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iPhone Horror Stories
Author: Tim Taylor

International iPhoning could cost you an arm and a leg!

Dave Stolte Story:
I have a caveat emptor to top them all. I purchased an iPhone on opening day to use in lieu of a cumbersome laptop while traveling in Ireland and England for two weeks in early July. AT&T promises "easy, affordable, and convenient plans" in their advertising... turns out I got two out of three.

On the way to the airport, I activated the per-use international roaming data plan - the only one offered to me. The rep quoted me $.005 per KB but did not disclose what that would translate to in layman's language (i.e., X amount per e-mail, X amount per web page, etc.). I'm a web developer as part of my career and I couldn't even tell you how many KB the average web page is, no less a text message to my son, an e-mail with a photo to my mother, or a quick check of Google Maps. That's part one of the trap. However, I now pay $40 per month for unlimited data usage on the iPhone, so really -- how much could it be? $100 at the most, right?

Keep reading.

As we know, the iPhone can't be unlocked to use a European provider's SIM card for more reasonable rates while traveling. There's part two of the trap.

To be safe, I went online to My Account at AT&T a couple days into the trip and again a week later and was told "usage data is currently unavailable"... and that's part three. I had no way of knowing specific usage data until I received my bill over the last weekend.

A bill for $3000.

It was only going to be a matter of time before something like this happened. Someone decided to take their iPhone on a little jaunt to Europe, where he says he underwent "sporadic AT&T EDGE network usage off and on mixed with wifi when available." The bill waiting for him when he got home: three grand. (And I bet it was 40 pages long, too.)

Dave Stolte is hardly alone in the annals of absurd, accidental overseas charges, but as more and more people start traveling abroad with their iPhones, cases like this are going to become a lot more common, and fast. The iPhone is a chatty little device, constantly checking the network and calling home to the mothership, and iPhone users quickly get spoiled on its nifty data features, using them constantly to check the web, watch videos, etc. (In fairness: You do have to call AT&T first and ask for international roaming to be unlocked for this to work at all.)

Those little charges add up fast. $0.02 per kilobyte sounds pretty cheap, right? WRONG. Do the math: A 1-megabyte web page (a very common size) costs almost twenty bucks to open. 20. Dollars. Whoa. Seriously. (Thanks to Portfolio for helping out with our collective multiplication, and noting that there are various rate plans available, going down to $.005 per KB, which would still be about $5 per megabyte.)

So what do you need to do if you're going abroad with your iPhone? Portfolio suggests the same thing I do: Sign up for an affordable international voice plan but disable the data plan altogether. You can still use data services over Wi-Fi, which is free. The inconvenience of not being able to check Google Maps when you're away from a hotspot is nothing compared to a multi-thousand dollar data bill. When you get home, just turn your data services back on.

Stolte's story has a happy ending. After wide online publicity, AT&T agreed to waive the charges. As the first to report such a problem, he's the lucky one. But I doubt the next 10,000 or so people to fall into this predicament will find AT&T so accommodating. Don't become one of them.

Americans love their cell phones -- most of us can't live without them. Yet the Better Business Bureau reports that cell phone providers are the No. 1 cause of complaints among consumers.

This is mostly due to incorrect billing, confusing fees, unexpected charges, and deceptive contracts. These can certainly add up, but I was shocked to learn that the most significant -- even devastating -- monetary damage can occur when your cell phone is lost or stolen.

A $26,000 Cell Phone Bill

A recent CBS 5 ConsumerWatch report by Jeanette Pavini profiles the plights of three consumers in California -- all of whom had their cell phones stolen and were left stuck with a huge bill for unauthorized charges.

The report told the story of San Francisco resident Wendy Nguyen, who was shocked to receive a bill for $26,000 after her cell phone was unknowingly stolen before she left for an overseas vacation. Cingular held her responsible for charges incurred after the phone was taken, up until the time Wendy discovered the theft and called the carrier.

She was able to prove via airline and passport documents that she was out of the country and couldn't possibly have made the unauthorized calls from San Francisco during that time, but Cingular still held Wendy accountable for all charges.

Not only that, they advised Wendy that if she couldn't pay the bill she should consider filing for bankruptcy!

Adding Insult to Injury.

Eileen Perrera's story revealed what happened after her phone was stolen while she was on vacation. She filed a police report and contacted Sprint immediately, but then received a bill totaling almost $16,000. Sprint claimed to have never received the call from her reporting the stolen cell phone.

Eileen was able to submit proof from landline phone records that she had indeed called Sprint customer service. As her late fees piled up, the situation remained unresolved for months.

Then there's Pamela Woodson's story. As revealed in the CBS 5 ConsumerWatch report, when Pamela's cell phone was stolen she reported it the very next day. However, by that time her account had already incurred over $1,800 in unauthorized charges. Due to the suspicious nature of the fraudulent charges, she was actually interviewed by the FBI -- and cleared of all responsibility. Nevertheless, T-Mobile pressed on, insisting she pay the outstanding charges in addition to late fees and interest.

Can This Be Legal?

If you dig through all the fine print in your cell phone contract, you'll most likely discover a statement that reads something like this: "Should your cell phone be lost or stolen you are responsible for any costs incurred for unauthorized calls made prior to reporting the cell phone missing."

Unlike a credit card, cellular contracts are not required to limit liability for fraudulent charges. But it's also important to realize that the extent of your liability as stated in your contract is your provider's policy -- it's not a law.

The laws that give consumers the right to dispute unauthorized charges vary from state to state. In states where the laws do exist, they're not doing much good because there's no single independent agency set up to review evidence, enforce the laws, and provide a timely resolution.

Why? It all comes down to money. In California, for instance, the significant financial contributions made by the wireless industry to state government gives the telecommunications industry enormous influence over entities like the Public Utilities Commission. In effect, this allows the wireless industry to make up its own rules.

Avoiding and Responding to a Theft.

Are we at the mercy of an unregulated industry that's free of consequences and penalties? Not if we learn how to defend ourselves.

This year, an estimated 600,000 cell phones will be reported lost or stolen. Here are the 10 things you need to know to protect yourself from cell phone theft and fraudulent charges:

1. Guard your cell phone like you would your wallet.

Yes, this is obvious advice, but frankly the best way to not get stuck with fraudulent charges is to do what you can to prevent unauthorized calls in the first place.

On a related note, think twice about what information you store on your device. A stolen cell phone can not only lead to a huge bill, but to identity theft as well.

2. Password-protect your device.

Check the user guide that came with your phone and start using the "lock" or "password" feature to potentially prevent a thief from making unauthorized calls. There are ways to override passwords, but at the very least you might be buying yourself some time until you discover the loss and call your provider.

3. Don't be fooled by cell phone insurance.

Purchasing cell phone insurance will provide coverage for the device itself, but it won't protect you against charges for unauthorized calls.

4. Call your cell phone provider as soon as you discover the loss.

Report your missing device, and be sure to keep meticulous records including the date and time you called your carrier, the name and ID number of the representative to whom you spoke, and what you were told.

Also note the state or region of their call center, plus their telephone extension number. Finally, ask for confirmation in writing that your device has been disabled. Some companies can even email this to you.

5. File a police report.

This may not help your chances of getting the stolen phone back, but it still provides an official record of the crime. Your carrier may even require the police report number when you phone in the loss.

6. Open an investigation with your carrier if necessary.

If you find that you're not getting an immediate resolution by working directly with your cell phone company, don't waste another minute. Call your carrier and request an investigation, then follow up in writing. Generally, requesting an investigation gives you a better chance of preventing any formal collections action to be taken and should also delay reporting to any of the credit bureaus.

When you request an investigation, advise your carrier that you'll be filing a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), your state attorney general's office, and your state's public utility commission (PUC). Your carrier is more likely to pay closer attention to you when they know you're an informed consumer.

According to a 2006 AARP/Roper cell phone survey (of adults 18 and over) 48 percent reported not knowing who to call in the event their cell phone carrier could not resolve a billing or service problem to their satisfaction. Items 7 through 9 below shed some light.

7. Contact the FCC.

The FCC will forward your complaint to your service provider, requiring a response from them within 30 days. You can contact them via their web site or call them directly at (888) 225-5322.

8. Contact your state attorney general's office.

According to ConsumersUnion.org, state attorney general offices will handle complaints about cell phone fraud and contract disputes. This office has filed lawsuits against wireless companies based on consumer complaints, resulting in refunds to consumers and agreements by some companies to reform certain practices.

Find the contact information for your state attorney general's office here.

9. Contact your state's PUC.

Each state has a government agency, usually called a public utility commission, that oversees telephone companies. To locate your state's PUC online and to file a complaint, visit the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners web site.

10. When all else fails, contact the media.

The wireless companies are particularly adverse to negative media attention, so until effective laws are put into place you may have to resort to contacting your local TV station.

In Wendy, Pamela, and Eileen's cases that's just what they did, and their stories all have happy endings. After many months of persistent determination and followup, all fraudulent charges were dropped. It seems the wireless industry wants to do the right thing after all -- as long as they're forced to by the media.

Ultimately, CBS 5 ConsumerWatch played a huge role in getting each situation resolved. But don't be tempted to skip steps 7 through 9. The FCC, state attorney generals offices, and PUCs all need to see how serious a problem this is, so formal complaints serve an important purpose.


10 Ways to Use Your Camera Phone
Author: Mike Elgan

Camera Phones: Ten Ways to Use Them
A camera phone is more than just a camera and a phone, much more than the sum of its parts. Camera phones are the "Swiss Army Knife" of gadgets, performing the role of other tools -- if you know how to use them.

Here are ten useful tools you can find inside your camera phone right now:

1. Handheld Scanner

Remember those old spy movies, where the secret agents captured documents with a tiny secret mini-camera? Now we all have one. Believe it or not, photographing documents works.

I don't recommend stealing information, but for random paper information, notes -- even white-board information, you can snap a picture to capture the data.

2. Screen-Capture Utility

The same trick for capturing paper documents works surprisingly well with a computer screen. The “normal” way to capture a screen -- pressing the PrntScrn key, the pasting into e-mail, Word or other applications (pressing Alt+PrntScrn captures only the selected window) -- sometimes that doesn't work. Some Web sites and some video formats don’t let you capture. In those cases, take a picture of the monitor! The resulting image won't be perfect, but it will be a lot better than nothing.

3. Photographic Memory

Business travel involves remembering small details, just to get yourself there and back. The more you travel, the more these details blur together.

After checking into your hotel, and dropping off your bags in the room, you decide to go grab dinner. You come back to the hotel, and make it up to your floor -- what was the room number 1021 or 1012? The next morning, you go downstairs to drive to your meeting -- which of the 50 rental cars in the lot is yours? You arrive at your home airport after a weeklong trip -- where in the five-story lot did you park?

Your camera phone can instantly record, then quickly recall, these and other minor but easy-to-forget details of business travel.

Whenever I travel, I always snap a picture of my hotel room number, rental car (with license plate) and airport parking garage location sign. If I forget, I can just call it up on my phone.

4. Contact Database Enhancer

Most camera phones let you add photos to each contact entry, which pop up on the screen when the person calls, or when you call them. Many also add the picture to Microsoft Outlook or other desktop contact applications when you synchronize the phone.

Snap a picture of important people you meet, and add that photo to your contacts. People don't mind, and it really helps you later connect faces to names.

5. Automatic Personal "City Guide" Creator

For years, I've kept personal "City Guides" of my favorite restaurants, hotels, stores and other attractions in the "Notes" application of my phone. I used to either type in the information with my phone, or grab a paper business card, then key in the information later. Now, I just take a picture of the outside of the building, then drop that photo in a folder labeled "Chicago" or "New York" -- or wherever the city is. Later, when I want to grab a bite to eat, or recommend some place to a friend, I just open the appropriate folder on my phone, and cycle through the pictures.

6. String Around Your Finger

Sometimes you see something that jogs your memory. For example, you see a flower stand, which reminds you – “Oh, No!! My anniversary is next week!!” Rather than forgetting again, just take a picture of the flower stand, and e-mail it to yourself as a reminder.

7. Driving Directions Maker

Some buildings are hard to find, even with good directions. Use your camera phone to make and send easy directions. Send a photo of the outside of the building. You can also give hints for directions enhanced by photos, such as "turn left at this gas station" or "when you see this fork in the road, keep to the right."

8. Personal Security Device

Door-to-door con artists are more common than you think. Chances are, you’ve been scammed yourself. The next time someone comes to your home or office to raise money or for some other potentially illicit purpose, ask if you can take their picture. Legit people won’t mind, and criminals will leave immediately.

Women confronted by creepy stalker types on public transportation have successfully warded off unwanted attention by snapping camera phone pictures of their harassers.

Aggressive panhandlers, crooked sales-people, suspicious strangers in your office -- it never hurts to take a picture and e-mail it to yourself (in case they steal your phone). It gives you the upper hand, can deter crime, and provides evidence if a crime does occur.

9. Liability Reducer

Camera phones can help you prove your innocence. If you get into a car accident, photograph everything (the cars, the victims, etc.) in case anyone decides to get creative with the facts later on.

If you check into a hotel room, and something is conspicuously damaged or missing, take a picture immediately, then send it to your Gmail or other online e-mail account. The time and date will be captured, which might protect you from being charged for the damage by the hotel.

10. Morale Booster

All managers are challenged by the need to keep staff morale high. A camera phone can help. When a sales person delivers a great pitch to a client, stand at the back of the room and snap a picture of them in action. Later, e-mail it to the staff with praise for the speaker. The photo will magnify the praise.

If something unusual happens at the office, take a picture and e-mail it immediately to employees who are away on business, home sick or on vacation. It helps feel more connected to the team, and reminds them that they’re important to you.


E-Mail Tips
Author: Tim Taylor

 · “Mistakes were made” not “We made a mistake” – it is an apology that is not an apology.

· Just because you make a mistake via e-mail doesn’t mean you can fix it through e-mail – do more for the person – gift certificate or something.

· E-mail apology is too easy – you cannot apologize for a bad e-mail with another e-mail.

· You cannot break up over e-mail – you cannot control when they “get” it.

· Be careful how you use PLEASE – it sounds like you are hectoring.

· Always include something that is cheerful and with good intent.

· If you would not print it, put it in an envelope and pay for a stamp on it then I should not e-mail it either!

· The computer is a tool not a toy! Some of us make a living doing this stuff!

· If you got a new phone would you immediately call everyone you know and tell them some info that you “heard” might be true?

· Be careful not to do to much and ask people for too much in your e-mail.


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