Although 95 percent of American adults own a cell phone, a 2017 Market Force survey found that consumers don’t believe mobile providers do enough to help them manage costs, and they question data speeds and the value received for the mobile price they’re charged.
Watch for these common cell phone provider ploys to avoid cell phone rip-offs.
1. Unlimited Plans That Aren’t Unlimited
“Unlimited” sounds tempting in a world where streaming rules, but many mobile providers add hidden limits to their terms. For example, AT&T’s Unlimited Plus and Choice plans give you 22GB of LTE data, then potentially reduce your speed if you exceed that number. T-Mobile throttles data for customers who reach a 50GB limit and use their service in congested network areas.
2. Hiding Discounts
If you’re a member of a group like AARP, some mobile providers offer discounts for you. For example, AT&T customers save 10 percent on qualifying plans. You might qualify for discounts in other ways as well, like being a veteran or an active-duty member of the military.
Some cell providers even give discounts to employees of select companies or affiliates of certain schools. Cell phone providers typically have web pages detailing these affinity discounts, so a little research might reduce your cell phone bill by a lot, but you have to do that research because the service provider likely won’t ask you if you qualify for every offer.
Popular apps like Netflix chew up data, leading many cell phone providers to charge overage fees or slow your data speed. Some mobile providers, however, offer plans that don’t count certain services toward your allotted data.
If you’re chewing through your limit before the end of your data cycle, search for a carrier that partners with your favorite app. For example, T-Mobile offers streaming from services like Netflix, Hulu and Sling that does not count against your data. The company also lets customers stream from music services like Spotify and Amazon Music under the same terms.
4. Too Much Insurance
Cell phone insurance purchased via mobile providers typically covers things like repairs and replacement for reasons such as damage or theft. Although this insurance can be valuable, your credit card might already extend the phone’s warranty for free, and renters’ insurance often covers mobile devices, depending on your policy.
T-Mobile does alert customers on its website that they might be covered by another plan, like renters’ insurance, and discloses that it makes money from services performed in connection with selling its insurance plan. Check your credit card terms and personal insurance policies to confirm coverage.
5. Not Enough Insurance
Cell phone insurance plans from mobile providers typically have limits that could leave you in the lurch for something you believe should be covered. For example, T-Mobile markets its insurance on its website by saying, “With Device Protection, you can live your life knowing you’re covered for hardware service (mechanical breakdown) issues, accidental damage, loss and theft. Device accidentally dropped in water? Covered! Keypad stopped working? Covered!”
But read the policy carefully: Although it offers unlimited coverage for mechanical breakdowns, accidental damage, loss and theft claims are limited to two per 12-month period.
6. Trade-In Bait
According to Brian Morris of Flipsy.com, cell phone providers have third-party companies manage their trade-in programs. “This adds middlemen to the process and reduces the payout for customers,” Morris said. “In fact, carriers tend to pay an average of 30 percent less for old phones than dedicated trade-in or buyback companies.”
To illustrate that average, Morris cited an iPhone 6s Plus (16GB): Verizon pays $215 for this unit, but Flipsy.com will pay $266 — in cash.
7. Not Giving You Cash
Mobile providers also pay in credit rather than cash for your old phone and take longer than private options, according to Morris. He said they often apply the money within two to three cycles on your cell phone bill as compared to dedicated buyback companies, which send cash your way within a few days.
Here’s How: Get the Most Money From Your iPhone Trade-In
8. Making You Purchase a New Cell Phone
A few years ago, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade group for cell phone providers and related companies, agreed to enable consumers to unlock their cell phones, permitting them to use the same phone when moving to a different carrier. Although not all mobile phones are compatible with all carriers, you can often use your old device without incurring the expense of a new one. The salesperson might not tell you about this capability, but your old cell phone providers should tell you how to disable the locking software or do it remotely for you when the phone is eligible.
9. Misrepresenting Cell Phone Coverage Areas
Over 300,000 cell phone sites were in operation at the end of 2016, providing coverage to more than 98 percent of Americans. Cell phone companies tout their coverage in commercials, but their claims are sometimes misleading. For example, a 4G LTE coverage claim by Verizon is true geographically, but not in terms of where people actually live. When you’re looking for a carrier, ask for a coverage map. The CTIA calls for these maps to be available online and at the point of sale.
10. Charging for Texts
Some plans allow unlimited texting, whereas others charge you for each text message sent or received. Some mobile providers give you a specific allowance and charge for any incoming or outgoing texts that exceed it. Choose a plan with unlimited texting or opt for a free alternative like Google Voice or Facebook Messenger. These services are free if you’re on a WiFi connection.
11. Hiding Terms in Your Contract
Cell phone companies list information about their plans, coverage and fees on their websites, which allows you to do a cell phone provider comparison before you sign a contract. Whether you’re looking for an average cell phone bill for yourself or a full family plan, these contract details can be crucial for cost-cutting. No matter what a salesperson tells you verbally, the terms and conditions of your plan are covered in the contract. Don’t rely on someone else to explain the terms to you.
Review the plan carefully for an upgrade fee, overage fees, international roaming fees and anything else that could raise your bill. With any cell phone, hidden fees can increase the cost if you don’t read before you sign.
12. Not Showing the Consumer Code for Wireless Service
CTIA has a consumer code for wireless service spelling out guidelines for mobile providers to make their service more consumer friendly. The association’s website has a full list of member companies. If your carrier is on the list, it has voluntarily agreed to abide by the code so you can feel more confident that you won’t face cell phone rip-offs. When you’re doing a cell phone provider comparison, ask the carrier you’re interested in if they abide by this code.