Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Citizens vs. the Cell Phone Companies

The question is not: CAN you fight the system? Rather: Do you HAVE to fight it? The answer: Absolutely NOT! Join them instead.

I know how difficult it is for an Israeli native to understand what these companies “really offer” and how impossible it is for an English speaking native (as a new immigrant) to do so. I know how hard it is to understand the contract with its dozens of complicated clauses. Let me clarify this point: I do not know a single lawyer who was not personally involved in writing these contracts and who can explain what is actually in them.

The only people who know the system, and therefore the contract, are those very few lawyers working with the company, assisted by the very best specialists from the cell phone companies. My very simple advice: Don’t even try to understand.

There is another way. The next time you decide to join a new cell phone company, follow these very simple guidelines:

1. Ask the representative to answer any questions you may have in his own handwriting. Yes, he will write down the price of the phone if you purchase one, and any other information you need or ask, therefore: Ask lots of questions.

2. Don’t ask him to sign – this will set off an alarm inside him. When you have finished, write his full name on the page he has written on as well as when and where you met him. Keep this document in a safe place - just in case.

3. Don’t be tempted! Never buy a phone from a cell phone company. You can buy them abroad and “open” them here for a very small fee. You can buy them here privately with no need for a “plan”. Use your own phone and resist the temptation to accept “a free phone”!

4. Remember: A plan is a long term commitment! Take your time, go home and think about it. That`s right: Go home - don’t make any decisions under pressure.

5. Check and double check the numbers they have given you. When the company offers something for free, beware!! Red lights should be flashing in your head. There are no “free meals”.

6. If you are told it is “not possible”, this should also place you on alert. Everything is possible. Ask the representative to check with his superior. Tell him what you have asked is a critically important issue to you, and that they will need to reconsider their response if they want your business. Please don’t get me wrong here: Everything is possible when it makes “good business sense for both parties”.

7. Never take seriously any promises of “future reimbursement”. These are very “tricky”. Watch out! Whatever they give you is for now only. If you get promised anything in the future, make sure they give you the promise on the spot and in writing!

8. When a technical representative tells you that the hands free telephone installed in your car by the old company will work with the new one, make sure you check that it really does. Frequently there are compatibility issues and they do not automatically work. Make sure you negotiate that any changes required to your existing car installation are handled free of charge by your new supplier and get them to confirm this in writing.

9. If offered an extra “SIM card” you don’t need it. Never – that`s right, never take one. If it gets lost at any time in the future you will be held responsible for the bills. These bills are generally for thousands of dollars. If the card is stolen or lost it will find its way very fast to the territories and they will use it and abuse it – and you will end up having to pay the bill.

10. Try not to “join any kind of group” even if it’s tempting to do so because the rates are cheaper.

11. If you are self employed ask to be a “lakuach iski” – a “business client”. These types of clients have a few more advantages, such as faster service, etc.

12. The so called “no plan” cards: big talk or “talkman” are very inexpensive and there is no need to buy a phone or a plan. Although the phone calls are outrageously expensive, they still may be the best for you. If you don’t make many phone calls and you mainly receive phone calls, it may be better to consider this kind of “no plan” card.

13. If you have any doubt about the quality of signal you may have where you live, ask about the specific area. If the answer is not perfectly clear, please reconsider buying from this company. There are areas in which this or that company may have a very weak signal. Don’t buy from them because it doesn’t matter what they offer; after you start having problems, it will be difficult to resolve the issue.

Should you find yourself in a situation in which you feel you were misguided, wrongly informed and the price you are paying is not even near what they told you: Fight them with the document (bearing the sales representative`s name) you have.

Go to the small claims court. The judge will be very sympathetic to your cause based on the guidelines I`ve provided on this site on how to write a simple claim. Don’t try to explain the contract and the contradictions in it. Remember that the honorable judge is very probably another frustrated client of one of these companies.

Tzvi Szajnbrum, Attorney at Law
Tzvi Szajnbrum can be reached via his website

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