Fuming after suspicious data charges from Sprint

Dollar signs are superimposed over my Sanyo/Kyocera featurephone.

Dollar signs are superimposed over my Sanyo/Kyocera featurephone.

I tilted at the windmill that is Sprint customer service two weeks ago, and came away a little poorer for it and without many answers.

When I was paying the January bill, I noticed a charge of about $5 for casual data usage. I don’t have a data plan, but I still go online with my featurephone about twice a year. January may have been one of the months I went online to check something. I wasn’t very happy at the amount, but I shrugged and paid it.

A few days later I went to the Sprint website and found another surcharge for February — about $30 for consuming 15 MBs of data. This was far too much and I had to dispute it.

I talked with four or five reps in two days. I wasn’t able to get them to drop the charge entirely or to fully explain what the possible usage may be. In speaking with them, it seemed like they didn’t care how the data was used, just that it was apparently used and someone (not them) needed to pay for it.

Every rep was more than happy to tell me that these were “valid charges.” I nearly always responded that I was disputing the validity of the charges regardless of how “valid” the charges were. That didn’t hold much water with them, nor did telling them that I’m the only person who had control of my phone at all times and no one else could’ve physically used it to access the Web.

After a few minutes, we began the art of the haggle. I said I didn’t use the data and wanted the fees removed outright — they offered to cut the surcharge 15 percent. Clearly we had some way to go.

Although I would’ve preferred the fee waived entirely for data I didn’t use, I was happy to split the difference and pay 50 percent (although I’m sure it cost Sprint very little to deliver the relatively small amount of data). Barring that, I kept asking for some information on how the data was used.

The second rep pushed the discount to 40 percent — an amount which they said was the absolute limit of what they could do. I kept pushing and found myself a mystery. Speaking with the rep, we were able to eliminate Picture Mail as the culprit — I pay a separate fee that covers that.

The rep offerred to tell when my phone supposedly accessed the Internet and provided this rundown:

Date Time Usage
Feb. 20 4:10 p.m. (PST)
Feb. 21 1:10 a.m.
2:10 a.m.
4:10 a.m.
6:10 a.m.
7:10 a.m.
9:59 a.m.  12,284Kb
11:10 a.m.
12:10 p.m.

Now, I was certain that I didn’t use the data — it’s extremely unlikely I logged on at precisely 10 minutes past the hour so often within a 24-hour period. The rep reasoned I may have had an app or service that checked in at those times (she also noted that the bulk of the data took place at 9:59 a.m., outside of that pattern).

I explained to her and the rep the following day that I have a featurephone — it’s not a smartphone where it’s easy and convenient to download apps. I wouldn’t use the browser for casual surfing, and I didn’t download ringtones or anything else.

I had to end the call on the first day … because my cellphone battery was dying.

I called back the following day and got the new rep up to speed. He offered 35 percent and was willing to honor the 40 percent from the day before (which wasn’t guaranteed). I decided to keep pushing to either get an answer about the random usage or the 50 percent discount. After a little bit of further haggling, the rep offered a $15 adjustment that basically amounted to 50 percent and I cut my losses (as I’m sure they did as well).

In the end, I’m still out $15 for data I didn’t use and no real explanation of what happened. I tried searching the Web for cases were phones were randomly checking data, but couldn’t easily find anything. I also searched my phone for any weird text message or anything other thing that could provide an answer.

This wasn’t a wonderful experience with Sprint customer service, but it’s something I won’t be suffering under much longer. My latest two-year contract with the company expires Sunday and I will be taking my services elsewhere. I had already decided to jump ship to a company that could offer a smartphone on a monthly basis without costing an arm and a leg, but this data surcharge and customer service experience sealed the deal.

About Ryan Olson

Ryan is living every week like it's Shark Week.
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