Woman gets massive bill after switching phone companies

LaFollette woman gets $500 bill after switching phone companies

Posted:
Hair stylist Brenda Inman (right) said the salesman pitched the phone contract at her salon. Hair stylist Brenda Inman (right) said the salesman pitched the phone contract at her salon.
It wasn't until after she tried to cancel her contract that she learned she could not do so without paying a large fee. It wasn't until after she tried to cancel her contract that she learned she could not do so without paying a large fee.
Coworker Theresa Carden said she heard the salesman's pitch also, but never heard mention of a contract. Coworker Theresa Carden said she heard the salesman's pitch also, but never heard mention of a contract.

By DON DARE
6 On Your Side Consumer investigator

LAFOLLETTE (WATE) - A LaFollette woman switched her phone service to seek a better rate, but instead got a massive bill when she dropped her old service.

Many phone providers have a clause in their contracts that requires customers to send a letter if they don't want their service renewed.  

If they don't inform them, the service is automatically renewed after the terms of the contract expire.

The consequences for the customer can be costly if they switch to another service and don't send the letter.

In LaFollette, hair stylist Brenda Inman is a person who listens a lot, which is necessary to have a successful career in her field.

And she listened to a salesman who came into the shop last year and convinced her she'd save $20 a month by switching her home phone service to Birch Communications.

"He told me it would be about $48 a month compared to what I was paying at the time with the other provider," Inman said.

So she moved her service to Birch in July 2011 and then returned to her original provider this year.

"Well, in September AT&T calls me back for a better rate. So I told them to switch me back to AT&T," she said.

Then Birch wrote to Inman saying she didn't follow the letter of her contract.

"Come to find out, you have to notify them within 30 days to cancel the contract. It's an auto-renewal contract, and if you don't do that, you are hit with early termination fees," Inman said.

Her termination fee was $500.

Since she didn't notify Birch in time, her contract was rolled over and is still in effect through next year.

Inman claims her salesman, Ben, neither left her a contract nor explained the details of it.

"He gives me this single piece of paper, right here. There's nothing whatsoever in this about a contract. Nothing," she said.

Stylist Theresa Carden also heard the salesman's pitch last year.

"The only thing I heard is what the service offered, like call waiting, but the contract was not mentioned," Carden recalled.

6 On Your Side called the salesman, Ben Elliott.

Remember, Brenda said she wasn't given a contract. She did receive one last month, however, when she contacted Birch Communications.

We asked Elliott why he never left Inman a copy of her contract.

"I don't know. They're supposed to send it to her," he said.

Elliott says the company never instructed him to leave a copy with her, either.

"The woman that trained us, she kind of threw me out on the street. We were supposed to do four days of training out on the street, and I kind of didn't get that," Elliott said.

Birch Communications tells 6 On Your Side, Elliott's description of his training is "troubling."

Birch says they hired a third-party sales crew out of Knoxville, but that office is now closed.

Birch claims it has a comprehensive sales program for its dealers, but after what happened to Inman, the company said it was waiving her $500 fee.

"I'm excited, I'm happy," Inman said. "It's like a black cloud has been lifted from over my head. I'm so grateful."

Service contracts, like those for phone companies, are complicated.

Often door-to-door salespeople don't explain details of the contract they are offering, so it's important for customers to read it, understand it, and ask questions if they don't understand something.

Finally, consumers should insist on a hard copy of the contract and remember to keep it in a safe place for future reference.


if you have a consumer issue, call the 6 On Your Side Hotline at 865-633-5974 or email ddare@wate.com.

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