Consumer Watchdog: Company promising free phone leaves customer on hold


Consumer Watchdog - Joe Dolinsky



HERE FOR YOU

Have you been wronged by a business? Have you been the victim of a scam? Joe Dolinsky, our Consumer Watchdog, is here to help. To reach Joe, email ConsumerWatchdog@timesleader.com.

No one likes to wait.

At a blistering pace, information and data can now be had at the swipe of a finger. No single answer is left for debate and as a result, long gone are the days of just taking Grandpa’s word on whom he claimed invented the sandwich. (John Montagu, fourth Earl of Sandwich, in case you were wondering).

If there’s something we want to know, we expect to find out.

John Hayduk had been patient. In July, he saw an advertisement in the Times Leader for a free cellular phone. The ad boasted “free & unlimited” phone, voice, text and data rates. Sounds like a solid deal. A senior citizen on a fixed income, Hayduk, of Lehman Township, jumped on the chance to score the free phone.

After Hayduk filled out an application and put in numerous calls to the aptly-named Free Phone of America, he eventually was told he met the requirements and was eligible to receive the phone. Four months later and the fabled free phone had yet to turn up, leaving Hayduk hanging on hold.

He had made several calls, he told me. Sometimes it would ring and ring on end. Other times someone — Hayduk didn’t get a name — answered and told him the phones were just backlogged. Hayduk wondered if it might be something else.

“I’m wondering if it’s a fraud,” he told me this week.

A call to the 800-number listed on the ad leads to an automated response: “The offer for which you are calling is not yet available.” Click.

The website listed on the ad doesn’t seem to exist, either. Some digging turned up a local phone number, but no one answered and there was no voicemail message identifying who or what I was calling. I told Hayduk he might be best served to pursue another option.

Assurance Wireless, a Sprint/Nextell company, offers federally-funded cell phones in dozens of states, including Pennsylvania. If you qualify — and you most likely will if you participate in one of any number of federal or state assistance programs including Medicaid, food stamps or public housing assistance — you’re able to receive a free phone, 350 minutes of airtime and unlimited text messages at no cost.

Another program, SafeLink Wireless, offers a program with similar minutes and costs. Applicants aren’t required to pay application fees, activation fees, make payment for the phone or for the monthly phone service. There is no credit check and no annual contract, either.

Interestingly enough, these programs are funded largely by us.

Each month, a few cents is pillaged from our cell phone bills under the Universal Service Charge. Sure enough, I found the 98-cent charge on my latest cell phone bill. Those funds are funnelled into the LifeLine program, which has provided discount phone services for qualifying low-income customers since 1985, according to the program’s website.

Information on free government cell phones and how to get one can be found at www.freegovernmentcellphones.net.

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Consumer Watchdog

Joe Dolinsky

HERE FOR YOU

Have you been wronged by a business? Have you been the victim of a scam? Joe Dolinsky, our Consumer Watchdog, is here to help. To reach Joe, email ConsumerWatchdog@timesleader.com.

Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL

Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL

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