Sprint Forcing Customers to Use Automatic Bill Payment – Or Else…

Today I received a letter in the mail stating that I could either sign up for Automatic Payments, or Sprint would charge me $4.99 per month extra.

Now under many circumstances, Sprint imposes the Automatic Spending Limits when someone with less than good credit applies for an account. On the other hand, like in my case, I gave a 12 year old a phone with a data plan and text messaging for Christmas. I imposed the spending limit for my own fiscal safety.

I don’t so much mind putting his phone and my cellular modem, which are the only Sprint devices we have as my wife and I both use iPhones, on automatic payment. It’s the manner in which I feel I am being blackmailed to do so. How is “Give me access to take money out of your bank account or I’ll charge you another $5 per month” not blackmail? Do what they want, which I never agreed to, or they will raise my bill.

I wanted to see what the real deal was, so holding the letter in my hand, I signed on to Sprint Chat, and the conversation was so silly, I felt it was worth posting:

Your session ID is 8439091.
Time (Eastern) Details

01/12/2010 06:32:50PMSystem: “Please wait and the next available account specialist will be with you shortly.”

01/12/2010 06:32:56PMSession Started with Agent (Tiffany B)

01/12/2010 06:32:56PMSystem: “If you are chatting today for Technical Support, please call (888) 211-4727.”

01/12/2010 06:32:56PMJason Burns: “Letter about automatic payment fee.”

01/12/2010 06:32:57PMSystem: “Thank you for contacting Sprint. My name is Tiffany B. In order to better assist you; may I please have your first and last name?”

01/12/2010 06:33:04PMJason Burns: “Jason Burns”

01/12/2010 06:33:19PMAgent (Tiffany B): “Hello, Jason! I’ll be more than happy to assist you today. For account security and verification, may I please have the **********-********** digit PIN number on your account?”

01/12/2010 06:33:34PMJason Burns: “um, ****** I think”

01/12/2010 06:33:52PMAgent (Tiffany B): “Thank you for that information and how may I assist you today?”

1/12/2010 06:34:21PMJason Burns: “I received an disturbing letter in the mail today saying that Sprint is basically going to force me to use automatic payments or charge me not to.”

01/12/2010 06:34:36PMJason Burns: “I did not agree to that when I signed terms and conditions and I do not want to sign up for automatic payments.”

01/12/2010 06:35:00PMAgent (Tiffany B): “I will be happy to assist you with the ASL charge today. As of **********/**********/**********, each Sprint account with a spending limit will be charged a monthly Spending Limit program charge of $**********.**********. The fee is per account, not per line and applied automatically each month. This charge is to provide ASL customers with additional benefits and support to help monitor accounts and bills. This change will impact both new and existing Sprint accounts. The $**********.********** fee can be waived with enrollment in our Automatic Bill Pay system in your Sprint.com account. If the recurring automatic payments are removed from the account, the charge will be re-applied. Existing customers have a bill message in December ********** invoices, January ********** invoices and February ********** invoices. Additionally, our customers received a direct mail letter from Customer Finance Services in late December ********** explaining the new charge associated with the Spending Limit Program.

01/12/2010 06:35:23PMJason Burns: “thanks for pasting me the contents of the letter I have in my hand, that was really helpful.”

01/12/2010 06:35:30PMAgent (Tiffany B): “You are very welcome.”

01/12/2010 06:35:35PMJason Burns: “that was sarcastic.”

01/12/2010 06:36:02PMJason Burns: “perhaps I should have mentioned that in my witty retort.”

01/12/2010 06:36:17PMJason Burns: “The point is, don’t I have to agree to that up front? You can’t change the contract after I signed it.”

01/12/2010 06:36:22PMAgent (Tiffany B): “You are able to sign up for automatic payments to waive this fee, or you may choose not to sign up for automatic payments which would cause the $**********.**********/month fee.”

01/12/2010 06:36:25PMJason Burns: “I didn’t agree to a $********** fee if I don’t use automatic payments”

01/12/2010 06:36:32PMJason Burns: “that’s not how that works, that’s blackmail.”

01/12/2010 06:36:42PMAgent (Tiffany B): “This is not blackmail, sir.”

01/12/2010 06:36:53PMJason Burns: “I agreed to all the fees in the contract when I signed it”

01/12/2010 06:37:03PMJason Burns: “that fee was not in the contract, neither was requirement of automatic payments”

01/12/2010 06:37:12PMJason Burns: “I signed no contract agreeing to either.”

01/12/2010 06:37:22PMAgent (Tiffany B): “I do apologize, however there is not a way to waive the fee for ASL customers unless automatic payments are signed up for.”

01/12/2010 06:37:40PMJason Burns: “that’s fine. I’ll just cancel service”

01/12/2010 06:37:43PMJason Burns: “good call on your part.”

01/12/2010 06:37:58PMJason Burns: “You can’t add fees I did not agree to to my bill and force me to accept them”

01/12/2010 06:38:10PMAgent (Tiffany B): “I do apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. At this time, we would be unable to set up cancellation of services by chat. To set up a cancellation in the account, you would need to contact our Account Services department at **********-**********-**********-**********, Monday- Friday: **********:********** AM – **********:********** AM Saturday: **********:********** AM – **********:********** PM Sunday: **********:********** AM – **********:********** PM CST.

01/12/2010 06:38:15PMAgent (Tiffany B): “May I assist you with any other questions today, Jason?”

01/12/2010 06:38:23PMJason Burns: “you didn’t assist me with this one”

01/12/2010 06:38:27PMJason Burns: “thank you (sarcasm)”

01/12/2010 06:38:30PMSession Ended

She was obviously very helpful. My friend told me earlier that Nationwide Insurance is taking the same approach. How is it possibly legal to force a customer in a contract, to pay an additional fee they just made up if they don’t use a service they weren’t required to use yesterday?

The part that kills me is the part of her response that says:

This charge is to provide ASL customers with additional benefits and support to help monitor accounts and bills.

What additional support? I don’t need help, I just don’t want them drafting my bank account. Thoughts?

14 Comments

  1. Way to stick it to the (wo)man. Pretty ridiculous to force a customer into an automatic payment method.

    I’m in the opposite situation as you – water and gas charges me a fee ($4 a month!!) to use online bill pay. Start wondering if companies want you to pay your bills or not…..

  2. the sad fact is that now, in this here U.S. of A. corporations have the legal right to do any thing they wish to their customers, knowing full well that there will likely be no legal consequence for them, the corporation. This sad state of affairs is a result of the very silly legal, and false, assumption on the part of the law that a corporation is a legal person and there for can sway the course of politics through bribes, known colloquially as “campaign contributions” and the like. As a single voter, you don’t have the resources to overcome this, and as a result you are no longer required to agree to the terms of a contract. Now, a contract is what ever the corporations say it is, and most even stipulate that they have the right to change any part of it at will and you have no say in the matter. Welcome to the corporatacracy.

  3. Thats a bit crazy. In the UK, the majority of people pay gas, electric, TV license, insurance, phone bills (landline and mobiles) via Direct Debit, which is basically automated payments. In some cases, the company charge you a small fee (£1.50 usually) for not paying this way, but since most companies have done Direct Debit for 10+ years, this sort of thing doesn’t happen much.

    In a similar way, the phone companies often charge a small fee (again abotu £1.50) for itemised billing on call charges if you get a paper bill, although most are pushing online billing where possible.

  4. I’m going through the same chat system right now. You should encourage everyone to harass sprint as much as possible about this. This can’t be legal! I mean, Scott S. is right, corporations here can do whatever they want. But it is only because they can afford to break the law and are legally obligated to make decisions based on increasing income over benefiting peoples.

  5. I went through the same. I was so pissed. The representative told me that there were notifications in my bill regarding this. I was like I’m enrolled in e-bill, I don’t read my bills, I just pay them to avoid the unnecessary paper crap. This is definitely blackmail and to add insult to injury, to set automatic payment takes at least a bill with the $4.99 charge.

  6. In the same boat. There is no way this can be legal. I figured the reason they were doing this to me is because I have a continued unlimited air card account with them.

    Makes you feel good as tax payers, Bailing out big business only to turn around and have them extort more out of you.

  7. I am also being ripped off $5 at a time because I choose to protect my personal information. This is just plain wrong. Blackmail is exactly the right way to describe this practice.

  8. i complained to sprint A LOT about this and i got a letter saying because i was such a long-time valued customer they were waiving this fee. build up a trail of account notes regarding this and you might be able to get it waived as well.

  9. I went throught the same exact thing today! I was/am so upset! I asked “so will I get this money back?” if it is so I do not over spend, the supervisor said no ma’am. Sprint is a rip off! The customer service was so rude and unprofessional. I do not want to do automatic bill pay, my husband works for the post office and we believe in supporting the post office by mailing in our pymts but if I do not I am being charges a $4.99 fee on each line!
    STAY AWAY FROM SPRINT, there are other hidden fees in my bill as well.

  10. My conversation was equally useless:

    Chelsea : “also can you tell me what the spending limit program is?”
    Agent (Victor V): “Effective 1/10/2010, Sprint charges a $4.99 monthly fee for new and existing Spending Limit Program accounts. The charge is per account, not per line and applies automatically each month.”
    Chelsea : “i thought my credit was fine, so i don’t know why i’m on this program”
    Agent (Victor V): “The Spending Limit Program provides you with additional benefits and support to help you monitor your account and your bill.”
    Chelsea : “i had no restrictions with my at&t account”
    Agent (Victor V): “To avoid this charge, you can sign up your account for recurring automatic payments.”
    Chelsea : “oh i see”
    Chelsea : “so this is the penalty for for not having automatic payments?”
    Chelsea : “i would think you’d penalize people who pay late instead…”
    Agent (Victor V): “No, this is not the penalty.”
    Agent (Victor V): “The spending limit looks at your total account balance including:
    * Charges incurred on your most recent calls.
    * Monthly and prorated charges.
    * Roaming charges which may be billed up to 30 days after the call date.
    * Outstanding payments that have not posted to your account.

    As you approach your spending limit, you will receive a text message informing you to make a payment to Sprint to avoid a service interruption.
    Chelsea : “i don’t understand what the program is at all”
    Chelsea : “i can’t find a comprehensive “what is a spending limit program””
    Chelsea : “what does it do?”
    Chelsea : “i’m being charged to have a cap on how much i can spend? this doesn’t make sense to me”
    Chelsea : “it looks like the other benefits are being able to manage your account online (which other providers give you for free)”
    Chelsea : “and downloading a phone app?”
    Chelsea : “i realize it’s only $4.99/mo but i don’t understand what it *is*”
    Agent (Victor V): “This charge is applied to all the Spending limit accounts.”
    Chelsea : “what is a spending limit account?”
    Chelsea : “and why do i have one?”
    Agent (Victor V): “This charge can also be removed if your payment history is good for the few months.”
    Chelsea : “does this happen to everyone?”
    Chelsea : “as i said, my credit was fine”
    Chelsea : “so why do i have a limited account?”
    Agent (Victor V): “Just a minute please.”
    Chelsea : “you’re only telling me ways to waive the fee, but not what it is or why i have it”
    Agent (Victor V): “Ok.”
    Agent (Victor V): “Please give me a minute.”
    Agent (Victor V): “Chelsea, I have checked the details for you and I found that your account was open on June 28,2010. I would like to share that every new account is open under this Account spending limit programme.”
    Chelsea : “why exactly?”
    Chelsea : “it sounds to me like you’re penalizing people for no reason. why not just tack on $4.99 to the price of service?”
    Agent (Victor V): “I understand your all points.”
    Agent (Victor V): “Let me explain you the details one by one.”
    Agent (Victor V): “I would also like to share that , every 13 months there is a account review done on the account. therefore according to this your account review will be done on July 28,2010. Once the account review is done your account will be removed from this programme”
    . This is the Spending limit programme and it is with every new account.
    Chelsea : “so do i get a credit for the 13 months of paying $4.99?”
    Chelsea : “this seems pointless to me”
    Agent (Victor V): “Account spending limit is partially or wholly depends upon the credit evaluation done before you open the account with sprint.”
    Chelsea : “you just told me that every account is a spending limit account, so it doesn’t seem to me that it matters what your credit is”
    Chelsea : “and as i stated, my credit is fine”
    Agent (Victor V): “I am sorry,this is not possible to credit the amount for 13 months. However I can apply credit for last two bills.”
    Chelsea : “that isn’t the point”
    Chelsea : “i appreciate that, but what i want is information”
    Agent (Victor V): “Please understand Chelsea, Account spending limit is associated with every new account and it depends upon the credit evaluation done before signing up for new account.”
    Chelsea : “okay explain to me how it depends on upon credit”
    Chelsea : “if i have good credit what happens. if i have bad credit what happens?”
    Chelsea : “am i charged more or less? because it sounded to me like you said you get charged no matter what”
    Agent (Victor V): “I understand your all points. I think to resolve this issue according to your satisfaction voice interaction is necessary. Therefore I am arranging a callback for you.”
    Chelsea : “okay”

    The callback was just as useless.

  11. I’m would think their legal out is that somewhere in the verbiage of the contract you signed it says something to the effect of “these terms and conditions are subject to change” with additional verbiage Bout wither or not you’ll get a notice and that by signing the contract you agree to said changes in advance. I only say this because once upon a time I worked for a cell phone company. Boo Sprint.

  12. omg just got my second sprint bill they told me the same thing i think that so wrong i should of never change phone company sprint like to rob there customers blind..uhh i cant stand sprint

  13. This sucks!! Blackmail at its best!!!!!
    I dont wanna pay this 4.99 but it seems like there is no way out…
    I know its only $5 but it adds up over time to money I could treat myself to dinner with.
    Not sure why I am being penalized for not wanting to give Sprint my personal information. This is the definition of blackmail to me. My credit is excellent, so I cant understand why Sprint has a right to charge me $5 for this stupid program that makes no sense to a sensible person!!!!
    I feel so violated on every level and refuse to give them my banking details…
    For what??? KMFT!!!!!!!

  14. Jason,
    I recently joined sprint after being dropped by US CELLULAR (Bad experience) and I was told that the $4.99 was an overage protection for individual who had less than perfect credit. I equated it to Sprint having the automatic bill pay as a type of insurance to charge your credit card or bank account in order to get their bill paid. They told me that is you sign up for automatic bill pay that you get a $4.99 discount. (He said per line but I think the guy was blowing smoke). Just like a bank makes homeowners take out PMI insurance (to protect the bank) Sprint. If you have good credit they they should be waiving the fee. Ask them what is the threshold of discriminating/profiling certain customers based on their credit rating. I would think sprint will not provide that policy in writing. I am sure State Attorney General’s love this kind of stuff.

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