The Tiger's Eye: For Tony

14 November 2006

For Tony


it’s one of those words that gets misused in our society.
The online dictionary at
defines it as, “provided without, or not subject to, a charge or payment:” but if you have done business with any number of companies online lately it appears that the definition of “free” has become “to rebate someone after using their money for a while”.
Now, when I think of the term “free” I think of that sign you see by farmhouses that says, “Free Kittens”. You know where you stop and say, “I want the calico one” and you take a cat home to your daughter. Granted, said cat usually needs to its shots and might have ringworm or any number of other diseases but at least the housewife in the lawn chair didn’t charge you for it. So while it might not be entirely free in the long run, she didn’t reach into your wallet for a 10 spot.

Caveat Emptor.

When the cell phone company says that their phone is “Free” you have to read the fine print to see that it really is gonna cost you $159.65 with an “instant rebate” (one that takes two to three months to be mailed to your house while in the meantime they are using your “Free” money and getting interest on your money along with any number of other suckers as well.

Last August we were offered a “free” cell phone when we discussed upgrading our plan by adding my name to my wife’s account. Actually my wife did all the talking to the sales person and I remember her specifically asking the woman whether it was truly a “free” phone or if there were hidden charges not being discussed. (There were, they were called additional activation and shipping fees that cost nearly $60.00). After being told repeatedly that this phone was free we agreed to add a line to our phone and that’s where all hell broke loose. About a week later we received a nice Motorola Razor phone via UPS which I promptly activated. Then we read the contract and “discovered” that free meant we were out something like $165.00 of which we would be reimbursed $100.00 via an “instant rebate” (again there is that misleading word – instant = 2-3 months if we are lucky). By any definition I look at this transaction as being misleading in the extreme.
After all; free means I don’t owe ANYTHING.
After a bit of discussion we called the company and promptly cancelled the phone and the service. They told us that there might be a problem if the phone got lost or something so we went to the post office and shipped the phone back to a different address than the one sent via registered overnight mail and though that would be that.
The next month we received our phone bill and what do you know, there in black and white was a charge for $42.97 for a Cell Phone account (real-you, a phone number and everything). Along with a past due notice for nearly $150.00! All told our phone bill was nearly $260.00. I immediately got on the phone (after calming down my excitable wife who was worried that “this stuff will affect our credit if were not careful!”) and talked to the nice representative who assured me that it was their fault, they would fix everything and that I only owed money for my current land line, my internet and my long distance. She also kindly informed me that since we were in-between billing cycles, I might see something on the next month’s bill but to call them and all would be straightened out.

Fast forward to November 14, 2006, I just got off the phone with the cell phone company (their representatives have been extremely pleasant to deal with but apparently they have a computer system from hell as no matter what is typed in, it keeps billing me for an account I don’t have) who have told me for the third time that my service has been cancelled, my account has been entirely rebated any past charges and my credit will not be charged for any bogus late charges for a phone I no longer have and an account which was cancelled 3 months ago! At least this time I wasn’t told it might show up next month (I’ll be on the lookout none-the-less)

Oh one other thing, last month we did receive our rebate card for this nonexistent account. It WAS tempting to spend it but I figured if I did I might never rid myself of this mess.