I Suspended My AT&T Account, But They Charged Me Anyway

When Peter Erdos suspends his AT&T account, it keeps charging him anyway. Why won't it fix the billing error?

Question: I have a cell phone with AT&T. My wife uses it, but it's in my name, and I pay for it. She is in Asia for a couple of months. I paid off the phone and had it unlocked, and she is using it there with a local SIM card.

Before she left the country, I called AT&T and had them suspend the account, so she keeps the number but doesn't incur ongoing usage and data fees. The fee for this is $10 per month, and over the years, I have done this several times before with AT&T, with no problem.

Yesterday, I received my phone bill for $78, which covers a month's usage and data charges -- exactly what I didn't want to have happen. I called AT&T, and after a very long conversation, a customer service rep confirmed my January call, and also confirmed that the account is "suspended.”

Here is where it gets bizarre. Apparently AT&T has two different forms of suspension. The first is, as I described, for a $10 monthly fee, they suspend service; you keep your number, and then when you return, they reinstate the account with full service.

But, they told me, there is a second form of "suspension,” where you turn off all service, but continue to pay all account charges in full. Yes, that's right, you can't use your phone but pay all your regular charges in full. For the life of me, I can't understand why anyone would want that.

So after going round and round, the rep told me that I will need to pay the bill because the previous rep didn't make any notes about my call -- that I wanted the sane version of the suspension -- in their system. And they won't remove the charge from my bill. I asked to speak to a supervisor, and she told me I would get the same answer.

This is completely nuts. They have a record of my call. They see the account was put in suspension, and that no services were used at all. But because of the error by the original rep, I am supposed to pay an extra $68?

Does this seem like a reasonable way to be treated? Should I really be forced to pay for no services received or wanted because someone made a mistake on their end? -- Peter Erdos, San Rafael, Calif.

Answer: You're right; this is a strange case. According to AT&T, suspending a line of wireless service renders the phone inoperable for placing or receiving calls. Although it's inoperable, the wireless number is still kept in a state where you can restore service to it, but only for a limited time.
The actual terms of suspension are not widely publicized, but when you asked AT&T for it, the representative gave it to you. There are rules for various situations, such as as a lost phone, stolen phone and military leave, according to AT&T.

I think the fact that the rules aren't well known, perhaps even within the company, made the actual terms of your suspension easy to misunderstand. You asked for one type of suspension but received another.

I asked AT&T about your case and its records suggest you did not call the company, but used its automated system to suspend your account. You chose the "lost or stolen" option, which still requires you to pay for your monthly service.

AT&T should have helped you when you phoned to fix the problem. The next time you run into trouble, stay off the line. Instead, reach out and touch one of these AT&T executive contacts by email.

I contacted AT&T on your behalf, and you reached out to the company again. The company credited you the $68 for phone usage and data charges.

Christopher Elliott specializes in solving intractable consumer problems. Contact him with your questions on his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google or sign up for his newsletter.