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Paying for Zombie T-Mobile Phone Lines
PHOTO: The Federal Communications Commission blame building for phone interferences.

Dear ABC News Fixer: I had two phone lines with T-Mobile on separate contracts – one for me and one for my mother. Last year in February, I called them to cancel my phone line since my contract was up.

The next month, I noticed they were still billing me for both lines. I called again and was told that it was an error and that they would cancel it.

The following month, I got my bill and again, I saw that my line had still not been canceled. I called T-Mobile again to let them know, and this time they said they had no record of my canceling the line or that anyone had ever spoken to me. I asked for a supervisor and was hung up on. I called back -- at this point I was upset. They told me they would be cutting off my phone lines for non-payment.

I let them know that I was more than happy to pay for my mother's phone line -- and I had been paying for it -- but I would not pay for a phone line that I had canceled two months earlier.

I was told that if I wanted to cancel, I would have to pay an early termination fee plus the past-due balance. It's now a year later, and they are still asking for this money.

- Abril Anchondo, Fresno, Calif.

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

Dear Abril: We're imagining lots of sympathetic looks and knowing nods from cell phone customers of all stripes, as the dreaded early termination fee is always near the top of consumer complaint lists.

In fact, T-Mobile is now marketing to people's disdain for early termination penalties in its new campaign in which it offers to pay fees you incur from another carrier if you buy a phone and switch to T-Mobile. Company CEO John Legere calls it a "get out of jail free card" for consumers.

But in this case, you shouldn't owe anything at all since a) you had canceled your phone in time and b) when you first called to complain, they acknowledged there was an error and promised to take care of your cancellation (even though they didn't follow through).

We took your problem to the powers-that-be at T-Mobile and they were able to untangle it rather quickly. They apologized for the error and waived the whole amount, which had grown to $614. They also promised to notify the three credit reporting agencies, so your credit history won't be negatively affected.

After the credit fix goes through – and it could take 90 days, they said – you should order a copy of your free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com , the official site set up under federal authority to allow consumers one free report every 12 months from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

Here are a few tips for avoiding early termination fees, which can hit $350, depending on the type of device and the carrier:

Know exactly when your contract ends. If you've added minutes or upgraded to a new phone or calling plan, you might be unwittingly signing on for a new contract period.

Research the company's service in your local area before signing a contract. Ask for a trial period and if you experience dropped calls or other problems, flee before the contract becomes permanent.

Remember that even with so-called "family plans," the company may consider each person's phone to be on a separate contract. So if you cancel everyone early, you may get hit with several fees.

Besides incurring an early termination penalty, cancellations in the middle of a monthly billing cycle typically take effect on the last day of the cycle – meaning you'll be paying for the whole month.

Ask your carrier if they pro-rate their early termination fees. Some companies do this, so if you drop out farther into the contract, you will incur less of a penalty than at the beginning of the contract.

You can avoid early termination fees altogether by purchasing a phone at the retail price and getting month-to-month service – with no contract and no penalties for leaving.

- The ABC News Fixer

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