In March my son bought a new phone from Straight Talk Wireless and called to activate it and add minutes. He used his debit card. Three times, the salesperson told him the $49.42 charge did not go through. So I let him use my credit card, but he was told that again, the transaction didn’t go through.

Frustrated, he told them to forget it and he went to another wireless company.

Later, he noticed three charges for $49.42 on his bank statement, and I also got a charge on my credit card.

When I called to complain, they transferred me to the refunds department, where I waited on hold for 30 minutes and was disconnected. Every time I tried to call again, a message said to call back later. I could never get a real person. I also wrote a letter and didn’t get a response.

This company took $200 and we can’t get any help.

- Nancy Winters, Winamac, Ind.


Do we need to plan a memorial service for customer service? Because it seems to have disappeared. This is the kind of silly problem that should be easy to fix … if only the consumer could make someone listen.

By the time we got involved you had already informed your own credit card issuer, who cancelled the charge on your account and sent you a new card. But there were still three incorrect debits totaling almost 150 bucks on your son’s account.

We had a little better luck. We took your problem to the PR folks at TracFone, which oversees the Straight Talk brand of prepaid, no-contract wireless phones.

From there it was a piece of cake. They started processing your son’s refund the same day. They wouldn’t give us specific details about the mix-up, citing customer privacy, but they thanked us for making them aware.

And now some tips for anyone else who’s been hanging on the phone endlessly, trying to get help from a company:

- Check out, where you can search for working numbers for many major companies.

- If you’re facing a desperately long hold time, try pressing the number for Spanish speakers. The operator will also speak English and the queue might be shorter.

- If you’re emailing customer service with no luck, do an online search with the company name and the words “investor relations.” The company may have a contact person for potential investors, and that person might also be able to escalate your problem.

- Click here for tips on how to complain effectively.

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Stephanie Zimmermann

Most people groan at the thought of spending hours on the phone with a customer service call center, but Stephanie Zimmermann relishes the chance to slice through red tape.

Before joining ABC News, Stephanie untangled consumer problems at the Chicago Sun-Times, where her popular column recovered more than $1.4 million in refunds, credits, and merchandise for consumers in the Windy City.

Stephanie, who lives in Chicago, has also worked at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and has bachelor's and master's degrees from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. But most of all, Stephanie is a consumer who hates to see anyone else get ripped off.