AT&T México’s Shameless Bait-and-Switch Scam

Photo: Google


Up until Saturday, Feb. 5, I had been a faithful AT&T México (previously known as Iusacell) customer for more than 15 years, always carrying the maximum plan available and always paying my bill on time through an automatic payment from my American Express card.

Sure, the service could be faulty, with constant call drop-offs and frequent reception dead zones, and there were always tons of annoying spam calls from venders trying to get me to buy a new plan, and, of course, having to go to an A&T for any reason whatsoever inevitably meant having to sit around and wait for at least an hour.

But, for the most part, I am a patient person and was willing to endure these “minor” inconveniences in order to avoid having to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole of changing my plan and provider.

So after I began receiving a barrage of phone calls and text messages earlier this year from AT&T telling me that I had to go to one of their centers to have a new SIM card inserted into my phone — “at no cost to me” — so that it would continue to operate with the new 5G platform, I finally took a deep breath, gathered my official IDs, proofs of address and other pertinent documents and traipsed over to the AT&T sales office at the Cibeles roundabout of Mexico City’s Colonia Roma.

Accompanied by my daughter, I was immediately sent to an “agente” by the name of Magu Santiago to attend to my SIM card issue.

But rather than provide me with a new SIM card, Magu immediately informed me that: 1) the SIM card would have a cost (contrary to what every call and text message had said) and 2) I could not get the new card unless I renewed my plan.

She then proceeded to tell me that I could have basically the same plan I already had, but with a a few more gigabytes of data for about 400 pesos more than the same amount of money I was currently paying.

I then asked if that would include a new iPhone, which she said it would, but only if I signed up for a minimum of two years.

Since, at that time, I had no intention of changing providers, I said that would be fine, but what would I have to pay for a new iPhone 13 Pro?

The cost of the phone, she said, was 32,000 pesos (about 50 percent higher than the current market price), but if I signed a three-year contract, I could get it for 19,000 dispersed over 36 months without interest.

That seemed like a decent deal, and I agreed.

Magu then warned me that if I only signed a two-year or one-year contract, the price would be 32,000. (Go figure.)

So, I agreed to the three-year contract, and thus began a more than four-hour ordeal of bait-and-switch, misrepresentation and outright lies.

First, Magu took my passport and FM-2 (Mexican immigrant document ¿) and copied them.

She then demanded a copy of my bank account, even though I had presented other forms of proof of where I lived in the form of a water bill, an electric bill and a Telmex land phone bill.

She also took my fingerprints — repeatedly — since, according to her, my prints were “not very legible.” (I guess I could have been a good cat burglar, but I missed my calling.)

And then the waiting game began.

Magu kept assuring me that it would only be “another five minutes” for the process to be completed. This dragged on for over an hour.

Then, after yet another hour, she told me that my FM-2 was not acceptable since foreigners must identify only with an FM-3.

Some clarification is merited here: An FM-2 means that I am an immigrant to Mexico and a longtime resident. (It takes years to get a finalized FM-2, which is what I presented, issued by Mexico’s Secretariat of the Interior.) On the other hand, an FM-3 is a temporary work visa issued for six months to one year at a time.

In other words, someone with an FM-3 is more likely to leave the country unexpectedly than someone who has an FM-2.

But AT&T, she said, does not “recognize” an FM-2.

So I asked if we could use my passport, but was told by Magu that a U.S. passport is “not valid” and cannot be used for the process.

At this point, the manager, one Oscar Pimentel, came out to tell me that neither my FM-2 nor my passport were “valid documents” and could I please present my IFE (the official Mexican voter ID).

I tried repeatedly to explain that as a U.S. citizen I was not able to vote in Mexico and hence did not have an IFE, but that message never seemed to get through to either Oscar or Magu.

By now, more than two and a half hours had passed, and both my daughter and I were getting exacerbated.

To resolve the situation, my daughter, who is a dual U.S. and Mexican citizen, said she would put the phone contract in her name, and Magu and Oscar said that would work.

Again we began the process of fingerprinting (my daughter’s prints seem to be “legible,” so I guess there is no cat burglar career in her future), followed by her presentation of her IFE and Mexican passport.

Ah, but Magu informed us, that my daughter’s IFE was not acceptable because it was renewed in 2012 (that is when she got it in the first place) and for some bizarre reason, renewed IFEs are “not acceptable.” (No further explanation was offered, but by this time, we just wanted to get the process over and done with, so we did not argue the point.)

So we tried with my daughter’s passport.

Yes, we were told, her passport was acceptable, but her credit records were not sufficient to be given a phone. (For the record, my daughter is making a six-figure salary — in dollars, not pesos — at her job with a major transnational company, and both she and I have pristine credit ratings.)

But Oscar and Magu said that she was not “eligible” for the phone purchase, and snidely suggested she sort out her “bank debt issues.” (She has no debt issues; nor do I.)

However, they said, we needed to renew my cell phone contract (in her name) and I could purchase the new phone for the cash amount of 32,000 pesos.

In other words, the whole 19,000-peso offer was a scam to get me to renew my contract and lock me in to AT&T for three more years.

AT&T never intended to let me have the phone for 19,000 pesos.

And I am quite convinced that the company is pulling the same type of scam on nearly all its customers, since when we finally got out of there, almost everyone who was “being attended to” by AT&T agents when we arrived were still there — yes, more than four hours later!)

Disgusted and tired (we were now approaching the five-hour mark), my daughter and I left and went straight to the Telcel office inside the Reforma 222 shopping mall.

There we applied to cancel my AT&T account (which had not been renewed in years, so there were no pending fees).

The people who attended to us at Telcel were extremely polite and efficient and within 40 minutes I had a new contract, with roughly the same plan that AT&T had tried to sell me, but with more than three times the gigabytes of data and about 300 pesos cheaper.

On Tuesday, Feb. 8, I picked up my new iPhone 13 Pro, with twice the memory that the AT&T phone had, for a total cost of 24,000 pesos —  a far cry from the 32,000 AT&T wanted for a lower-memory model — and was offered the opportunity to pay it in installments of 12 months without interest.

Oh, yeah, and Telcel threw in a nice little gift of a brand new pair of AirPods to welcome me as a customer.

One of their executives also helped me program the transfer of my apps and data from my old iPhone to the new one.

And if I didn’t already have plenty of reasons for being glad I changed providers, on Wednesday, Feb. 9, the Federal Institute of Telecommunications (IFT) granted Telcel permission to operate the largest 5G commercial network in Latin America in 90 percent of the markets where it operates, including Mexico.

And while AT&T México became the first telecommunications company to announce 5G trials in the country last year, it does not yet offer a commercial service.

It is worth mentioning is that Telcel accepted my FM-2 as an official ID, no questions asked, and did NOT ask for my bank statements or finger prints.

They did ask for the phone numbers of three personal references.

So now I have a new iPhone and a brand new cell phone service.

And as for AT&T, I am happy to be rid of them, even though I am not happy about them having copies of my passport, FM-2, bank accounts, etc.

The whole, come-in-and-get-a-free-new-SIM-card thing was a ruse, intended to rope customers into signing a new contract and getting absolutely nothing in the way of compensation or a new phone in return.

AT&T México is using a bait-and-switch scheme to exploit it customers.

But this blatant abuse of its customers may turn out to be counterproductive.

In my case, they lost a 15-year, high-end client.

And I am pretty sure I am not the only one.






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