For our purposes, I'll call the aforesaid big corporation "MonsterTelco." As a global leader in worldwide cellular telecommunications, MonsterTelco (TM) offers its customers free services to sucker them into lucrative phone contracts. These services aren't really free, because the services you do pay for are marked up to absorb the cost of offering you those free services, but that's a different story altogether. As it happens, my wireless plan with MonsterTelco afforded me free nighttime cellphone minutes between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. -- you know, in case I ever needed to place an emergency call to my insomniac support group.
I was habitually guilty of wireless minute overages. Too often I burned through my 600-minutes-a-month plan, and was forced to pay the inflated per-minute penalty charges for the overage. I soon learned my lesson and shifted my social calls to start at 9:01 p.m. These calls typically ran on into the wee hours of the following morning. When MonsterTelco's monthly statement came in, it was no slight pleasure to see that I'd been billed for a scant 600 minutes but had used several times that in free minutes.
Mere days after the billing statement came in the mail, I got a call from an unlisted phone number. A cheery young man answered. While I don't remember his name, for our purposes I'll call him "Josh." Josh (TM) was a MonsterTelco (TM) customer service agent. After getting through those trite pleasantries that phone etiquette requires, he thrust for the heart of the matter.
"You really like that phone plan, don't ya?" Josh said. It was more a statement than a question.
"Sure," I replied.
"I mean, you really like that plan, huh?" he went on.
Here's where I got suspicious. MonsterTelco didn't make its money chatting with subscribers.
"Yes," I replied, giving Josh nothing else to go on.
Silence. Your move, Josh.
"Well..." he stammered. "Have you ever thought to upgrade your plan? I mean, you used 5,000 minutes last month."
Pinning the phone to my ear with my shoulder, I dug last month's wireless bill out of my desk drawer. Josh was right, I had used 5,000 minutes: 400 of them were peak-time minutes I had paid for, and the other 4,600 were free.
"Actually," I said, "I think I am due for an upgrade. Tell me about cheaper plans with less peak-time minutes and more free minutes."
The call dropped just then, or at least that's what I'd like to believe. The cynical side of me, the one that's usually right, said Josh hung up.
In any event, MonsterTelco's customer relations department dropped the ball. Its employee, "Josh," had handled the call poorly. That they even called in the first place is reprehensible in itself. Think how it might reflect on a purportedly world-class corporation that they should complain to me, their customer, for using their services in a legal and contractually-permissible manner. After all, they wrote that contract, not me. They shouldn't cry if I find creative ways to use it to my advantage.
I shared this story with family and friends, and they recommended I write MonsterTelco a nasty letter. I gave that thought ample consideration that took all of two heartbeats. After researching it some, I found out that the street address for MonsterTelco's customer service concerns was a rental mailbox at its paper shredding vendor. Any mail sent there was sifted into a bin and dumped into an industrial paper shredder, to be destroyed unopened. To make MonsterTelco feel my frustration, I would have to resort to diplomacy by other means.
First, I pored over the service contract. Interestingly, my wireless plan included handset replacement insurance for just $5 monthly, with a $10 per-claim deductible. This was a hold-over from when my parents first signed up and bought me an inexpensive brick-phone. Because we had renewed the same plan over the years, these terms were grandfathered-in to apply to my current high-tech pocket computer that did everything but make you a breakfast smoothie on demand.
I launched my plan at the start of the next billing cycle. At exactly 9:01 p.m. I placed a call from my cellphone to my parents' home line. I picked up the home line at the first ring and plugged my cellphone into the wall charger, so it wouldn't drop the call when the battery ran down. Both lines were tied up all night, for an eight-hour window through 5:00 a.m. the following morning. This went on every evening for a month. That month's billing statement showed I'd burned through 14,000 free wireless minutes. I did this for three months straight, until the screen on my handset shorted out. By then, I'd racked up over 40,000 free wireless minutes.
MonsterTelco must have known what I was doing, and why I was doing it, because they did not call during those three months of intense wireless use. Since they weren't forthcoming, I phoned them to make an insurance claim.
"Oh no, sorry," the nameless lady in MonsterTelco's employ explained. "Your insurance policy doesn't cover your phone. That policy was written up too long ago."
Oh, how wrong she was. After nearly an hour's wait on hold, I worked my way up through her assistant supervisor, her supervisor, and finally into insurance underwriting. Grudgingly, MonsterTelco admitted it was contractually bound to ship a replacement phone, and sure enough, one identical to the phone I had burnt out arrived in the mail a week later. A brand-new $200 phone for a mere $10.
After another three months and 50,000 free minutes, the replacement phone burned out and I placed another call to MonsterTelco. This time, the conversation went smoothly -- it was almost pleasant, even. The company apologized for the technical problems and agreed to ship a second replacement phone.
When the box containing the new phone arrived, I gleefully tore it open and went for the shrink-wrapped technological goodness inside. My hands stopped short. To be sure, the phone was inside, but atop it was a letter printed on cream-colored stationery. The string of names in bold type on the letterhead spoke to one thing: attorneys.
MonsterTelco had sicked its hired-gun attorneys on its own customer.
My heart racing, I read the letter several times. If MonsterTelco sued me, my life would be over. They'd pull their political strings and have the judge order me never to come within fifty feet of a cellphone. Once the terror had passed, anger set in. For those of you who never have experienced it, reading while angry is an exhilarating thing, and highly productive in small doses.
With the fire in my gut roiling, I sat at my desk and penned a response. In a nutshell, the attorneys had accused me of fraud. Their flimsy allegations claimed that I was not using those free nighttime minutes to speak to other people, and that my tying up the phone lines caused "serious, ongoing, and irreparable damages upward of thousands of dollars."
MonsterTelco's attorneys' letter rambled on for three pages. My response took all of three sentences. I've reproduced it here:
"I understand you are upset with my use of those free nighttime minutes that you are contractually required to give me. If you are concerned that I am not actually using those minutes to speak to people, then please tell me how long you have been tapping into my phone conversations without my knowledge. I'm sure federal prosecutors would care to investigate your invasion of my privacy, and that of everyone I call using your wireless service."
This happened over a decade ago. I'm still waiting on their reply.