Seduced by AT&T like many others, I now see I never stood a chance. It all started innocently enough. It was 2006, my relationship with friendly and hip Cingular had reached its peak. Or so I thought.

Foggy Beginnings

It’s a bit foggy, but it’s almost as if I woke up one morning next to this big strong Goliath (aka AT&T) and instead of questioning where my sweet Cingular had gone, I just accepted this fate.

The early years were fine, nothing too memorable, just comfortable. I was familiar with AT&T years prior as my DSL provider, so I guess you could say he was always lingering around.

It wasn’t until 2009 and the now infamous “bundled bill” when things started to take a turn for the worst. Security seemed much tighter and I was never able to access my account online, repeated calls to his office only to be interrogated by strangers. “I need the last four digits of your social” and “what is your current street address” became common greetings.

Let the games begin

The first reported incident came in the summer of 2009 when my DSL wasn’t working. When I called them, they told me my account was still connected to a residence I had not lived in since 2004? After proving myself and sharing countless identity verification methods, he believed me. I was back in the fold, trusted once again. I thought it was my error, I didn’t see these for the mind games that they were. I was just happy to be part of the family once again.

Then in 2010, my DSL service was down and I had no online access. I called my dear AT&T to report the problem, only to be told all DSL line problem orders must be submitted online. I explained I had no online access, which is why I was calling. I was told to find a computer, perhaps at a local public library, to complete the online form.

I assured him I wasn’t trying to make trouble, but why couldn’t we discuss this over the phone? Silence. You may know how this story ends. I ultimately did what I was told, found a way to submit my order online and the trouble was fixed. I was back in the fold once again.

Later that same year, I had countless problems with my BlackBerry. It would freeze up, software updates wouldn’t help. I was sent a new one, the same issues were occurring. Each call resulted in an inquisition peppered with statements such as “are you sure you didn’t drop this device in the water, maybe the toilet?”

They would have me remove the battery and tell them the color of a sticker inside just to prove my innocence. Then it was back to a friendly tone and a new device was sent my way. I admit, new things made me forget all the mind games and betrayal for some time, keeping me blind to the truth.

My favorite mind game was with my international data plan. I did lots of research before traveling to Thailand, including making sure I changed my mobile voice and data plans to suit the trip. Of course I was shocked to receive a bill for over $600 dollars when I returned.

Open Lines of Communication

After hours of conversations explain my situation, I was told “yes, we see that you made this change on your bill but nobody here actually made the changes.” No apology, just very matter of fact. I had to ask them to remove the charges, which they did. I have a feeling they wanted me to say something like “oh, no big deal, these things happen…I’ll get a check out to you soon and next time I will be sure to follow-up to make sure the changes get made on your end – my bad!” That was what the old me would have said, but I was getting hip to this game.

Then, the unthinkable happened. My precious yet troublesome “bundled” bill was un-bundled! No warning, it all happened completely behind the scenes after I made a slight change to my DSL service. I was repeated told in a very shaming voice “when you change anything on your DSL, it will automatically unbundle your bill because it assigns a new account number to it.” Well duh, I guess everyone knows that, I must have been home from school sick that day.

Well, as you can imagine, this unbundling of my bill caused a wave of problems. The biggest problem was the fact that my mobile service thought I hadn’t paid my bill in almost two months because the DSL department was getting my “bundled” bill payments and just keeping it all.

They finally sent me a notice saying I had a HUGE credit with them. Well, the hoops I had to jump through to get the DSL department to transfer funds to the Mobile department were massive. I even called the police but was promptly told “we needed to work it out amongst ourselves – this wasn’t a police matter.” Shocking, but not surprising. As of June 22, 2011, AT&T assured me a transfer of funds would be made from DSL to Mobile within 72 hours.

Truth Seeks a Home

I need to admit something now, as I want to live an honest life. I had started to look, just look, secretly at other carriers. The appeal of a sleek and seemingly sophisticated yet practical Verizon and its sexy as hell iPhone was hard to resist. OK, maybe the data plans are similar and the reception is only slightly better, but you have to understand my situations. Years of living in a seemingly free world only to be constantly reminded of who my master truly was.

Now I can’t be sure of this, but at the end of several AT&T calls, I could have sworn they said “have a nice day, remember your place” and when I questioned what they just said, they would just repeat “have a nice day, sir” but I knew. Remember your place?

I’m not sure if I was spotted going into the Verizon store in Koreatown or just tracked visiting Verizon.com online (mostly likely both), but my phone service was promptly shut off on July 12, 2011 due to “non-payment”. No warning, no text saying to pay, just shut off. I didn’t even know until 4 hours later when I noticed no calls/emails came through on my inferior BlackBerry Torch device.

I came to learn that DSL had never transferred funds, the paperwork was “submitted” but no one knows how long that could take. I was told my phone would be turned back on for a two week grace period until I got this figured out. I was then told on three separate occasions that I must call AT&T back to make sure things were moving along. I obeyed, only to be resentful later.

The Unthinkable Becomes Thinkable

Nobody could have guessed what was next. I called AT&T to “follow-up” on this billing debacle and I was told that in order to make the transfer, I needed to provide the following vital information regarding the check I mailed to them for payment back in May:
– Check Number
– Exact amount of check
– Postmark date the check was mailed

As I felt smoke shooting out of my ears, I calmly explained I could get the check information from my bank, but I really didn’t remember the exact day I mailed in the payment. With that, a smug reply of “you don’t keep a record of when you mail your bills out each month?” was given. As my nose started to slightly bleed from pure anger, I said “no, but can you tell me how I can make a clean break and cancel all my services with AT&T…this relationship is toxic and it needs to end now!” Yes, I added some drama there in the end.

AT&T calmly explained I could cancel anytime but I do have about $200 left on my contract and I could get a $5 discount off my current data plan if I chose to stay. Equivalent to a slap in the face, I screamed “HOW DARE YOU, SIR!” Wow that felt good. I was then ushered to another lackey who sounded very nervous and soft spoken (yet another mind game to calm me down). He immediately began to tell me the wonders of AT&T U-verse cable and how I could get a discount for the next six months. I admit, this tactic confused me.

I collected myself mentally and said I just wanted out and I was willing to do anything it took. He then said, almost under his breath in a whisper, “well, the easiest way to cancel is just go into another carrier and tell them you want to sign up with them and they will “jump” your cell number from us, which automatically cancels it and we send you a final bill.”

Had I found another lost soul just like me? This poor human was worse off, he was trapped in the belly of the beast, sending small messages of hope out like Morse code. I changed my tone to let him know I felt his kinship. I said, “great, I’ll just do that” and I quickly hung up as I could hear him starting to talk about all the channels U-verse had to offer.

Seeking Answers

I don’t know what kind of childhood AT&T had and I want to stay out of judgment. I imagine the underlying tones of that household were “confuse and sell…if you make things very complicated but continue to mention small dollar amounts…they will stay with us and upgrade to more services. If all else fails, place them on hold and forward overseas.” We all have our own path.

After all this, am I still with AT&T? Ironically, yes. Am I living in fear of AT&T? No, I am not. Until I save up to get an iPhone with Verizon, I am being responsible and staying put. AT&T doesn’t own me. Although I feel trapped, I know my day will come. I’m not keeping this a secret anymore.

I know my story had to be told. Gone are the days of feeling like maybe, just maybe it’s my fault, if only I could only be a better customer, smarter, prettier, funnier. Then AT&T would love me more. If only I could see all the “dropped calls” and customer service mind games as attributes of my loving partner instead of weaknesses? No, that was the old weak me, I’m stronger now, I know better. There is hope out there, I have choices today.

Stay tuned as the saga continues and I save enough money to escape to a Verizon store in the dark of the night…

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