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Sunday, December 12, 2010

324.5 reasons to pay attention

I've mentioned that we dropped our cable television service last fall in an effort to reign in our family budget. Since, then, however, our AT&T bill really hasn't seemed that much lower. Last month, it came in at over $400! That includes the home phone, three cell phones (two of which are iPhones with data plans), and home internet.

I've mentioned to Mike that we really need to do something because even without the cable, the bill is still outrageous. He reasoned that for all the services we're using, it was probably about right. Still, I thought there has to be a way we can lower this expense. So the other day, I went to the AT&T website and printed out the entire bill.

Now, I realize that most sane and responsible people probably do this on a monthly basis. However, I'm willing to bet that there are plenty of people like us who have the bill sent to their e-mail and have it set up to auto-pay online. Anyhow, I printed the bill and sat down with it, hoping to find a solution to this money-sucking problem.

I looked at the number of minutes we're buying on our cell phones each month. There's some room for cutting back there, as we have plenty of rollover minutes, which will expire on December 31. Unlimited texting, which is pretty much a must for someone living in a house with a teen who has a cell phone.

The charges for my cell phone line were pretty much what I expected. $9.99 for the phone service, $30 for the data plan. No other charges associated with my line. Then I moved on to Annie's cell phone line.

The first charge I see is "AT&T Navigator, $9.99." I don't even know what that is.

Then, the real epiphany began. "Personal Psychic, $2.13." What the blue blazes?! A personal psychic? Oh, and it wasn't just one encounter with this psychic. I counted. In November alone there were 48 charges to the personal psychic at $2.13 a pop!

My first call was to Mike, who was picking the kids up from school. "You are not going to believe this," I told him. He got the fun of talking to Annie about it. Then I called AT&T to see how this happened.

The woman on the other end of the phone -- Tina was her name -- is a mom like me. When I told her what I'd found, she said "Oh no...she didn't..." followed by "oh yes...she did!" as Tina went through the phone records. I told her that I was pretty certain that Annie didn't realize that she was being charged for this "service." I assumed it was something she'd clicked to see and then was roped into some daily recurring thing.

After looking at the account, Tina found that the psychic thing is a text service and that the charges happen when you text them. So my lovely daughter was deliberately consulting a "psychic." Tina also told me that AT&T Navigator I'd seen was a GPS subscription that cost $10/month and that Annie had signed up for that in July! Plus, there was some quiz alert service -- another $10/month -- that she had just signed up for in November.

Trying to figure out how much Annie was going to owe us to cover the cost of all this mess, I asked Tina if she could look up how many psychic consultations there were. Because each one was a separate charge, she said it would take a little while to do. So while her computer was churning that, Tina set up a purchase blocker on Annie's phone line which will not allow her to do anything that will incur a charge. Novel idea, huh? I wish the guy at Best Buy who set up the account for us would have clued me into that one.

In the meantime, I got a text from Annie that said, "I talked to Dad and gave him $200. I didn't know they were charging me and I canceled my psychic account."

Ninety minutes later (yep, 90), I was still on the phone with AT&T. Tina said that she was going to have to finish up the process the next day and would call me back to let me know the grand total. 

And that, my friends, is where I got the title of today's post. Three hundred twenty-four and half reasons to pay attention to what your kids are doing and to your phone bill -- that's one reason for every dollar in charges Annie racked up.

Now before you pass out from the shock, which is what I almost did, there is a happy ending to this story. That wonderful Tina from AT&T credited our account for all $324.50. I'm not sure why she did it. Maybe it's because Annie is a minor. Maybe it's because for every one customer like me who complains, there are 10 others who grumble about their bill, but pay it anyway without looking to see what is being added to their account. Whatever the reason, I am grateful...and wiser.


Beth Zimmerman said...

Sounds like you found the one good Customer Service agent at AT&T. :)

I've never been one to go through the bills with a fine tooth comb but it's definitely ONE good way to keep up with what your kids are up to!

Did Mike give Annie back her $200?

Merry Christmas!

Shelley said...


Kids just don't understand that there are charges for EVERYTHING. The advertisers make it all sound like a big freebie and gullible teenagers fall for it fairly frequently.

You're the second mom in two days who has related a story about internet charges that the teen was racking up that Mom didn't know about until she did some detective work. Good going, girl!

(I'd be the most upset about that psychic thing, though, and I'd have to have a talk with Annie about what God thinks of the whole psychic/medium/divination thing. Bible alert!)

Amy said...

@Beth -- Not yet. We want her to feel the sting a little bit. But she'll have an opportunity to earn it back.

@Shelley -- That's my next post. I did have that discussion. Just too much for one post.

kimybeee said...

i agree that all those charges are just crazy - they probably gave you the money back because they know that it is a big racket and they con you into paying and not realizing. that happened to my husband with information, he didn't know it charged him each time either.

we have three iphones with all the data bells and whistles. ours is about 200 a month. i tried to lower our minutes plan and they told me that we had the best plan ever and couldn't get anything that cost efficient. we have had our plan forever!

as for the three phones and home phone - why don't you drop the home phone. i am sure that you don't leave robbie and charlie alone without somebody there with a phone (annie). we haven't had a landline in almost ten years and don't miss it at all. all four of us have cells and that is all we need. our internet is part of our cable plan - so no phone line for that!

Anonymous said...

Yowzers! That's quite the bill. I'm always on top of all my charges and the minute I see something out of the ordinary, I call right away.

So lucky she reversed the charge for you.

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Eternal Lizdom said...

Wow wow wow!!! Thank goodness you printed out that bill and examined it!!