Monday, March 24, 2008

Head still exploding: The AT&T mobile phone rebate card scam

After I wrote this post I wondered if I was over-reacting:

Gordon's Notes: John's head explodes: AT&T rebate paid with an AT&T debit card

Ok, so I knew when I did the deal with Satan's pond-sucking scum that I should expect a shaft or two, but this one is so audacious.

I just noticed, in a very fine print amongst all the paper work of a new cell phone contract, that AT&T pays its rebates with an AT&T debit card.

AT&T has been sued over this practice...

I received my two cards ($50 each, one for each line of the family account), which are accepted "anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted", except you have to "tell the cashier" to "process the card as a credit transaction, not a debit transaction".

You need to activate the cards before use, by entering the number they're assigned to. AT&T tells me the number ends in 8. For both cards. Because both our phone numbers end in 8.

The cards expire in July of 2008, about three to four months after they came to us.

There are lots of complex rules about how to spend them. The only reasonable way to use them is to spend MORE than the card amount, then arrange with a flustered and irritated cashier (and their manager too?) to pay the residual through some other means.

Ok, so now I go to www.att.com/wirelessrebatecard to try to activate the cards. I'm redirected to https://www.888extramoney.net -- they're probably outsourced the scam. I'm asked to enter the "first 10 digits of your account number from your AT&T card". Well, I don't have an AT&T card, but I'll try the first 10 digits of the first VISA rebate card number -- since that might be tied to my phone number.

It turns out my theory is correct, from there I get a login screen that requests the entire card number and the last four digits of each cell number. I guess right on those and my cards are "activated". [1]

I could spit nails if I didn't have so many other battles to fight. I signed up with AT&T because of the #$!$#! iPhone. Compared to similar services from Sprint our family costs have gone up about 70% a month. Sprint, for all their many sins, didn't make me jump through these hoops.

In a just world AT&T would have to pay out billions for this kind of scam, but in this world George Bush is President, we have a Republican governor in Minnesota, and our state Attorney General has been neutered.

I just know some mid-level AT&T exec made SVP and a golden handshake when s/he came up with this scam to reduce rebate payments. I suppose it's unbecoming for me to to imagine her/his pending appointment in the eighth circle of hell ...

... The fraudulent—those guilty of deliberate, knowing evil—are located in a circle named Malebolge ("Evil Pockets"), divided into ten bolgie, or ditches of stone, with bridges spanning the ditches...

... Bolgia 10: Groups of various sorts of falsifiers (alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, and impersonators) are afflicted with different types of diseases. (Cantos XXIX and XXX)

[1] It's not documented, but if you login this way you can see the record of card transactions and the residual balance.

Update 12/29/08: One commenter suggested using the AT&T card to buy a gift card at a reputable retailer. Then you can use it when it suits you.

Update 3/6/09: As per a most appreciated comment AT&T has settled with the New York attorney general's office ...
A $2.63 million agreement with AT&T Mobility over a misleading and deceptive sales promotion involving rebate offers that were fulfilled with onerous and condition-laden rebate cards by the New York's Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo.

AT&T is required to provide more than $2.63 million to consumers who received rebate cards from AT&T in fulfillment of its rebate offers on cellular phones and other wireless equipment and services.
I sincerely hope Minnesota climbs on board.

This isn't AT&T's only mobile services scam. They're also shafting their customers with EDGE phones, effectively eliminating data services people have paid for by contract and phone purchase.

Update 4/20/09: Dilbert on mobile phone rebates. "Dude, we spent it before you left the store."

20 comments:

John Atkinson said...

Hah! I got my cards this week, 3 as I have three phones on the family plan.
Two activate fine. One doesn't recognize the last 4 digits of the phone number.

So after using all my web based pins, it directs you to call the phone number. Which gives you the same choices as the web, which after three tries tells you that customer service is available 7:00 to 7:00.

Not that there is ANY OPTION AT ALL on that phone number to contact customer service.

Annoyed with you.

Anonymous said...

I join the others in thinking this is the biggest scam ever. what a rip off. I was told I would receive a rebate not an opportunity to go to my local ATT Store and buy something else with their Micky Mouse card. Rebate to me means CASH not their convienence.

nadine said...

When I opened my rebate envelope you can imagine my shock at discovering it was in the form of a credit card! I had no trouble activating but I thought I was getting a check not a pre-paid debit card that forces me to go out and "support the economy"! Now I can't figure out what the balance is because there's no way to do it and I don't want to spend any more time on it because I have to shopping to make myself feel better. Thanks ATT.

Anonymous said...

When you pay your AT&T bill I wonder if AT&T would mind receiving a Visa gift card instead of a check, or even better yet how about multiple gift cards in $50 increments?

Anonymous said...

Well, so far I'm in agreement with all of you, but I haven't even gotten where you all are yet. We can't even get AT&T to even send the promised rebates!! We signed up 1 and 1/2 months ago. Checking with them we were told we weren't eligible. After musch agreement and a very long 3 way call, they finally admitted we were, but then we have to go to the internet to put in all the info apparently someone at AT&T were too lazy after all the calling back and forth, to even bother to help us with. I agree - thanks for the "rebate" AT&T!

Anonymous said...

YES, I THOUGHT I HAD $50 BUT IT WILL NOT LET ME SPEND $50. SO APPARENTLY IT DECREASES IN VALUE, OR YOU GET CHARGED EXTRA FOR USING IT, I DON'T KNOW. BUT, IT DID NOT COME OUT TO $50 IN THE END. NOT COOL!!!!!

FELLFORIT said...

I AGREE WITH EVERYONE ELSE. I THINK THE CARD IS A SCAM. I CAN'T USE IT EVEN THOUGH THEY SAID IT WAS LIKE A DEBIT CARD AND NOW IT IS EXPIRED AND WAS TOLD THAT THEY COULDN'T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT WHEN IT IS EXPIRED. I AM FUMING ABOUT HOW THIS COMPANY TAKES ADVANTAGE OF IT'S CUSTOMERS. THEY PROMISE A REBATE AND SEND A PIECE OF WORTHLESS PLASTIC!

Anonymous said...

It funny how AT&T gets redirected to a different website. https://www.888extramoney.net/ is a scam website. C'mon you can tell just by looking at it. Where are the damn verising logos and all that crap? Really, all must be careful where they are on the Internet.

Anonymous said...

I have never had anything so difficult to use. When my 2-yr ATT deal is up I'm changing just because of this. My cards had $30 on them but when I finally got a restaurant to take 1 he could only pull $25 off. I finally just gave up and let the other $5 go!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said........
I am just as upset with AT&T as the rest of you. I had my two $50 rebates activated and went to use them and was told the cards were declined and since I had a line of people behind me I payed by check. The next day I called and spoke to a real person miracle and when she checked it showed the $50 on each but that a $50 transaction was made.
I don't know why they just couldn't just give credit on the bill (save paper) or just send a check (wasting paper anyway) and save all of us the frustration and time.

AT&T your creditability is not holding very well and with all the compation out there you ned to do alittle more think on how to make your customers happy and not so upset. This is an awful way to treat customers times are hard on everyone right now.
Thanks for caring AT&T

2yrs. for this contract and then on to someone new.

Thought; go out and by a gift card at your favorite store for the amount of the card that way it can be spent and if the balance is over the amount then you can pay the balance after instead of before running the card.

Verizon Bound said...

Well, Let me vent for a minute of your time. I tried the internet first and the same thing happen to me as John. So I try to activate it on the phone and the person that answered had an accent that wasn't from this country. That was okay at first. Then he started telling me I was trying to activate someone elses card or that I was making a mistake with the last four digits of my phone. Well, now that my blood pressure is boiling, I ask to speak to his supervisor because niether one of my phones end with #8.??? You can imagine what I said! my last purchase with ATT was one of those USB internet devices. There is a phone number asigned to that thing. Didn't know that, but I guess I was supposed to. So I shut down my computer to look at the numbers on it. Now my computer is locked up and all I wanted is what was promised me. I want my $100! Verizon is looking pretty good right about now...Thanks for listening.

Anonymous said...

Hey.. it gets worse. I got my rebate cards and was able to activate and use them... HOWEVER, I notice that AT&T charged 5 DOLLARS for me to use my $50 rebate card.... so the rebate was actually $45... not $50... and since when do you charge people money for them to use their rebate?!? This is a MAJOR scam, and if anybody knows of a class action suit forming, please let me know.

Mike Hargreaves II said...

I have 8 lines and only received 1 card for $50. - $5 = $45.oo!
For a clash action suit call Casey, Gilson Attys office Atlanta GA who do large$$ clash action suits.

Anonymous said...

WEll, New Yorkers are getting some money from AT&T on these cards -- Valerie

March 4, 2009 - AT&T Rebaters Will Get $2.63 Million in New Visa Gift Cards, Says NY Attorney General

By Contributor Wireless and Mobile News on March 4, 2009 11:50 AM

A $2.63 million agreement with AT&T Mobility over a misleading and deceptive sales promotion involving rebate offers that were fulfilled with onerous and condition-laden rebate cards by the New York's Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo.


AT&T is required to provide more than $2.63 million to consumers who received rebate cards from AT&T in fulfillment of its rebate offers on cellular phones and other wireless equipment and services.

Since 2005, AT&T Mobility, LLC, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, has been fulfilling its rebate offers with rebate cards instead of checks. These cards were portrayed as debit cards in the amount of the rebate offer. However, the cards were not redeemable for cash, could not be used for cash withdrawals and expired 120 days from issuance. The Attorney General's Office found that AT&T failed to adequately disclose the card's conditions and limitations in its marketing materials for the promotion. AT&T also deceived consumers with offers for "free" products when, in fact, consumers had to pay the full price up-front and then submit a mail-in rebate form from which they were sent the aforementioned rebate card with its accompanying limitations.


In addition to the $2.63 million to consumers, the Attorney General's settlement requires AT&T to clearly disclose all the terms, conditions and limitations of any rebate offers and cease referring to the cards used to fulfill the rebate offers as "debit cards" in its advertising unless the cards are redeemable for cash. The agreement also requires AT&T to clearly disclose any conditions in marketing and advertising materials.

Consumers potentially eligible to receive funds will be notified by AT&T. Qualifying consumers will receive new rebate cards that are fully protected under the terms of the New York State Gift Card Law and which may be used both to purchase products and services anywhere that VISA cards are accepted, and to pay consumers' AT&T wireless bills.

AT&T cooperated fully in the investigation. The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Doris K. Morin and Assistant Attorney General-in-Charge of the Westchester Regional Office Judith C. McCarthy with assistance from Senior Investigator John Slevin, in conjunction with Bureau Chief for Consumer Frauds and Protection Joy Feigenbaum and Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Michael Berlin.
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John Gordon said...

Fantastic. Thank you AG for NY. So where's the AG for Minnesota?! We used to be a lot better at defending our consumers.

AT&T is consistently wretched. They're turning off EDGE networks now, removing services that customers with older phones (BB Pearl) paid for and still pay for.

Anonymous said...

I hate it , I hate it, I hate it. The debit card is a joke. They don't bother to tell you this when they are adding up all the money their going to get with the up grade of a new phone. I have also thought about sending AT&T a gift card to pay my bill. I went to the web site, and I'm still looking for it. Haven't tried to call the number to activate, but I'm getting ready to. If that doesn't work, then I'm making a trip to the At&t store and have them set it up. I also told the girl on the phone that I was going to pay my phone bill with it.

Anonymous said...

Oh Fk you! You're suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome. I've been getting screwed over by mail-in rebates for a couple of decades - long before GWB became president.

Stop believing that politicians are in the business of helping you. Their job is to help themselves to your tax dollars. On the rare occasion that they actually rise to meet your particular needs, they have merely calculated that there are enough people affected by it to earn some votes.

Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, we're all being preyed upon by crooks. And the biggest crooks are elected officials.

Anonymous said...

It seems http://extrameasures.com is the company that does the gift cards. WHERE IS ANON? I call upon thee

jeromeis said...

my experience with att>customer service non existant...
tech support great when it can be axcessed,value you get
>less for more with ATT but when ya get tghru they are knowlegeable and helpfully patient..... but if ya want a i- phone ya pay ta play and it is BIG TIME
my sprint contract is up and i have been waiting for my i-phone now for a while BUT NOW that i am seriously checking options out i find what the customers say i do trust them even tho frustration is hard to see thru the content refects some of my past nightmare experiences with ATT rebate team who has stated ATT IS ONE BIG CROOK IN THIS REBATE CRAPi am still owed $50. after years and years of haggeling to get nowhere.....>>so my decision is if i play solo its SPRINT PALM PRE over I-PHONE and ATT......although att has a family plan that makes up some of the cost to add a line plus activation and 2 year contract to a relative >>>> and that has its own caveats......relatives?????
i am open to insight, advice ,and polite converstaion.

Anonymous said...

I DONT UNDERSTAND HOW ENTIRELY HARD IT IS FOR ANYONE WHATSOEVER TO USE THESE CARDS. IF YOU FOLLOW YOUR DIRECTIONS, IT WORKS FINE. YES THERE IS AN EXPIRATION, BUT WHEN AND IN WHAT WORLD DOES IT TAKE 4 OR MORE MONTHS TO SPEND $25-$100.. I HAVE HAD 5 OR SIX OF THESE MYSELF AND HAVE NEVER HAD AN ISSUE WITH THEM. ONE TIME IT DID NOT RECOGNIZE THE NUMBER FOR ACTIVATION BECAUSE IT WAS AN OLD NUMBER. I GOT THROUGH TO A REP IN ANOTHER DEPT WHO WAS ABLE TO GIVE ME THE NUMBER. SIMPLE. I JUST THINK MORE PEOPLE NEED TO BE SENSIBLE WHEN IT COMES TO THESE AND STOP ACTING LIKE EVERYTHING HAS TO BE DONE FOR YOU STEP BY STEP BY STEP. REBATE MEANS SOMETHING GIVNING IN LIEU OF A SERVICE RENDERED. NOT CASH!YOU PAY YOUR BILL RIGHT? WELL USE IT FOR IT.. THEN THATS $50.00 OR MORE EXTRA DOLLARS IN YOUR BANK ACCOUNT. SIMPLE MATH PEOPLE. I USED THEM FOR PERSONAL, FOR ATT, TO SHOP..WHATEVER.. THE WORLD IS GOING CASHLESS AND HEADED THAT WAY. GET WITH IT AND GROW A BRAIN..YOU CANNOT HOARD A WHOLE $50.00 AND BECOME A DARN MILLIONAIRE. THINK OF IT AS THAT $50 IN THE BANK YOU GAIN INTEREST ON...ITS STILL GAINING INTEREST AND YOU DIDNT HAVE TO DIP IN THERE.. THERE ARE NO CHARGES, THERE ARE NO HIDDEN FEES.. JUST BE MINDFUL OF GRAUTITY WHEN USING..ITS A VISA REGULATION FOOLS NOT AT&T! IT DOES IT WITH ALLLLLL CARDS!! I CHECKED WITH MY OWN DEBIT CARD AND ITS WRITTEN ABOUT IN THE USA TODAY.. SO MANY PEOPLE..SO LITTLE TIME TO EDUCATE THEMSELVES... THE AMERICAN WAY