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How to Deal w/ Dubious 'Contracts'? 589

Posted by Cliff
from the nowadays-you-don't-need-to-sign-anything dept.
phorm asks: "It seems that for almost every service out there nowadays businesses want to fix customers into a contract. Some are pretty obvious (cellphone service, etc), but others are downright sneaky. About a year ago, my grandparents signed up for internet service with one of the bigger ISP's (Telus). They were offered an lesser rate for the first year, followed by $10/month more for following years, as well as their DSL modem for free (to be returned when service ends). None of the documentation received with the modem indicated that any 'contract' was being entered, nor were any documents signed. However, when they recently tried to cancel their service, Telus has indicated they will be charged a fee due to being within the 'contract'." Similar to EULAs, sometimes companies will enter you into a "contract" without providing anything to sign and will hold you to terms you may not even know about simply by your use of the service. How can you deal with companies practices, especially if dealing with their representatives becomes...difficult?
"On first questioning of this, they believed that they had somehow been contracted by agreeing over the phone when initial service was setup (despite that they don't remember being told about such a thing). However, when I called the ISP to dispute this, they indicated that upon connecting the service they would have been presented with a dialog indicating the contract terms and had to click 'OK' online.

My assumption would be that this was done through their setup CD, which comes with the modem. However, the ISP's software is not installed on their machine (I don't trust it not to have snoop-ware), as I had their machine manually registered through a web-interface (which did not indicate contracts at that time, I am not sure about now).

Despite this, calls to their hotline have indicated that they will not rescind the cancellation fee. Moreover, the last operator from the 'Loyalty Department' I talked to refused to separate the internet bill from the phone bill despite being told they would no longer be authorized to bill the given VISA account (they said they will not change that billing process unless given another account, and refuse to just 'send a bill' in the mail). When I questioned the legality of this the operator told me to 'get a lawyer and have them contact the legal department.' Obviously, this is an option but seems rather to be a bit extreme and I'm sure the company realizes it. So what does one do when a big company is bilking pensioners with contracts they have no proof of? Certainly there are no signed documents, and whether a particular button was clicked or not seems to have no proof except in the ISP's say-so, as well as the dubiousness of button-click legality under local law. My next step will likely be to explain the situation to VISA but then things can definitely get ugly as the ISP is also the local telco.

By the way, this is in Canada, so Canadian law would apply, but I would definitely appreciate suggestions as such cases seem more and more common."
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How to Deal w/ Dubious 'Contracts'?

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  • by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @12:50AM (#15773969) Homepage
    When I questioned the legality of this the operator told me to 'get a lawyer and have them contact the legal department.' Obviously, this is an option but seems rather to be a bit extreme and I'm sure the company realizes it.
    Extreme or not, that IS the appropriate answer. They'll probably back off immediately with a simple letter from a law firm, and if that's all it takes, it won't even cost much.

    If you really want to stick it to them, you might be able to get the local TV news to do a story on the practice (around here, Austin, TX, we have `[channel] 7 on your side' stories, where they go into detail about how somebody was being screwed and how the TV cameras made all the problems go away.

    • by Kadin2048 (468275) <slashdot@kadin.xoxy@net> on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @01:20AM (#15774056) Homepage Journal
      Bingo.

      Basically, what these companies are doing, when they pull out these bogus contracts, is bluffing you. They're blowing smoke up your ass, and hoping that you won't have the balls* to actually call them on it.

      Your options are basically:
      1) Call their bluff: get a lawyer, and sue them; or make them think that you're going to.
      2) Bend over and take it, and whine a lot. Whining includes going to the BBB and other toothless organizations. (No large corporation gives a shit about the BBB.)
      3) Bend over and take it, and like it.

      Lawyers are how you get business done in civil society. They are in many ways even superior to violence, because they can be used to attack vaporous legal constructs that you can't well go out and shoot if you wanted to. They're like samurai: have enough of them, and you can do anything you want. Don't have any, and you're just a peasant.

      It helps if you happen to have a lawyer who's willing to work for you cheap, or better yet for free. Lawyers willing to work for free are notoriously hard to find (your best bet is probably to marry one, and even than it's not guaranteed to work). Short of actually having a lawyer, the next best thing would be someone who's familiar enough with the language of law to write a nasty letter that makes them think you're a Force To Be Reckoned With; of course, there's always the risk that they'll call your bluff, and then hang your lawyer-less ass out to dry. Or you could try suing them in small-claims directly, where you don't need a lawyer and can represent yourself; if you really haven't signed any contracts or agreed to anything, then they can't force you into arbitration (which is a normal stipulation in many sleazy contracts), and you can sue them in your own jurisdiction and force them to show up and defend their conduct. If you act like a reasonable, rational, average person, you might do well this way. (Particularly if they just don't want to bother to show up in court.)

      All in all, your best bet of success is probably going to involve either the reality or at least substantial threats of spending quality time inside a courtroom somewhere. This is life; in our world, the conflicts that aren't solved with a gun or a knife are usually solved by well-paid guys in suits shuffling paper. (And depending on where you live, possibly someone in a wig.)

      * In Capitalist society, see 'wallet.'
      • by loraksus (171574) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @03:55AM (#15774500) Homepage
        Whining includes going to the BBB and other toothless organizations. (No large corporation gives a shit about the BBB.)

        I disagree. With so many companies staffing their 800 lines with people who really can't do anything, a quick bbb complaint often gets a call back within a day or so from someone who is actually empowered to fix your problem. It isn't really the BBB that companies are worried about, it is the reporter for a news startion saying something like, "So, Mr. Jones, why does your company have over 350 unanswered BBB complaints?"
        Compusa got forcibly delisted from the BBB (mostly for the rebate bullshit the ftc later punished them for) a couple of years ago and it was a pain in the ass for them to get back on and their reputation suffered.
        That said, if a company just doesn't care about negative PR - tiger direct comes to mind - yeah, filing a bbb report won't do shit.

        One of your options can be to do amusing things to companies. Phillips was suposed to give me a refund on a set of headphones but were apparantly retarded and kept losing / not receiving the receipt (I think the shitbirds were hoping I would just go away, however I'm... passionate about getting my money when companies owe me something.)
        So I called one day and informed them they were going to receive 1701* copies of the receipt if the cheque didn't ship that day. So that night, 1701 faxes of the receipt [vehiclehitech.com] (ok, so a few errored out) were sent. Later that day, I received a polite call from an american woman (the fucking filipinos on their 800 line can't tie their own fucking shoes without approval from the us office) and they sent me a cheque.

        *about 1701 - I used to watch star trek a lot and I did a quick estimate on how many faxes I could send while I slept - it was around this number, so I just used it. I suppose this made a lot more sense / was funny to me when I was full of angst over this. Not so much anymore.
        • Compusa got forcibly delisted from the BBB (mostly for the rebate bullshit the ftc later punished them for) a couple of years ago and it was a pain in the ass for them to get back on and their reputation suffered.
          That said, if a company just doesn't care about negative PR - tiger direct comes to mind - yeah, filing a bbb report won't do shit.


          Think about that again. When you tell someone to go and buy a new hard drive for their computer, where do they go? West coasters have Fry's (sorry don't know about al
          • My sole experience with calling the BBB has also been positive. A friend of mine purchases an Apple Macintosh about 10 years ago and we were having trouble getting it serviced by the local Apple Service Shop. A call to the BBB and an apple employee called me and fixed the problem (and sent me 2 apple t-shirts whoot).

            I reallize that my one experience doesn't mean that the BBB is effective as a whole and would be interested in hearing from anyone who didn't get things cleared up after calling them.
      • by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @04:48AM (#15774641) Journal
        No, the across-the-board "either you're rich enough to have lawyers or are a peon" doesn't apply to every capitalist country in the world, but seems to be largely a USA issue. In a sense it's the price you pay for the culture of not trusting your own government, or for that matter for ending up with a government which you can't trust. Unfortunately, then, yes, your only recourse are lawyers, and that's why in the USA they breed like rabbits.

        Down here in Europe most things aren't solved by class action lawsuits, but by having a set of laws regarding the consumers' rights, and some government agencies whose job is to enforce those. If a company tried to screw me over, believe me, I wouldn't do any of the three options you describe. Instead I'd go to a consumer rights bureau ("Verbraucherzentrale") and see what they have to say about it. Because it's their job and are backed by the government. They can have a lot more teeth than a lawyer, if it's warranted.

        In a sense, it's the difference between having an organized police force and wild-west each-man-for-himself vigilante justice. The USA seems still stuck at the point where your rights and protection are determined by whether you can hire a posse to fight for them. Only now it's the more expensive lawyers with ties and briefcases, instead of desperados with sombreros and Winchester guns. Most of the rest of the world moved over to more efficient model of having a centralized "police" equivalent.

        And let me stress that again: it's not just that it's more fair (I could get help even if I didn't have a dime to pay for a lawyer's advice), it's also more efficient for society as a whole. You don't have to feed armies of lawyers when a handful of government officials can do the same job _and_ serve as a better deterrent. A company can imagine they'll smoke _me_ with legalese gibberish, or bully me into submission, or just hope that I don't want to pay a lawyer. But they will know from the start that they're never going to bully the government into submission, and that there'll be someone there who reads legalese as fluently as it gets and knows if what is in there is legal or not.

        If you will, it's like in the police vs everyone-with-his-own-posse analogy again. A police is more efficient than everyone hiring his own desperados to guard his ranch, because it _doesn't_ have to actually send policemen to stand guard on every ranch. Just the knowing that that police force exists is enough of a deterrent for 99% of the population.

        Downside: of course, you need to trust that the government is on your side and not just ruling for the highest corporate bidder. I.e., it comes in handy to have a real multi-party system where they have to work hard for their votes.
        • Do you count the UK as Europe? The UK is full of the biggest rip-off and con artist companies I have ever come across, and people over rhere just see this as a normal. Almost every company tried to overcharge, and you have to check your bills. Even the government wants to scam you. For council tax and tv license, I can't pay for six months, I have to pay the whole amount, and apply for a refund when I finish - even though I will have left the country. So, instead, they get nothing!
          • by glesga_kiss (596639) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @06:54AM (#15774961)
            Do you count the UK as Europe? The UK is full of the biggest rip-off and con artist companies I have ever come across

            Are you kidding? Until the grandparent mentioned "Verbraucherzentrale" I was assuming he was in the UK! We have some of the best consumer protection laws around. Instead of complaining to the company, just say to them that you'll "be in touch with Trading Standards" regarding this. Instant attitude correction.

            For council tax and tv license, I can't pay for six months, I have to pay the whole amount, and apply for a refund when I finish - even though I will have left the country

            I'm not sure that's correct, certainally not with council tax. Sure, you might get an account for the whole year, but you pay it monthly. The only reason they do the year thing is so that they can calculate your monthly payments. Mind you, they struggle to do that correctly at the best of times.

            • It is either true, of the someone at the Council tax office in Edinburgh is having a laugh. (wouldn't be surprised!)

              I wanted to pay the entire 6 months, because I don't want them to automatically take it out of my bank account. They would not do this.

              Even after proclaiming 'I am trying to give you money here, don't you want it?'
            • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @08:13AM (#15775187)

              Until the grandparent mentioned "Verbraucherzentrale" I was assuming he was in the UK! We have some of the best consumer protection laws around. Instead of complaining to the company, just say to them that you'll "be in touch with Trading Standards" regarding this. Instant attitude correction.

              That's a great theory, and I used to believe it, too. A recent encounter has introduced a lot of doubts, though: after my father received a bad DVD about a hobby from a company that was generally well regarded in the field, it turned out not to play properly. The attitude he got from the staff when he called about this was unconstructive, sometimes outright rude.

              He got the local Trading Standards people involved, and the best they could do was say that the company in question was entitled to examine the merchandise before providing a refund, and that my father was obliged to send it back (at his expense in both time and money) so that could happen, with no apparent mechanism available to compensate him for this if it did turn out that the goods were faulty.

              Now, letting the merchant examine the goods before refunding seems fair enough, particularly for something like a DVD that's easily ripped. However, if the merchant requires the customer to arrange the return, it seems only fair that if the goods are faulty, the merchant should also be required to compensate the customer for their time and costs returning the item. This, apparently, is not the case. As long as the rules on faulty returns are this one-sided, with the overheads falling almost entirely on the customer, all the legal safeguards about distance selling and the like aren't really worth very much other than for items of high value.

              Incidentally, does anyone know the deal with returning box sets of DVDs if, several months after buying them, you discover that disc 6 of 7 doesn't play? It seems unreasonable to expect a customer to watch the entire box set within a few days of buying them, but there's also potential for abuse if a retailer must accept the set back several months later when any damage may or may not have had anything to do with the condition of the DVDs when they were sold.

              I'm not sure that's correct, certainally not with council tax. Sure, you might get an account for the whole year, but you pay it monthly. The only reason they do the year thing is so that they can calculate your monthly payments.

              For TV licences, if you pay monthly, you basically pay six months ahead. To be fair, and from recent personal experience, if you stop needing a licence at a particular address, they seem pretty good about refunding any overpaid months reasonably quickly. There have been a few horror stories about the TV licensing people in the past, mostly due to database screw-ups and/or assuming that there's no way anyone in today's society could possibly not need one (remind you of any big software firms? ;-)), but it seems like they've cleaned up their act in recent years and generally do their job pretty well now.

        • In the US, there are actually some very strong consumer protection laws, depending on the state you're in. I've previously had complaints cleared up by calling my state Attorney General's consumer protection office or, if you're dealing with a publicly regulated utility, by talking with the Public Utilities Commission.

          The latter group was very useful in getting the cable company to drop the ridiculous $30/hookup charge that they had for setting up our digital phone system. The guy merely hooked up one w

        • by wralias (862131) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @09:11AM (#15775443)

          The USA seems still stuck at the point where your rights and protection are determined by whether you can hire a posse to fight for them. Only now it's the more expensive lawyers with ties and briefcases, instead of desperados with sombreros and Winchester guns. Most of the rest of the world moved over to more efficient model of having a centralized "police" equivalent.

          Actually, we have offices in every state [consumeraction.gov] here in America, run by state / federal governments, to aid consumers with problems like these.

          It's not America's fault that this guy is ignorant of their existence. A 2 second google search would have revealed this to him. Maybe that's the problem with America - we turn to Slashdot for legal advice.

          Also, dude, you watch too much American TV.

    • They'll probably back off immediately with a simple letter from a law firm, and if that's all it takes, it won't even cost much. If you really want to stick it to them...

      Actually, if you did want to stick it to them, how about an option to go with a lawyer who is very pro-consumer and can make claims for all kinds of documents during a discovery period (a la SCO) to flood them with paperwork and make them spend a lot of money on lawyers? After all, there's not much that the company would be able to request
    • IANAL, IMHO, etc.

      Verbal contracts pose a number of issues that need to be sorted out, which is why I always avoid using them for my business. I always put everything in writing as a way of avoiding misunderstandings.

      The issue is that although a verbal contract is legally binding in many jurisdictions, you have problems of interpretation because you don't have a common written reference you can argue over. Everything centers around ones ability to prove that certain terms were known and understood by both
    • A chargeback is always the best thing to do. If visa approves the chargeback, telus will get fined, the funds taken directly from their merchant account (none of this bullshit where you have to get a collection agency to collect the debt), a certain percentage (8-11%) will be an additional fine and telus gets a black mark on their record. Theoretically, if they get enough chargebacks, their credit processor will drop them, although this would never happen with a telus sized company.
      You might even get a full
    • in most cases you can get a lawyer to write the letter at no cost to you.

      That's how I got out of my draconian contract with ATT cables services at the time.

      Seriously, one return-receipt letter with a law office's letterhead does the trick.

    • by Eivind (15695) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @02:34AM (#15774273) Homepage
      Actually, you don't need to take any legal action against them.

      They are claiming you owe them some sum of money. You dispute the claim. You don't pay. If they want their money, they will have to take legal action against you. And they'll need to demonstrate that you actually do owe them money.

      • by ArsonSmith (13997) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @02:46AM (#15774303) Journal
        And your credit gets fucked in the process.
      • The problem is that they're also the phone company. If you want land-line phone service, you have to deal with them.
  • Stick it to 'em (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @12:53AM (#15773979)
    If you're out for blood, get a lawyer.
    If you're out for justice, demand a supervisor.
    In either case, point out that they cannot produce any record of signing the contract.
    • Well, so far I'm on day 4 of the 24-48 period in which the superviser was supposed to call me back.
      • I know it may sound stupid but INSIST on getting his supervisor NOW, repeat the same sentence over and over again - get the whoever in charge of the service rep. superior. THERE MUST BE SOMEBODY superior than the service rep in the office at the moment (biz hour).
      • Then you call them up again. It's the supervisor's job to answer you, and the longer you wait, the more charges you'll rack up and the less options for recourse you'll have open. In today's economy of instant charges and massive late penalties, it's unacceptable for a business to be unable to rectify your problem, let alone merely respond to you, within 48 hours.

        If they're still playing games, make it clear (politely, but firmly) that you're going to go to the bank and deny them the charges, you're going t
      • Forget waiting. Do a chargeback on your credit card. Fastest, easiest way. BTW, wherabouts are you?
        Fatwallet.com has a couple pretty threads on chargebacks in the forum sections.
    • > In either case, point out that they cannot produce any record of signing the contract.

      +10, insightful. This has worked well for me in a dispute with my bank (and gosh knows banks are leeches).

      My letter went something along the lines of

      "I didn't ask for the service you are charging me for. Please reverse the billing immediately. If you believe I am in error, please show me a signed paper where I requested the service. Or else." Oh, and it was a good thing they didn't respond "or else what?" The "Or Else
  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @12:53AM (#15773980)
    And it needs to stop.

    people who sell hardware, music, videos insist that youre licensing it.. but licenses and contracts indicate that actual negotiations took place..

    this is not the case with shrinkwrapped or 'clickwrapped' products.

    Microsoft claims it's illegal to modify my xbox.. nowhere is there a contract on that box.. it's my hardware and they sold it to me.

    How do you get rid of this?.. well there have been some court cases which have overturned them.. but the proliferation of ultra-right corporate owned judges has made that record spotty at best.

    You need actual substantive law at this point effected through real reforms in the political system in order to rid the consumer universe of this corporate idea that they own everything they sell to you after you buy it... like some neo-serf.
    • but the proliferation of ultra-right corporate owned judges has made that record spotty at best.
      Presumably, that was a typo and you meant "ultra-left" since mystery-contracts that one party doesn't even know about (much less agreed to), is a pretty radical idea, distantly removed from tradition and convention. If that isn't the very definition of extreme left-wing, I don't know what is.
  • by gasmonso (929871) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @12:55AM (#15773983) Homepage

    First and foremost don't believe you have to accept it. Contact the company and keep asking for a supervisor. If he doesn't help, ask for his and keep it up. That works most of the time because they just can't stand dealing with you. If that doesn't work, then write a letter... no email... a real letter. That usually gets a good response. When all else fails, take it to the Net, a lawyer, local media, etc. The key is to not take no for an answer.

    http://religiousfreaks.com/ [religiousfreaks.com]
    • by XorNand (517466) * on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @01:28AM (#15774084)

      Even better, reread this classic gem that ought to be bookmarked by everyone: The Art of Turboing [macwhiz.com]
      • I had never read this article before, but it's going to be permanently in my bookmarks, now. This informative article could have saved me much time and aggravation over the last couple years.

        How and when to take your customer service problems to upper management in a way that will actually bring solutions. I might use it with Bell Canada tomorrow.
      • Yep, that strategy can be highly effective.

        We had a persistent problem back when I was at university, with a local firm who were fitting phone sockets in all the student rooms. They took on too much work, meaning that the installations weren't ready when the students moved in, or for several weeks afterwards.

        Eventually, one of my neighbours looked up the company financial records, and with a little detective work, managed to track down the Managing Director's home phone number. He called at 7:30pm on Sa

  • by Renraku (518261) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @12:56AM (#15773985) Homepage
    90% of the time, contracts made for consumers-at-large are heavy handed and unfair.

    Tried to get a gym membership lately? Oh wait..this is Slashdot..anyway..They try to lock you into these multi-year contracts at a very high price. Imagine having to pay $50 a month for three years. Can you honestly say that three years from now you'll live in the same area and still be making the most out of their services?

    What about a cell phone? Most of them have massive early-termination fees.

    Credit cards? Surprise clauses that very few people read. You're just making ends meet and then SURPRISE! You've spent 50% of your limit. Interest rates triple!

    Car loans? You're a day late on a payment for any reason (even if they refused to post the check) and the car becomes theirs, your payments nulled (they keep the money) and its resold to another sucker.

    I could go on and on, but the point is, contracts are mostly one-sided. Why? Because we want their service. Its not about service anymore, its about locking you into monthly fees, termination fees, fee fees, payment fees, early payment fees, etc. What if you bought a rake with your credit card and somewhere in it, it has a hidden transmitter to charge your card for more money whenever certain conditions are met. Its fair, right? You agreed to it, its right there on the back of the warranty you threw away because a $3 rake is easier to buy than send back and wait for a replacement.
    • NOt really true.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by plasmacutter (901737) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @01:03AM (#15774005)
      I could go on and on, but the point is, contracts are mostly one-sided. Why? Because we want their service.

      this is only the tip of the iceberg..

      the current legal and regulatory structure centering around incorporation and securities allows people to centralize power and resources while being spared the majority of the risks.

      This results in an uneven playing field where incumbent corporate owners have tremenous amounts of market power, but the common man has none.

      The ways to combat this are:
      -from labor standpoint.. pro union laws which allow labor to do the same thing as the companies that employ them.. centralize power and resources without reprisal from anti-union companies.

      -from a consumer standoint.. pro consumer laws which put a cap on contract demands. Consumer unions are not enough.. they will only be able to tackle "main stream" products.. regulation to balance out concepts like limited liability and corporate personhood are needed.
      • I swear, labor unions practically define corruption. (Why does a teacher's union take ANY stand on abortion? How is it that they will not admit that some of the old geezers need to be fired? Why must pay be based solely on seniority? What have the union leaders been doing with the pension fund? What is that connection with the mob?)

        There are better ways, not involving corrupt unions.

        The obvious pro-market fix would be to make business taxes proportional to market share.

        The pro-democracy fix is to place spec
        • Well.. unions can be corrupt, I won't deny that.. but i'd rather fight the corruption of corporations with the corruption of unions than not fight it at all..

          That may sound like two wrongs.. but keep in mind people who fight oil well fires will basically out-fire the fire by using explosives to consume all nearby oxygen.. thus depriving fire of air long enough for it to be squealched.

          My extended family, who lives in detroit, hates unions because they think the unions are responsible for detroit's under-comp
    • by AHumbleOpinion (546848) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @01:17AM (#15774050) Homepage
      What about a cell phone? Most of them have massive early-termination fees.

      They have to, they subsidized that cool new feature laden cell phone you are carrying, US cell phone deals are not as one-sided as you think. If you take the phone and quit the service they lose big time. Some parts of the world do not subsidize, you pay full retail for your phone, and customers have an easier time changing providers. US consumers have voted with their dollars, they would rather have the Motorola Razor for $50 than have an easier time switching providers.
      • They have to, they subsidized that cool new feature laden cell phone you are carrying, US cell phone deals are not as one-sided as you think.

        To borrow one of my favorite phrases from the English: Bollocks!
        Or, for those who prefer Phoenix Wright: Hold it!

        The cell phone "deals" are a double-dip scam. If what you say is true, that the contract is to subsidize the phone, then you are contractually obligated to stay with them for the duration.

        However, the phones are also *provider-locked*, which means you can't
        • That and (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Sycraft-fu (314770)
          They still demand a contract if you own the phone. My father bought a v60 in Hong Kong, before the US release because he liked the design and wanted to switch to a GSM phone. He got AT&T service for it, but they still demanded a 1 year contract. Why would they need it? It was no strings attached for them, he'd provided the phone, what did they need to make back?
      • The fair thing would be to pro-rate the termination fee over the length of the contract. There is no justification, other than greed, for charging the full termination fee to someone who cancels their service after 23 months on a 24 month contract.
      • They have to, they subsidized that cool new feature laden cell phone you are carrying, US cell phone deals are not as one-sided as you think. If you take the phone and quit the service they lose big time.

        Bullshit. Aside from the fact that you can't get a plain phone anymore (nor will most providers activate an old cell phone), the cell phone companies get massive discounts from the phone manufacturers by buying in bulk. They aren't losing hundreds of dollars, unless you use RIAA math. Sure, they lose money
      • Not necessarily true. I just switched from Sprint to Cingular and paid for my new cellphone in full cash ($299). I had to agree to a minimum 12 month contract. To get their $249 price on the same phone I would have to agree to a mininum 24 month contract and mail in a voucher for the discount. I didn't have an option for no contract. Only 12 months or 24 months.

        There's no choice.

        Sprint, who I had been with for 7 years without contract, wanted a 24 month contract just to change my plan, activate a new/r
    • I could go on and on, but the point is, contracts are mostly one-sided. Why? Because we want their service. Its not about service anymore, its about locking you into monthly fees, termination fees, fee fees, payment fees, early payment fees, etc....

      Jaded much? It could be that there are a lot of contracts these days because companies have to deal with a lot of loonies who take their special deals and refuse to pay them. Of course, this is slashdot and all coporations are evil incarnate, bar none.

      Cons
  • by Kunta Kinte (323399) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @12:57AM (#15773990) Journal

    Get ready to call in and argue. Don't take no for an answer. If you don't get the answer you want, call back.

    I recently signed up with Bellsouth for internet, and I was lied to at every step of the way. They signed me up for the $89 3M plan, when I asked for the Lite, they told me that my bill would be about $90 and I haven't seen a bill under $160 ( business account ). It's disgusting, but their legal and sales teams don't have much decency.

    You may have to stoop to their level unfortunately. I've heard of of people getting out of cell phone contracts by stating that they are moving out of the country, or that they object to some obscure but recent change in policy.

    I've also heard that many companies either have a conflict policy of giving you a refund if it is reasonable if you go though enough levels of customer service. Otherwise, managers often have some amount of leeway to make exceptions.

    The bottomline. Fight it. If even people do, it may just have then reconsider those policies ( to wishful thinking... )

    • by rynthetyn (618982) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @03:48AM (#15774482) Journal
      I can count on one hand the times that people in my family have failed in our attempts to get large companies to settle issues to our satisfaction. Companies are banking on the fact that people either are too lazy or don't know how to follow a chain of command and that if they give you enough run around you'll give up and go away. My dad has even gone so far as to call up the president of the company on several occasions when dealing with the customer service reps and their supervisors wasn't getting him anywhere. Sometimes you have to try multiple approaches to get an issue resolved to your satisfaction--know that customer service reps are supposed to be logging calls, so even if you don't succeed with one rep, it's helpful if they have logged in their records that you're threatening to call the State Attny. General's office to get them to pursue a fraud case if the issue isn't resolved (or, on the flip side, if there isn't a log of the conversation and you just got transferred into no-man's land, that can also be worked to your advantage because the rep isn't following protocol).

      It's a bit harder when you're dealing with offsite call centers, especially if they're not in your country and you have to deal with a cultural barrier as well (British Airways, for example, is a pain to deal with because they have different cultural protocol for complaints), or if there aren't multiple levels of supervisors in the same location, but given persistance, more often than not you'll succeed.

      And, if all else fails, threatening negative publicity doesn't hurt. My mom had an issue where she paid a department store credit card bill but because of a cash register glitch the payment never posted to the main system. After months of unsuccessfully trying to resolve it with politeness, she sent off an e-mail through the corporate feedback site threatening to call up the TV stations and then walk into the store manager's office at the local store and cut up her card--the payment miraculously credited to her account within a matter of hours after she sent the e-mail.
    • They signed me up for the $89 3M plan,

      Anyone else read this as "the $89.3 million plan"?

  • by Zro Point Two (699505) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @01:08AM (#15774025)
    IANAL but if I recall correctly Canadian law (yea, I'm a Canuk) says that you cannot agree to any contract that you have not read and signed. This may have changed, but at the time when I was looking into it, the law said that you cannot give up rights without reading what rights you are giving up. This was in relation to an AUP and a EULA. The clause "subject to change without notice, and continuation of using said service constitutes that you agree to the changes" did not hold water. The contract that I had entered at the time (about 7 or 8 years ago) was the contract that the company was bound to uphold because that is the contract that I'd signed, and I could not enter a new contract without explicitly agreeing to it.

    Again, IANAL, but since Canadian and American contract laws do differ in some very serious ways, I'd at least talk to a lawyer and/or hit the local library. One thing that I found works pretty well is if you know someone taking law at a colledge/university level. They generally know a lot, and can always ask their prof. Since profs have to teach it, I've found that the better ones are really good at answering off the wall topics...they've seen them come up in papers n such and have to determine the relevance of them.

    As for the billing, you should not have any issues with cancelling any other services that you have with them (as long as they are not under contract). If it's a service that you actually want with them, but want the billing method changed, you still have the option of cancelling the service, then setting it up again. It's a pain in the ass, but it is an option.
    • Believe a lot of countries now have a "digital sign" description, which would make (as my isp had me sign) the document fully legal (at least here in australia).

      My contract is 1mth payable in advance, no acceptable use with a flat rate, so i really don't complain ^_^
  • You wouldn't have needed to physically sign a contract; what probably happened is that after the internet equipment was connected, the first page that came up was the ISP's contract which someone clicked "I agree" to. And an electronic signature IS the same as a physical signature (at least in US law, probably Canada too).

    This isn't a "click-though" license, it's a contract. When I had my cable internet set up, I purchased my cable modem at Wal-Mart. After the cable guy installed it, the first page I got wa
    • I'm a self employed consultant up in Alberta and have set up tons of telus customers. If you use their install CD you do see a legal agreement, but you certainly do NOT need to use it to get it working. You just login to a web site (no agreement there), register your mac address and you're up and running. Also, Telus has tons of different contracts - you can easily get DSL with no contract from them, so they wouldn't be able to use a canned agreement mentioning a term (not that they do anyway). In shor
  • First off, IANAL; however, under Contract Law in Canada there has to be a meeting of the minds (consensus ad idem), which I belive could be argued with a click-through agreement which could be easy missed if their software was not installed, this would not be considered the case.

    For small matters like this, contracts do not need to be written, verbal contracts have been recognised by the court, so click-through agreements (if read and understood), could hold up if there was an expectation that the contract
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @01:27AM (#15774083)
    The first step when you have a dispute with a company is always, always, ALWAYS to try to resolve it amicably with them. Don't skip this step. Show that you're making every effort to resolve the problem.

    Note that "amicable" does not mean "walkover". If they say something you disagree with, don't roll over and take it; argue the point. If you can't get it sorted to your satisfaction, ask to speak to the next level up. Don't take no for an answer. If they say "You'll have to call back another time", or "Somebody will call you back", don't accept that without asking "Whom will I need to speak with, and when will they be in the office next?" Allow a reasonable time for the individual to call you back; if they don't, call the company and ask immediately to speak with whichever group you were told you needed to speak with.

    Always remain polite and keep your cool. Don't blow up at them. That gives them an excuse to throw the blame on you.

    After making reasonable efforts to resolve the matter amicably without success, you have several courses open to you. How much money are you talking about? If it's not too much (the limit in Australia is around $5000, IIRC, maybe more), you could try Small Claims (on the understanding that it does cost to file, so it may not be worth it if the amount is small). Or a chargeback on your credit card. Or ask a lawyer to write an appropriately worded letter.

    At each step along the way, you need to ask yourself if your time and aggravation is worth the money. Sometimes you'll get the bit between your teeth and fight on, regardless of the money, as a matter of principle, and that's fine as long as you know you're doing it, and you know what's at stake.

    Example: I had a trial period at a local gym. I specifically asked them if I could cancel at any time in that period without penalty, as I needed to double check my financial situation and decide if I could afford it. They indicated that I could. I ended up calling them to cancel in this period. Long story short: they didn't abide by my request (nor did they indicate what I needed to do to follow on with my request to make sure it stuck); when I tried to escalate up to the next level (the gym's manager), he refused to talk to me. So I issued a chargeback. One month later, the gym's head office called me asking why I'd issued a chargeback, so I explained. I eventually won out, but I won't be going back to that particular gym again.

    I was completely prepared to go to court over it (knowing that if it did go to court, I could just file at Small Claims and the case would revert to its jurisdiction, meaning that I'd be out at most the money the gym claimed I owed them plus filing fees), but it didn't get to that point. You could also check out any ombudsman in your region, and possibly the local consumer watchdog.

    Good luck.
  • Canada has a small claims court system. That's always useful.

    So is saying "This conversation is being recorded and anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. Please identify yourself. ... What is the exact name of the company with which you claim I have a contract ... ... Do you have a signed copy of the contract ... "

    Canadian corporation lookup is here. [ic.gc.ca]

  • When I signed up the fine print was short and clear enough:

    "Cancellation fee applies to early Rate Protection plan termination".

    I'd double check that before blaming Telus.
  • Call your Credit Card company and have them issue you a new credit card number. If you want to do it simply, claim your credit card was lost -- they have a great system in place for cancelling the current credit card and issuing you a new one. Then when Telus tries to bill your CC it will fail and they will have to send you a paper bill. Once you have a paper bill, only pay for the phone service portion. In the mean time, write them a letter expressing your intentions to only pay for phone service.
  • Telus (Score:2, Informative)

    Telus truly is a marvel of customer service. We used to be customers until we moved into an older apartment building, and in order to move our service they had to send a tech by to ... I'm not quite sure what. Anyhow, our connection appointment happened to fall on the same day as their labour dispute started. Not taking sides, just bad luck on our part. We started calling the help line, which is a topic in itself. Who decided it would be a good idea to force customers to thrash about with a horrible vo
  • Even better (Score:5, Informative)

    by loraksus (171574) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @01:33AM (#15774099) Homepage
    I talked to their legal department and a lawyer friend a few months ago about telus's contract and get this - even if they reduced the level of service, or implemented a drastically lower bandwidth limit, you would still be charged the cancellation fee unless you took them to court.
    So while your prices may stay constant, the level of service would noticably be decreased. Lovely, eh? Sort of how sprint pulls a cell tower out of your neighborhood and all of a sudden you can't make calls without roaming, but oh, no, cancelling your contract will cost you $200*

    As you may or may not know, about 4 months ago, both telus(dsl) and shaw (cable) started cracking down on bandwidth usage. First both started from ~100 gigs (which was an unofficial "you're abusing the network because we say so" limit) and then it started dropping gradually. At one point, shaw's service dropped to a pathetic 30 gigs a month, and telus dsl users were limited to 25 or so.
    The interesting thing is that the bandwidth caps dropped very quietly - only a press release and a small change on the sales page (meanwhile, shaw continued to advertise unlimited service. Belive they still do actually, even though the cap is set at 60 gigs - you can pay another $10 a month to get back to the previous limit of 100 gigs). Also - when one company dropped the cap, the other would follow within days. Now - I'm not saying that there was collusion, but it sure as hell stank of something.
    After a few months of this, they finally figured out that it cost them more to have a csr make a 15 minute call to the customer to discuss their bandwidth usage than it does to pay for a hundred gigs of bandwidth - so the bandwidth limits are now 40 for telus and 60 gigs a month for shaw (for the mid range personal accounts). BTW. It is impossible to get an account where I live that gives you more than 150 gigs of transfer a month.

    Really, this isn't as big deal, the monopolies up here act like arrogant assholes and have the idea that contracts only apply to the users using their service - a bit better than BellSouth, but still annoying to deal with. Eventually, these bullshit "contracts" of adhesion will be challened in court just like their magical bandwidth limits and this will be resolved. Unfortunately, Canucks are less likely to sue, so it may be a while before this is resoved.

    Good luck in your quest, although I honestly can't reccomend shaw. Shaw, at least doesn't block access to union websites during a lockout though.

    * a hateful "I hope you fucks are all gunned down and shot in the knees" goes out to all the sprint employees.
    • even if they reduced the level of service, or implemented a drastically lower bandwidth limit, you would still be charged the cancellation fee unless you took them to court.

      Telstra Bigpond in Australia has an approach to this, that is 'fair'. You had your contract and cancellation charges - if Bigpond varied the contract in a way that adversely affected you (lowered download caps, etc), you could then leave the contract without penalty. They could of course vary the contract in a way that affected you posi

      • Which is the proper way to deal with situations. I'm sure the submitter could claim breach of contract on the lowered bandwidth limits, but it isn't as easy to file a complaint in small claims court in Canada than it is in the usa.
  • Guys.... it's unfair if the merchant is trying to hide something but it's all fair on those lock-in contracts if stated clearly. You want a lower rate? Sign up long term, if not there's still pay-as-you-go kinda services. Gym membership for $70/month vs $50/month for 3 years? Yeah operating a gym is expensive - check out your local YMCA or go buy your own fitness equipment.
  • My wife works for National City bank here in Michigan. She's in the chargeback department, and had mentioned to me that visa will take the money back from the merchant unless they have a signed contract/agreement to fight a customer dispute. Visa does not recognize clicking on a button or any other method of getting someone to sign-up for a service other than signed docs. Visa will take the money from the merchant without them being able to do anything and credit it back to the customer, also if the merchan
  • by dav_314 (990843) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @02:14AM (#15774225)
    There are two tricks to getting out of service contracts that try to charge cancellation fees. The first trick is to tell the person "fine, fine... I understand that you cannot cancel the service without charging a fee. I'm going to need to get your name because I have to call the attorney general's office after I get off the phone with you. Oh, and by the way, this phone call is being recorded for quality assurance purposes."

    If you don't feel like bluffing, you can often exploit a loophole in service contracts by telling the company that you are moving to a place where they do not have coverage. I used this on SBC by telling them that I was moving to Afghanistan (obvious lie) and would like to remain in my service contract as long as they could provide an internet connection for me in Kandahar. The customer service rep was skeptical and asked me my address, so I made one up (123 Islam way). They cancelled my DSL connection without charging me a penny.

    • I used this on SBC by telling them that I was moving to Afghanistan (obvious lie) and would like to remain in my service contract as long as they could provide an internet connection for me in Kandahar. The customer service rep was skeptical and asked me my address, so I made one up (123 Islam way).

      Hi Neighbor! I live at 125 Islam Way in Kandahar and I noticed that your Anti-aircraft battery was firing last night at about 11:30pm. The terms of our HOA state that AA guns may only be used between the hours

  • Say you had a child click "I agree." Children can't engage in contracts, right?
  • I had a similar issue back when SprintPCS started in on the contract thing. I'd maintained service without a contract for years, then was preparing to switch to another carrier (before number portability), so I dropped to the cheapest service plan available to ride out a couple of months as people learned my new number. When I called to cancel, they said I'd entered a 2-year term by changing rate plans, even though I never heard of such a term and I'd changed the rate plan by calling their service center
  • If you are sure you are within your right, do the following:
    * Don't pay bills that you think aren't yours to pay. Instead, write back and tell them why you don't pay. Don't just throw them away!
    * Every time you call, start writing down dates, times and NAMES, and summarize everything that's been said
    * When you know enough, call again and ask for the complaint department
    * Write a letter to the complaint dept., telling them what happened and note what your reaction is. Demand an apology and corrective action.
  • My Personal Victory (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sl0play (990877) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @07:03AM (#15774989)
    I had an Earthlink DSL account in the US, and although I was aware through common knowledge that all local DSL carriers considered a customer to be in a contract from the time the modem connected to the line, I made a point to look for one at every point in the set-up process. The only thing that vaguely resembled legal mumbo jumbo was in the software envelope which I never used.

    I had nothing but problems with the service itself and cancelled within two months. They informed me that I would be charged $150 for early termination and another $200 if I didnt return their POS modem. I told them to stuff it and I refused to pay. They sent me to a collection agency and I immediately sent a letter disputing the debt and asking for proof of contract. The collection account was wiped clean and never appeared on my credit record. I even kept their crappy modem out of principle.

    Although corporations can be a brick wall to deal with, collection agencies are held to very strict regulations and a quick stroke of the pen leaves them without option. These companies think they are screwing you when they send you off to collections, but infact they are playing right into your hands.
  • by Karl Cocknozzle (514413) <kcocknozzle.hotmail@com> on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @07:34AM (#15775064) Homepage
    No problem... Call Visa, explain the situation, dispute any existing charges you know you don't owe, and tell Visa that automated charge is no longer authorized. If they won't stop the charges, complete your dispute(s) and then cancel the card (or better, threaten to cancel the card.) You'll find that CC companies, when they have a customer with good credit/payment history on the phone are a little more flexible once you start complaining and make waves about cutting up your card...

    Then when the ISP sends you a bill in the mail because your card is cancelled, you can return it to them with a threatening letter from your barrister. Something along the lines of "Please present evidence that our client signed a contract (ie. a copy of the signed contract) or stop harassing them."

    I think you'll find they fold like a house of cards... There is a reason the Cell PHone companies force you to SIGN an ACTUAL contract in real life--so they can't get sued for trying to collect the "early termination" fees.
  • by Kagato (116051) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @10:01AM (#15775702)
    There was a lot of this happening in the late 90's when internet companies were using telephone billing. Basically, as them for proof. If it was over the phone, they needed to record your conversation affirming that you entered into the contract. Adding terms to the back of a manual (aka a shirnk wrape license) has never been shown in court as being binding.

    When they can't offer proof file a formal complaint with your Attorny General. Usually a formal inquiry from the AG office gets fasts results.
  • by drwho (4190) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @01:07PM (#15777025) Homepage Journal
    This is probably not something in 'mainstream' legal culture, but there is a legal theory that you can use the Uniform Commercial Code to your advantage. See http://www.worldnewsstand.net/freedom/ucc4.htm [worldnewsstand.net] Basically, you sign a document (such as a check) with "Without Prejudice UCC 1-207" and you are able to protect yourself from 'hidden clauses' and 'hidden contracts'. I had a rubber stamp made for my checks, and this is how I sign them, it is recommended. I have never had to try this in court. It may not be of real legal value, but it was only a couple of dollars for the stamp and it may end up saving me a lot in the long run. Yes, I did read the part in the referenced article where in court you have to prove you know what that part of the UCC is about, and you can be sure I will have it all memorized if I ever have to go to court.
  • by julesh (229690) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @01:29PM (#15777197)
    The contact details on the phone line (BT) that my ADSL connection (Demon Internet) was associated with changed. Demon noticed the change & cut off the service, despite previous assurances that this would work flawlessly. They apologised, and a few weeks later reconnected. Six months later, we try to shift the service to Bulldog, but are told that we have six months of a 12 month contract remaining. No, we tell them, the contract expired a while ago. No, they say, it started again when the reconnection occurred.

    To cut a long story short: we told BT to force the connection of our line so that Bulldog could take it over. Demon will probably try to recover the remaining 6 months payment from us in a small claims court. Good luck to them, I say. They have no proof of a contract, and we have details of many weeks of service that wasn't supplied but we were still charged for.
  • by popo (107611) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @04:53PM (#15779204) Homepage

    Here's a question I'd like to see answered:

    Given that the "right" way to handle any contract is to seek professional legal advice,
    and given that consumers are now seeing as many as 30 or 40 EULA's annually, my question
    is: how much would a diligent legal review of all purchases (per consumer) cost if
    consumers were to enter into these "agreements" with diligent review by a legal professional.

    I think the answer to that question would be so eggregious that it would reveal the EULA
    system to be as silly as it seems.

    Any experienced purchasers of legal services care to make an estimate for what a
    diligent review of a single EULA would cost?

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