I spent some more time on the phone with T-Mobile this week, trying to collect the rebate promised on a cell phone upgrade. The last time I upgraded the cell phones for my family, I was given the new phone in the store. This time I was told I had to purchase the phones for $50 each and then file a claim for a $50 rebate on each one. My first reaction was to wonder why the company would go through all the expense of processing rebate claims and mailing checks when the phone could just be handed out in the store? Two months later, I know the answer. If the rules of the rebate process are made difficult, time consuming, and onerous, T-Mobile can get away with not issuing a check and simply pocketing the money.
My problems began because I needed four phones for my family plan and had to file four separate rebate claims. I needed to fill out four rebate forms, make four copies of the receipt, and cut out four barcodes from four separate boxes. The rebate forms asked for the “customer’s phone number” and because I paid for the phones and the account was in my name, I thought I was the “customer.” So I put my phone number on each of the rebate forms.
Big mistake. It turned out that the “customer” according to T-Mobile is not the person paying for the phones. The “customer” is the phone. T-Mobile wanted the number for the phone associated with the rebate claim. I received one $50 check and three rejection letters for the other claims. The reason given is that my phone number could only be used once.
I called to complain about the rejections. After navigating the voice menu I reached a real person who said she could straighten everything out by manually entering in all the correct information. I gave her the 9-digit tracking numbers for each letter I received, the 15-digit serial numbers for each phone, and each 10-digit phone number. She read back to me the new 9-digit tracking numbers for each of my three new claims. After reading off all 129 digits [3 times (9 + 15 + 10 + 9)] she seemed rather confused and put me on hold. A while later she returned to tell me she had entered some information incorrectly, but not to worry, her supervisor would fix everything and my checks would be sent.
Two weeks later I received three new rejections letters with the three new tracking numbers. So this week I repeated the same phone conversation and with a reading of all 129 digits to a different operator at the rebate center. She assured me that my checks would be sent. When I asked what was different this time, she told me that, unlike the previous operator, she had entered all the information correctly this time. I like her confidence, but, that’s a lot of digits to get correct.
I’m still waiting for the checks. When I upgraded the phones, T-Mobile insisted I sign a contract promising to pay $800 ($200 per line) if I discontinued the service within the next two years. The contract has no contingency and no penalty for T-Mobile failing to honor their rebate promise.
Joseph Ganem is a physicist and author of The Two Headed Quarter: How to See Through Deceptive Numbers and Save Money on Everything You Buy