I moved back to Chicago, I decided not to have a land-line phone at all, and instead bought a cell phone for which I could simply buy blocks of minutes rather than signing up with some service and incurring a monthly fee. It's worked out very well. Until my friend Norm died and I began using my phone more to deal with things related to settling his estate, I would buy a block of 500 minutes for $50 and it would last me up to four months.

Lately, with all the estate-related calls, I've gone to buying in blocks of 1,000 minutes for $100. When my minutes are running low, I will get a recorded message advising me that: "Your minutes are about to expire. Please renew now for continued service." It then advises me that I can purchase more minutes with my credit card by simply punching in *233 on the phone.

So when I heard the message last week, I punched *233 and went through the usual "For so-and-so, press such-and-such. Enter your 437-digit phone number, birth date, mother's maiden name, name of your first pet, etc." routine, and just as I entered the last digit, the call was cut off. Assuming my order had not gone through, I went through the entire routine again.

An hour or so later, I made a call and, as I waited for the phone to ring on the other end, got the "Your minutes are about to expire. Please renew now for continued service." That hadn't happened before, but I figured there was just some delay in the processing.

When I got the message yet again after another call that evening, I went on-line to see if my debit card reflected the transaction. The total charge, with tax, is $109.75 and sure enough, there it was, right at the top. And directly under that was another identical charge for $109.75, which meant I had purchased not 1,000 minutes but 2,000 minutes of phone time. That's 33.3333333 hours! That would last me at least until June of 2046.

So I decided I'd better try to get hold of someone at T-Mobile, from whom I buy my minutes, and will not bore you with the obstacle course involved in getting through to a corporation that doesn't want to be bothered dealing with real people. You may have experienced a similar situation at some point in your life.

At any rate, using my friend Gary's cell phone, I finally got through to a pleasant young lady who introduced herself as "Sally." (I didn't know "Sally" was a common name for women in Pakistan, which her accent indicated.) At any rate, as I was trying to explain my problem--that I wanted first of all to start using the phone minutes I'd paid for and that I wanted to remove one of the $109.75 charges--she informed me several times that she could not understand me. I apologized and said I had a slight speech impediment. She couldn't understand that, either.

But finally, she checked my records and informed me that my last purchase had been four months ago. When I asked why, then, my bank showed not one but two transactions two days before, she transferred me to another department which, after going through the entire story once again, transferred me to another department. A nice young man who introduced himself as "Ted," and who I suspect may possibly have been an American, said he would look into it and call me back at the number he had on his records. .... Uh, excuse me? I pointed out that since my phone was not working, I doubted that he could call me back on it. "Oh."

Finally, in order to get my phone working again until all this was straightened out, I gave him my credit card information so he could bill me $109.75, and reinstate my phone service immediately. As to the two previous $109.75 already on my bank statement...well, what's money? I haven't heard back from Ted yet, but I'm blocking out three hours of time to be spent trying to iron it out with my bank.

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