It Might Be Legal, but It Sure Isn’t Ethical!

I don’t rant often, but I must warn you. There’s a doozy ahead.

My Initial Contact With DirecTV

As you all know, we moved in September. At the time, we signed up for a bundle package through Qwest that included our home phone and DirecTV. When I agreed to the service, I was told by the Qwest representative that I would receive 200+ channels for $44.99 a month, as long as I agreed to an 18 month contract. I asked a whole bunch of questions. In the end, I agreed.

He then asked whether I’d like to receive Starz and Showtime free for 3 months. I said no, as I was sure in the midst of moving, I’d forget to cancel. Plus I don’t watch Starz and Showtime anyway.

The day came for our service to be hooked up. The technician came out and hooked up our service. He handed me a poorly photocopied paper, wrote the web address and customer service number on the paper, and said I’d need to fill out the information online if I wanted an $18 rebate. He then pulled out another paper, and fully explained why I would want to pay an extra few dollars a month for a service protection agreement. He completely explained what that would cover and all the details.

Fine. I signed up for it.

I tried to fill out the rebate form online, but something was wrong with the site, and it wouldn’t go through. I honestly don’t remember if I ever called it in. I was in the middle of moving, and I very well might have decided a one time $18 rebate wasn’t worth the hassle.

DirecTV’s Customer Service

Fast forward to yesterday. I received my Qwest bill, and it was quite a bit higher than I anticipated. Upon further investigation, I saw that I was being charged $23 for Starz and Showetime, and my basic package had gone up to $62.99! I immediately called Qwest, who forwarded my call to DirecTV.

I explained the problem to them. The woman on the line explained that she could cancel Starz and Showtime, but I would have to pay a prorated fee of $17 something. And then she explained that there was absolutely nothing she could do about my package price, because I hadn’t turned in the rebate form within the 60 day time frame. What??? I told her I had no idea that I needed to turn in a rebate form to get the special price.

She then asked if I filled out a rebate, and I told her I’m sure I probably did. She asked how I submitted it, and I said I’d probably mailed it in, because that’s how I normally submit rebates. Then she informed me that that was impossible. After thinking about it, I remembered the aggravating night on the computer. Yes, I tried to submit it. It didn’t work.

Frustrated, I asked to talk to a supervisor. She said it could be a long hold, but she’d transfer me. After 10 minutes on hold, she hung up on me. I was not happy.

I made another phone call and got the same song and dance from a different person. I contacted @DirecTV on Twitter. I must say, he impressed me with his quick response. He took my account number and told me a customer service specialist would be calling me shortly. And someone did.

However, like all the other customer service representatives, she said “the system” would not allow her to make the necessary adjustment to bring my rate back down to $44.95 a month. However, she did assure me that she could offer me a $5 discount every month. $5??? Are you kidding me??? What an insult!

I asked how much it would cost to cancel my service, and she said it would be $320, since I was on a 24 month contract. Did you catch that? I was initially told I’d be on an 18 month contract, but suddenly I’m on a 24 month contract. The sad part is, I’m seriously thinking of paying the cancellation fee, so I can be done with them.

I’m Not Alone

I promise, I’m getting to my point.

One of my blogging buddies, David from My Two Dollars, had the exact same experience with DirecTV. And upon further investigation, we’re not the only two people. Qwest customer service said they had another complaint just like mine yesterday. (And don’t think I’m letting Qwest off the hook. They’ll be getting another call from me today).

A quick internet and twitter search found:

Apparently DirecTV’ s reputation isn’t great in my home state of Oregon, or with the BBB. According to the article, the Oregon Attorney General has received over 200 complaints about DirecTV (“a large number”), and the Better Business Bureau rates DirecTV as a “C”. When I filed my complaint last night, they were down to a “C-“. One more step down, and the BBB won’t consider them acceptable anymore, unless you are aware of the issues with the company.

Charter, to my surprise, has an “A” rating. Comcast has a “B” rating. Dish Network, which I left in favor of DirecTV, has a “B” rating too. I should have read the ratings before I switched my service.

Is it Legal?

The short answer is probably. All three representatives informed me that legally all they had to do was hand over the rebate form, and that was considered fair notification that I had to submit the rebate to get my promotional price for the duration of my contract. That’s it. The form doesn’t even have to be legible. They just have to give it to you. It doesn’t matter if the person who signed you up failed to mention the necessity of submitting a rebate. It doesn’t matter that the person who hands you the form makes it sound like it’s a one time rebate, not a monthly thing.

Is it Ethical?

Not on your life. I don’t know most of the people I linked to above, but I do know David of My Two Dollars. I know that both of us are intelligent enough to talk about personal finance on the web well enough that people are willing to read our sites. Both of us are fairly well educated and I might even add…smart.

I find it strange that both of us would feel taken advantage of by DirecTV. If DirecTV can fool two reasonably tech savvy people like David and I, I wonder how many others have been fooled. And taken advantage of.

Whatever happened to truth in advertising? When a price is quoted me, with no stipulations mentioned, I expect to get that price. When a service agreement that puts more money into DirecTV’s pocket is explained in detail, yet a rebate form that will save me money is handed to me on an illegible paper with no explanation that it’s really important, it makes me wonder if it’s intentional. I can’t say for sure, but it feels that way.

And when I’m hung up on by a customer service representative and told that “the system” can’t help a customer, then that system needs to be changed. In fact, I mentioned that to the “customer service specialist” that I talked to last. I told her that I know of at least two other instances where this had happened to other people, and that if the same issue kept arising, perhaps they need to look into the way they’re doing business.

Her response? “Perhaps you’re right. We’ll look into it.”

Maybe she will, but I’m not holding my breath. And that doesn’t help those of us who have already been taken advantage of.

In this season of our country, when companies are fighting to stay alive, you’d think customer service would be more important. I got better treatment at a used car dealership.

Photo by brianc.


By , on Feb 18, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. lisa:

    I’ve had awful experience with DirecTV also. DirectTV is not for us.

  2. Mary:

    Try filing a complaint with your state Attorney General. I got ticked off enough once at Burger King (their advertised $1.99 breakfast meal was $3.29 by the time I pulled up to the window to pay) and I got a very fast reply from my state’s AG telling me they were investigating – within a week or two I had a letter in the mail from them giving me BK’s take on the subject (their register didn’t KNOW it was supposed to be $1.99…duh) and my AG’s assurance that BK would not let this occur in the future…LOL Like they don’t have other worse problems but I’m sure that caused BK to take notice! That was Michigan, but that is the job of every AG’s office in every state – to investigate false advertising, etc.

    File a complaint – it was an online form and only took 15 minutes to fillout, and I uploaded a copy of my receipt right to their website – and see what happens! It sure can’t hurt!

  3. How Qwestish.

    Here’s a human being in Qworst’s home office who actually can do something to help:

    Julie Lane 303-896-4003

    This person’s telephone number came forth after I wrote snailmail and e-mail protests to Qwest’s upper management and cc’ed the state corporation commission and the state attorney general. Try this worthy:

    Paula Kruger
    Executive Vice President, Mass Markets
    Qwest Corporation
    1801 California Street
    Denver, CO 80202

    The CEO’s name is Edward A.Mueller; he’s at the same street address, but his published e-mail address (for obvious reasons) doesn’t work.

    Go to Consumerist and search Qwest executives. Also search in general at that site for complaints about Qworst…you may find something you can use.

    I also highly recommend a tape recorder. Talk to these people on a squawk box and quietly turn the recorder on. Do not tell them you recording them; if you do, they will demand that you turn off the recorder and refuse to speak to you until you claim you have done so. This is a situation that could escalate into a lawsuit — if you are lucky someone else has already started a class action against the SOBs. In that event, tape recordings and careful, accurate notes of telephone conversations could come in very handy.

    Qworst is the most hellish evil corporation I have ever had the misery of dealing with. Good luck to you!

  4. I had a horrible experience with Dish Network and a bad enough experience with local TimeWarnerCable (North Carolina) to forgo paid TV altogether. DirectTV is the option I have not tried. I appreciate the comments regarding using a reputable local retailer, and I can see how that could help insulate one from the bad service that the main outlets provide.

    Has anyone had experience getting DirecTV through Costco?

  5. Yup, we had the same problem. We were promised the moon. We got junk.

    We haven’t had CBS in over a year now, even tho we were promised ALL local stations when we signed up.

  6. Jo:

    Thanks for letting us know about having to call to cancel the extra free package for three months of Movie channels…..I didn’t know we had to cancel. I called today and canceled, even though we had two more months. I didn’t want to forget.
    I had signed up through My Points for 10,000 points but never got them, still trying to get them. My Points is working on it. I kept the conformation number the night I signed up.
    I also called last month and asked for a paper billing, I didn’t want it on my credit card. This month I didn’t even get a bill. So I had to call again. She said there was no record I had changed.
    Thanks again for the warning, hope you can get some help. I’m in Central Washington

  7. Justin:

    I have DirecTV and love it. I’ve even had several customer service calls which ended very well. I did weeks of research before scheduling an install. Being an informed consumer is a smart consumer. When something you are going to purchase requires a contract, research and read everything r,about the product or service before signing the dotted line. Call customer service 20 times if you have to. When you aren’t their customer they’ll try their best to make you their customer. If you want the contract info in writing, they’ll send it to you.

  8. I am still being charged $62 a month, even though when I signed up I was told it was $41.99 a month. Phone call after phone call, email after email, complaint after complaint – nothing.

  9. Lynnae:

    David, are you sure you weren’t a victim of the rebate scam, too? The only reason I ask is that the dollar amounts are so close to the amounts of my problem. It almost sounds like the same problem, and there are tons of complaints about vague details about rebates necessary to get the right price.

    It stinks when a company can say one thing and charge you another, and then send you to a customer service call center that doesn’t have the power to help you.

  10. I know it’s not for everyone but an experience like this is why I ditched Dish satellite for OTA HDTV and Hulu… and I haven’t looked back!

  11. Melissa:

    When the CSR and supervisor tell you they can’t help you, be sure to ask for the address where you can file a formal written complaint and keep a copy for the written complaint for your files. The company may not respond promptly – or ever – to your formal complaint, but at least you can prove that you followed their procedures and exhausted all of the available avenues before obtaining outside help (such as following up with a legal suit or filing a claim with the better business bureau).

    I am so tired of these customer service stories (and particularly of them happening to me).

    Best of luck!

  12. quantboy:

    The phone companies and cable companies all work the same switch-a-roo scam. Best stick to free TV.

  13. Oh, and I forgot to mention their lack of follow-through when we were trying to return our boxes when we moved. It took 3 weeks & 5 phone calls (due to waiting for supposedly shipped boxes, etc) to be resolved. I called 1 month prior to our move to find out the proper procedure and followed the instructions, each time we called the instructions changed. I was so worried that something was going to happen and we would end up owing them for the boxes.

    It’s sad to see so many people having such similar problems with such a large company.

  14. Ugg! This just infuriates me! I have never had Direct TV or DishTV. Comcast is enough of a hassle and I have heard worse things about Direct TV and Dish TV. Every month our comcast bill goes up, just slightly, like a dollar or two. When we call, we get such a run around that we just end up paying it. I just don’t understand. As someone said earlier, cable is one service that people can live without and could cancel to trim expenses, so you would think that they would offer excellent customer service to keep you as a customer. Although I guess they figure that hosing you into a contract is the best way to ensure they make some money off you.

  15. We had multiple problems when we had DirecTV service when we were in VA. First when the service tech came out to install the plans had apparently changed and when we told him the price of the plan (because he had no knowledge of the details of the plans) he jotted it down. Later that night we had like 50 channels when we were supposed to have some 150 or so. So we immediately called & the representative said that since we weren’t new customers anymore they couldn’t give us the special monthly price for our package. We had had our service less than 24 hours and called when we noticed that something wasn’t right.

    Then apparently someone decided that we needed HBO & Cinemax so when I told her we hadn’t asked for those she took them off. I noticed on my bill they charged me almost $20 to cancel the channels, channels I had never asked for. I wanted out immediately, but we just couldn’t afford it. I was so thankful when we moved that we could get out of the contract with my husbands PCS orders & a bit of a stretch of the truth that our landlord wouldn’t allow a dish on the house or in the yard ;) Much happier with my cable service and ability to use the DVR features I was paying for.

    I would never recommend their service to anyone.

  16. jan:

    We had a similar problem with Dish TV. When tried to cancel that said we couldn’t until we talked to a cancellation specialist(?) who could not be reached for a long time. When finally contacted we were told he would send a box to return their stuff. When the box finally came it did not have the promised address form. Then it took another 6 weeks for that. On and in and in…we got rid of our TV. Enough already.

  17. cgbascom:

    In my area of the Upper Peninsula, I am unable to receive regular network progamming. Last year I switched from Dish TV to DirecTV because of the great deal they could give me. The service technician, who worked for an independent contractor, came down from Marquette to put in the dish and hook everything up. Because we live surrounded by trees, we knew that the placement of the dish was critical for viewing the progams. We also knew that whenever the wind blew hard, we would have spotty reception. The tech placed our satellite dish in the best place he could. We were skeptical. The leaves were not out on the trees fully and we knew the dish might have to be moved. He assured us that if that happened he would come out and move it.

    Guess what? It happened. We called DirecTV and told them about the issue and they made arrangements for the technician to come back out and move the dish. Well, he called me from his mobile phone and told me that he could not find us. It was another technician. So I gave him directions from where he was at and waited. An hour later, he called again and told me he still could not find us. I asked him where he was and told him I would come out to him and lead him back to our house. We passed each other on the road, but he finally got to our house. He looked at where the dish was, got a ladder, and climbed onto the shed where it was located, wiggled and jiggled it, got back down, loaded his ladder back onto the truck, and then informed us that the last technician hadn’t installed it correctly and that it would need to be tightened down, then left. We told him about the tree issue. But he seemed more concerned about the amount of work he would have to do.

    I called DirecTV and told them about the problem and how the tech had ‘solved’ it. They were sorry, they would call the company again, and would we be available next week to have a new technician come out.

    The company called and made an appointment to come out and they never showed up. I called the company figuring that something may have happened, the technician got lost again, etc. No one answered the phone and there was no answering service to take a message.

    I called DirecTV, again. They were apologetic and told me that they could give me 3 months of HBO (which I would never watch) for my troubles. I reminded them that I was not receiving any signals so I wouldn’t be able to watch HBO anyway. They apologized again and said they would look into the issue. I waited three weeks. They called me twice offering some compensation, but no one would come out to move the dish. Finally, I told them to cancel my subscription. There was no use in paying for something I couldn’t watch.

    Two weeks later, a charge of $430 showed up on my credit card. I called the card company and they put a hold on the payment. I called DirecTV and they put me on hold then hung up on me. I called again and insisted that I talk to someone about the charge. When I explained the situation to this person, he laughed and said “Well, the charge stands. You cancelled the contract.” And you know what? I did. They used my words against me and all because I could not get a service technician to move my dish. When the credit card company called me to ask about the charge, I told them to pay it. The woman at the card company (the same one I had talked to about the charge) seemed upset and asked me was I really going to pay it. I told her yes. The company had me on tape cancelling the contract. It apparently does not matter why. It just matters that I did.

  18. Michelle H.:

    Oh one other thing – apparently these huge companies with such awful customer service have never heard the old country saying — “you can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin him once.” nuff said…..

  19. Michelle H.:

    Hi Lynnae,

    My husband and I are Dishnet Retailers and we’ve heard similar stories about Direct Tv and also even about Dishnet. It really does come down to which retailer you sign up with. Pick a good local retailer and they’ll help you be sure you get the service you signed up for and they can intercede for you if something goes wrong. Ask around your community for the best retailer. Our business is mainly word of mouth but we’ve done well here because we’ll actually stand up for our customers to the parent company if need be. I think the worst way for anyone to sign up is over the internet or if someone comes to your door – lots of retailers will send out contract workers to sign up people and once they’ve signed them up, if anything goes wrong, you can’t find them – they may even be in a different state. Also don’t assume that any 800 number is the correct one. Lots of retailers use an 800 # with DISH in it – this is not the parent company. Find out where your local retailer is and find out their reputation in the community.Also be sure that they give you a copy of your contract and be sure and read it first. We also provide our customers with an information sheet that explains all rebates, promotions, contract period, and billing and we have them read it and sign it so they know what to expect.
    As for your problem with DirectTV – I would call again and ask to speak to a supervisor in the Customer Service Dept. – keep trying until you get someone to listen to you. You might get someone that can actually help you – maybe not but it’s worth another call!
    Hope this helps someone!

  20. Abby:

    Y’know, DirectTV must spend $18/month advertising to our household. We get direct mail, flyers plus all the other promo pieces I see.

    And still, the stories of lousy customer service? Far, far more powerful than ANY offer they could ever put in the mail. I don’t care how cheap it is, DirectTV is not for us – not unless I start hearing tales of their outstanding customer service.

  21. Lynnae:

    @cgbascom – I’m so sorry that happened to you. Again, what they did to you is totally legal, but not at all ethical. Why should you have to pay a cancellation fee, because they told you to cancel after they couldn’t deliver service?

    If I can’t get this resolved, I may just pay the money to get out of my contract too. In the long run, it would probably be more cost effective to bundle my existing cable internet with cable TV, and drop all DirecTV and Qwest services, even considering the fee. I’ll have to check into that.

  22. Lynnae:

    Those of you who have mentioned getting service through local retailers are spot on. When we had Dish Network, we went through a local retailer, and he was fabulous!

    The only reason I didn’t this time, is because Qwest offered me a better deal, and I’ve always had such great experiences with Qwest customer service…until now.

  23. Lynn:

    Lynne, you have probably already thought of it this, or maybe someone has suggested it, but I would call your state’s attorney general office, they take consumer complaints and act on them. You have so many followers of your blogg, that I would suggest you consider a class action suit…sounds like there would be a lot of interested takers. Considering how many people are suffering financially in this this tight economy, we have to make every penny count and not allow scam artists to do business in our country anymore. Like you, I have been down this road way too many times to count, but I don’t have a blogg and you do, might be a good time to show just how much clout the average, intelligent, well-read citizen actually has.

  24. I just had to add my comment too. I’ve had awful experience with DirecTV also. I can’t wait for my contract to be over so I can cancel! The last time a technician came to my home, they were rude, tried to con my husband into giving him extra money in order to do what was required in the work order! We told him no. AND, he didn’t do what was required. We called quickly to complain. They also didn’t set up the TV correctly. I had to call tech support myself. They didn’t leave a receipt, so I have no proof of whatever they did. They offered us 2 months free showtime (which we don’t watch)..and it reminds me that I have to cancel before they start charging me!

    I was also offered a $50 credit that took 3 calls to reflect on my bill! Each time I called, they would say that it would reflect within a day or so, but it never happened, so everytime I got my bill, I would have to call again. I’m so fed up with them.

  25. This story makes me both angry and sad. I read your blog so I know you are smart and careful yet they were still able to take advantage of you. Other people who are as smart and careful… how have they hurt them?

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I'm just an average mom, trying to live a frugal life and get out of debt. I write about things that have (and haven't) worked to improve my family's financial situation. What works for me may or may not work for you, and you should always consult a financial advisor before making important financial decisions.

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