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< Burning bridges by paying for bridges | Main | Another interesting bill >

Don't lose that number (or phone)

Posted at 4:01 PM on February 26, 2008 by Michael Marchio

When you think about things that could end up costing you a small forture, cell phone bills probably don't spring to mind. But consider this story from CBS News:

While Wendy Nguyen was away on vacation, she didn't realize back home in San Francisco her cell phone had been stolen and someone was running up a huge bill.

"It was to places like Guatemala, El Salvador, places that I obviously had never called before," says Nguyen.

Her usual bill is under $50. This one was over $26,000 and her carrier, Cingular Wireless, demanded payment.

"Our customers are responsible for unauthorized charges before they contact Cingular," says Lauren Garner of Cingular.

When you lose a credit card, federal law mandates that you can only be held liable for $50 per card in order to protect consumers from fraud. But no such law exists for lost or stolen cell phones, and most wireless companies, including Sprint Nextel Corp., AT&T Corp, T-Mobile and the aforementioned Cingular, all require people to pay whatever is charged to their phone's account up until they report the phone's status to the company. Verizon Wireless has a 48-hour window where people are able to have fradulent charges credited. Check out a good story on this issue here at the Columbia Tribune.

Enter SF2953. Sen. Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul) is sponsoring legislation that would put a $50 cap, similar to the federal policy on credit cards, on what a customer must pay for unauthorized charges using their phone. It would give customers 60 days from the time they receive their bill to bring it to their wireless company to resolve it. No committee hearings have been scheduled for the proposal yet.

The commissioner can personally vouch for this happening in Minnesota. A few years ago, I dropped my cell phone in a lake and had to go to a Sprint store to get a new one. The customer right before me in line had had his phone stolen, and someone was using it to download music and send text messages. He was told by the store that he had to pay what had already been charged to his account. He was none too pleased. I don't know how it was resolved, but I bet that guy wishes this law had been passed before his phone was stolen.

Another cell phone-related bill is being sponsored by Rep. Brita Sailer (DFL-Park Rapids). HF3447 would terminate cell phone contracts upon the death of a customer. That one was just introduced yesterday, and it hasn't moved yet either. We'll just have to wait and see where they end up.