Service With a Smile — and Then Some

T-Mobile must be a wonderful place to work and shop.

This telecom giant boasts high ratings for customer satisfaction, innovative approaches (like “the 5G future”), social responsibility (“Let’s take care of each other”), sustainability (“Every day is Earth Day at T-Mobile”).

They created a special number for people to call to make a donation to help victims of Hurricane Dorian; discounts and career assistance for veterans; celebrating special Olympics.

But arguably the most impressive feature in T-Mobile’s promotional materials is its diverse corps of employees, overflowing with enthusiasm to provide the public with the best deals in tech products and services. Service with a smile? Outdated. This is service with boundless joy. These young people (they are all young) are literally leaping in the air, and not a trampoline in sight. By the looks of it, T-Mobile isn’t a corporation, it’s a jamboree, where entrepreneurial spirit and goodwill combine for a breathtaking experience. What more could you want?

Well, one thing is missing there: The news that New York City has sued T-Mobile and its chain of Metro stores for an alleged list of “abusive sales tactics” that makes one wonder how human beings can sink to such depths of dishonesty.

The dirty tricks include such winners as selling used phones as new, charging customers for services they didn’t order, charging nonexistent taxes, enrolling consumers in expensive financing plans without their consent, downright lying about down payments or installment plans and offering a 30-day guarantee that city investigators characterized as “wholly illusory.”

Metro’s website advertises a 30-day guarantee on phone purchases, but its actual return policy “only allows returns within seven days from in-store purchases — and all purchases are in-store, because it is impossible to buy a phone from the Metro Website,” the lawsuit said.

One of the most egregious cases occurred in January 2019, when Vashti Anais Wagner tried to buy a phone that was advertised for $599. The Metro store allegedly enrolled her in a lease agreement in which she’d end up paying $2,191.30 in monthly installments of $199.21. “The employee did not show Wagner the contract, appears to have e-signed it in her name and did not tell her that she would be leasing the phone rather than buying it outright,” the lawsuit said.

DCA (New York City Department of Consumer Affairs) has spent much of the past year trying to distill the corporate reality from the corporate image, and it’s enough to make you want to fold up your trampoline and go home.

The city’s lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan alleges that the company has, in the course of “taking care of us” in more than 50 of its “Metro by T-Mobile” stores in the five boroughs, violated the city’s consumer protection law thousands of times. And, since T-Mobile operates all over the United States, New York’s attorney general is also leading a coalition of states in suing to block T-Mobile’s $26.5 billion deal for rival carrier Sprint.

When asked about the case by Ars Technica, T-Mobile said it “take[s] these allegations very seriously” and is “continuing to investigate so we can respond to the City. Though we can’t comment on the specific claims at this early stage, what we are seeing alleged here is completely at odds with the integrity of our team and the commitment they have to taking care of our customers every day.”

Well, we’ll see. We know from bitter experience that this sort of swindling goes on in many businesses; T-Mobile just happens to be one big fish that got caught. In most cases, a customer — if he ever even becomes aware of a scam — lacks the resources to take a big outfit to court, and simply resigns himself to the loss.

But New York City has legal resources to match the corporate heavyweight. Will people actually get their money back?

The city’s lawsuit seeks forfeiture of revenue in order to establish “a restitution fund to compensate New Yorkers scammed at Metro stores.” The city said it is also seeking to have T-Mobile “notify all major credit bureaus that the financing contracts were fraudulent so that related information can be removed from the consumers’ credit reports, and to pay civil penalties.”

“Companies that blatantly scam New Yorkers must be held accountable,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in statement. “We are doing everything in our power to make sure that T-Mobile ends these deceptive practices and that customers who were taken advantage of get the restitution they are owed.”

That is a good step in the right direction. And hopefully other companies who have made ripping off the public with one hand while masquerading as the good citizen with the other will take note. If the city’s team has done its job well enough, and if the charges are found to be true and courts throw the book at T-Mobile, that should serve as a deterrent to like-minded swindlers.