Consumer Warning: AT&T Phone Replacement Bait & Switch Fraud

ATRIX is on the left, Captivate on the right: The image really speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

By Eddie Childs

For some reason unbeknownst to even the wisest and wrinkliest of gray-bearded sages, I’m a long-time AT&T phone user. I’ve been with these scam-artists so long, in fact, that the letterhead on my bills also has respectively read “Bellsouth” and “Cingular” during my more than 10-year stint as a customer of this wretched telecomm. However, I recently had an experience with AT&T and its minion insurance company, Asurion, that was so unbelievable, I’ll be taking my business elsewhere.

Let me begin this story by noting that my girlfriend is not the most careful person when it comes to her phone (an original Motorla ATRIX). For instance, she uses this little slip case that leaves her phone so unprotected, Jay Cutler expressed his sympathies during a post-game interview last September, after he was sacked 9 times by the Green Bay Packers. At any rate, I digress. The important part is that the phone was broken, and she filed a phone insurance claim through AT&T with one of its insurers — a dubious little company called Asurion, which will receive its comeuppance momentarily. A deductible of $125 was paid, and the payment was processed under the understanding that she would be getting a replacement phone… an ATRIX presumably.

Don’t stare at him too long. He’ll try and bum a cigarette from you

The phone that she received, however, was the far inferior Samsung Captivate. This phone not only has a lower resolution, less storage (8GB as opposed to 16) and lower pixel density than its ostensible ATRIX counterpart, but it also has this little crappy flip-out tactile keyboard. The kind that went the way of Richard Greico’s career in the early 90’s. And if you don’t know who that is, my comparison still shouldn’t miss the mark… you know who Johnny Depp is, don’t you? Exactly. Now apply the same principle to this phone’s keyboard.

Needless to say, she was unhappy with the quality of this replacement. It certainly wasn’t on par with the phone that she had lost, and she had made a payment to this company with the understanding that she would be receiving the very same phone. A call was made to the insurance company, but both AT&T’s and Asurion’s representatives were unable (not to mention unwilling) to tell either her or myself exactly what phone she will be receiving as a replacement. Presumably, the exact same crappy phone with the antiquated flip keyboard will arrive in the mail next week. I can’t say I will be surprised if it does.

Predictably, AT&T’s customer service also tried to use the situation as a sales opportunity instead of legitimately trying to help her, offering her an upgrade to a refurbished Samsung Galaxy 3 — first for $50 and then for free — along with a 2-year extension on her contract. It’s significant to note that the second guy who offered the phone for “free” (with the 2-year contract, of course), an argumentative and somewhat belligerent supervisor by the name of Dario from the Ohio call center, offered it while failing to mention that the phone was refurbished. In light of the fact that AT&T and Asurion seem to have arranged this little cabal where they’ll accept an insurance deductible for an ATRIX and then deliver a Captivate (oddly appropriate name, considering they hold the customer captive, no?); I’m not surprised by this deception either.

Here’s your new replacement Benz, Sir… all those insurance payments you made? Totally worth it.

Now I’m sure plenty of other people have had this experience with their Android devices and have just accepted it, but as far as I’m concerned, this raises a question of bait-and-switch fraud. How is it even possible that neither AT&T nor Asurion are able to tell someone exactly what phone they will be receiving, especially when that person has been paying monthly insurance premiums on the phone and has paid a deductible under the assumption that they’d be receiving the same phone? Would this fly, for instance if someone had wrecked a Benz and then the insurance company tried to send payment for a Corolla? I daresay it wouldn’t. From a consumer standpoint, how is this business practice acceptable or even legal?

You can rest assured I will be leaving AT&T for another company as soon as my contract expires this November. And considering that Verizon offers far superior coverage (not to mention an arguably “truer” 4G network) and that Sprint/Softbank is gearing up to make a play to dominate the marketplace right now (unlimited data? where do I sign up?) — I’m pretty confident that they’ll soon be sorry that they didn’t do more to retain customers. So only one question remains: Is anyone looking to buy an off-contract, unlocked AT&T iPhone loaded with an awfully designed and dangerously  inaccurate maps app?

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