Cells attach strings to student wallets
November 22, 2002
Luis Chavez, a sophomore at ULV, has only had his cell phone for one
year, but he is already finding the pocket-sized phone useful in case of
emergency and to keep track of friends. Cell phones have become an essential
tool for many students.
Like hawks poised to kill, the vendors swoop toward an unsuspecting
victim with the question, "How are you doing, miss? Would you mind
staying to answer a few questions regarding your present cell phone service?"
While prattling about their "new" service deals, the vendors
will entice the possible customer with the words "free" and "unlimited."
If they are lucky, the magnetized victim, will stay - and get hooked.
And voila, the attack is over. Averaging around 15 minutes, the usual
transaction takes five minutes more than the average caller uses on what
has become a college student's best friend - the cell phone.
While the vendors leave with sweet victory, the victim receives a lousy
free T-shirt and a rigid contract.
And that is how a victim is duped into paying for things that she is
not aware of. Besides paying for a contract, the buyer is not informed of
the monthly billing cycle, added expenses and features of the phone among
This scenario is what University of La Verne senior Ayana Moultrie described
as her first introduction into the cell phone world.
"It's ridiculous," Moultrie said. "They get high school
and college students really good. (We) just don't know anything."
Moultrie said she was sucked into the cell phone nightmare after a vendor
working for Sprint on campus made her a good offer.
"It's the same with credit cards," she said. "They say
they got this really good deal on free service or free cell phones, and
you fill out this application, and then you get this free T-shirt."
After filling out the application, Moultrie received her first glimpse
into a vendor's cleverness. "Now we need to check your credit,"
the vendor informed her.
"They don't mention that first off," Moultrie said. "But
they check the credit, and still make it seem that it's okay. Then they
say that the cell phone is only free if you only get this particular package
"If you want to get the phone for a one year contract, it's going
to be extra," the vendor says. "Sign up for a two year contract,
and the phone is free."
But what college students do not realize is that signing a contract
attaches strings to your purse or your wallet.
Moultrie said she made the mistake of signing a contract that was not
clear to begin with, and now she is stuck.
College students like Moultrie find it especially hard to meet the demands
of monthly bills. Most college students live off their paychecks and can
only pay off bills when the check arrives.
"It got to the point where I couldn't pay because I got a new job,
and I had to wait to be paid," Moultrie said. "They turned the
phone off, and wouldn't turn it on."
Finally after months of frustration, Moultrie switched services from
Sprint to Verizon.
For Moultrie, who said she can now afford her bills, the service still
becomes questionable. On recent bills, extra charges would appear out of
nowhere, and balances that were paid for would be transferred to another
month, she said.
Sophomore Alexis Carrillo had another learning experience with Verizon.
Staying within the limits of the free minutes provided by a service is hard,
Carrillo admitted that her cell phone was a necessity because it is
her only means of calling outside of the local lines provided in Stu-Han.
As a result, Carrillo said it was not hard for her to go over her given
"I think I went over 50 minutes out of like 200 minutes (Verizon)
gave me," she said. "They charged $35, and my bill went up to
$120, when it should be under $100."
The high bill became a problem for her mother, who also shared the same
plan with her.
"I'm the one who predominantly uses all the minutes," Carrillo
Diana, who withheld her last name, a receptionist for Sunset Cellular
in Los Angeles, said it is not surprising that cell phone users are being
charged for extra things. In fact, her branch out of the 16 her company
is comprised of, is known for playing with new customers interested in joining
Cingular, she said.
And this manipulative practice is not uncommon for other vendors who
sell products for other big cellular names like Sprint, Verizon, Nextel
and AT&T either.
Diana said that new customers should be wary when they are asked to
pay a higher tax than California's 8.25 percent sales tax.
Vendors rip off customers, she said, by charging $30 or more for tax
alone on a phone that was supposed to be free.
To hide this practice, Diana admitted that some in her branch would
fill out fake invoices indicating that the buyer only paid a regular tax
fee on a phone that was bought for the actual price. By doing this, the
seller is given a commission fee from Cingular for supposedly selling the
phone, plus the added bonus of your "tax" money.
"We buy the phones for however much it costs from the manufacturers,
and then we sell the phones for a cheap price or for free," Diana said.
"But then we charge tax, and we get to pocket the rest of the money.
They don't actually have to charge you that tax," Diana continued.
"Our company gets around $100 per contract for whatever phone we supposedly
sell. We get that $100 no matter what."
To make up the difference of buying phones ranging from $400 and more
from the manufacturer, Diana said her company tries to make as much commission
as possible, mostly out of a customer's expense.
When it comes to one to two year contracts, a vendor can make up to
$130 to $170, Diana said.
"A lot of people in sales make a lot of money that you'll never
find out about," Diana said.
Paul White, a sales representative for World Wide Com, warns customers
to beware of vendors who check your credit.
"If you have bad credit, but it shows that you make good income,
a company can do anything to get that from you and say that the money went
toward taxes," White said.
White said that he tries to give plans to customers according to their
credit rating, but that other companies may charge customers extra money.
A poor credit rating will result in a deposit transaction that the customer
must pay to qualify for a specific plan, he said.
"Charging customers a deposit for bad credit is like charging interest
for the company," White said. "Each company can get $100 for the
deposit you have to give. It's like insurance."
Besides watching out for your credit, White also said to beware of false
The price of a phone bought without a plan may be hiked up, even if
the phone was advertised at a certain price, he said.
With all these things to look out for, it is a wonder why cell phones
today have become an essential tool for many.
By looking out for any of the warning signals above, however, a safer
understanding of how vendors work may be ensured.