I'm an active duty servicemember who was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army from November 2010 to June 2012. While there, my wife and I had cell phones through the German parent of T-Mobile, Deutsche Telekom.

After my deployment to Afghanistan, my unit’s orders were cut short and we were sent back to the United States early. The new military orders should have been sufficient to void the contract with no penalty -- as was the case for most people. The person at the Deutsche Telekom office even told me not to worry. So I paid my remaining bill and closed the account and forgot about it.

Now, almost three years later, I got a bill from a collection agency for $424.16 for this old Deutsche Telekom account.

Can you help?

- Christopher Beckett, Odenton, Md.


Ah, early termination fees – the bane of every cell phone user’s existence. As a member of the military, you’re covered in the United States by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act during lengthy deployments or permanent moves if you can’t use the phone service -- and it turns out you should have been given a pass in Germany as well, according to Deutsche Telekom.

We took your story to both T-Mobile here and Deutsche Telekom over there, and they quickly got to work fixing this. Once they confirmed that you had indeed left Germany in June 2012, they zeroed out the account balance and promised to contact the collection agency.

Deutsche Telekom spokesman Philipp Kornstädt apologized for the inconvenience and said soldiers like you have a right to cancel when they are moved. He also told the ABC News Fixer he is keenly aware of what military families go through because he was a former captain in the German air force.

So we’ll consider this fixed!

As for other cell phone users, whatever carrier you have, there are some ways to avoid expensive early termination fees and other bill-padding items:

  • Be smart from the start. Make sure the company can provide the level of service you need in your home area before signing any long-term contract.

  • Consider ditching the contract altogether. It can be tempting to get a cheap phone though a contract, but is it worth tying yourself down? Many consumers prefer to pay more upfront in exchange for lower monthly bills and more freedom.

  • Don’t make things worse by improving them. We regularly hear from upset consumers who didn’t realize that altering their plan would remove their unlimited data.

  • Shop around. Sometimes competing carriers will offer to buy out your old contract just to get your business. But read the fine print carefully to make sure you qualify, and think about whether you need another long-term relationship.

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.

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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.