Another good article in today’s Washington Post talks about the profileration of fees in every segment of the consumer’s life, from banks and airlines to hotels and phone companies.
It’s phone companies that really get me. I once got a telephone bill that showed a one-minute long distance call, which cost 12¢. But the taxes and surcharges on that 12¢ call amounted to $1.00! Only in this odd world can the fees on a transaction add up to more than the transaction itself! This is an example of the telephone companies directly charging the customer for items which should, in fact, be a cost of doing business – the costs of right-of-ways, wiring schools, etc., are the responsibility of the company, not me. If that means they raise rates to keep their billions in profits going, so be it – but at least then I will only pay for what I use.
Read on for an amusing story of how I screwed with AT&T in a small but fun way.
I had been using AT&T for, oh, 10 years or so because I was too lazy to switch and they kept sending me these lovely $50 checks to entice me. But a couple of years ago, they kept calling me daily asking me to switch to their service. “I’m already using AT&T,” I protested, “And have been for years. Doesn’t your computer system show you that?” I asked them over and over to stop calling. They didn’t stop, and instead redoubled their effort by sending me letter after letter – notably, without those checks to push me over the edge.
Then I got a notice in the mail: if I didn’t use at least a minimum amount of long distance per month, AT&T would begin charging me a fee for NOT using the service. How is this possible? A company can now charge you for NOT using them?! Is this in any way legal? Will I be receiving a bill from Nebraska Power for not using their electricity? This could be a breakthrough – I’m going to start sending out invoices across the country to those people who are not utilizing my freelance creative services business.
One day, I had had enough. When they called for their daily marketing push, I asked to speak to the supervisor. I told him in no uncertain terms that AT&T had been harassing me – a relatively long-time customer – and that not only was I not about to switch to AT&T, I wanted him to cancel my service right then and there. He was flustered. He was shocked. He reallllly wanted to give me all sorts of incentives to stay. I would hear none of it.
So, that was the end of that. Or so I thought.
A month later, I received a final bill. For 40¢. I sat there and looked at this bill, which cost 34¢ to mail, and wondered how much of a loss they took in sending out this thing. I called AT&T and told them I would like them to just wipe the 40¢ off the books, and I was not going to spend 34¢ to send them a check for 40¢. Their response? They’ve gone to court for amounts less than that. I stared blankly into space for a little while trying to fathom that. Then, I wrote a check for $1.00 and mailed it to them. Two weeks later, I started calling them incessantly demanding a check from them for the balance of my account.
To this day, I have in my possession a check for 60¢ from AT&T which I prize. It represents the folly of this company – and it probably cost them $50 or so to deal with cutting the check and mailing it. Don’t f*** with me, fellas.