Cell phone customers complain of unauthorized 'switching'

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(Source: The Associated Press) (Source: The Associated Press)
(CBS 5 ADVOCATE) -

A growing number of cell phone customers are complaining they're being moved to new, more expensive plans without their permission. It's why consumers should always get a confirmation email after every discussion with a phone representative.

"In January, I started getting text messages," Al Stilo said.

And Stilo quickly realized his granddaughter's phone was to blame. But just as he was about to double his family plan's data limit, for an extra $10 a month, he says the representative offered a better solution.

"She said I can do something to slow down her data usage and it won't cost you anything," Stilo said.

Stilo agreed to give it a try. But when he opened his next bill, he got a surprise.

"The plan had been changed," Stilo said.

AT&T had "switched" Stilo to a new "mobile share advantage" plan which doubled the base price of each line and added fees. When he called to complain, he says AT&T explained, once you switch, you can't go back. 

"I didn't authorize any change," Stilo said.

And he's not alone. CBS News requested wireless complaint data from the Federal Communications Commission regarding switching phone plans without permission. AT&T accounts for more than 37 percent of all complaints; Verizon a close second at 25 percent; Sprint accounts for 22 percent, and T-mobile 15 percent.

"Less than 10 percent of people actually file complaints," Ana Montes said.

Montes, of the utility watchdog group The Utility Room Network (TURN), says this type of thing happens more than most realize.

"Part of the reason for wanting to switch people to new plans is because the phone company does make more money off a customer," Montes said.

In a statement, AT&T said: "We want every customer interaction to be perfect and will never stop working to get better." As for Stilo?

"I just felt that I was being handled very poorly," Stilo said.

After CBS News got involved, AT&T did credit Stilo's account and switched him back to his previous plan.

If you get switched without your permission, call your carrier and fight to switch it back. They record all calls so ask them to review it and point out where you authorized switching plans.

You can try to avoid the problem in the first place by asking any phone rep to send you an email, during the call, to recap any actions taken on your account.

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