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14 September 2006

The trouble with Tracfone®

When I first purchased my Tracfone®,
adding 'units' to my Tracfone® was as simple
as going to a 'land-line phone'
(in my case a pay phone, but since it's a toll-free
call I can do so at no ADDITIONAL cost at selected pay phones.
Once dialed in, it is a simple matter of navigating a
voice mail menu, punching in my Tracfone® serial
number when so instructed, and punching in my
'airtime PIN.' All this could typically be accomplished
in about 5 minutes. They also, back then, offered the
convenience, at minimal cost to privacy, assuming Tracfone®'s
privacy policy is as advertised, anyway, of registering
date of birth and phone number so as not to have to power down
and open up the Tracfone® during units redemption.
An online redemption option was also offered, but that's
of little consolation to the vagrant netizen.

A few months later, Tracfone® improves its level
of customer service to unimaginable convenience, creating
a feature that allows redemption of airtime units from
the Tracfone® itself, not requiring access to a
land line phone or to the Internet.

Now the self-contained Tracfone® redemption procedure
has been discontinued. To add insult to injury, the
land-line redemption procedure has been changed in at least
three ways which make it also less convenient than before.
For one thing, it is no longer possible to redeem units
simply by pressing buttons. Now I have to TALK TO A PERSON.
Some people see talking to a person as a higher level
of customer service than navigating voice mail hell.
I can see their point, but to me, subjectively,
the new procedure FEELS more like asking Tracfone®
for permission to actually use the units that I have
paid for. The use of mnemonic birthdays and phone
numbers as opposed to antimnemonic serial numbers
is also a definite disimprovement in level of convenience.
If this isn't bad
enough, the redemption facility (no doubt staffed
by third worlders at literally starvation wages) also keeps

When the clock finally stikes nine, I will go to
the public library and (hopefully) succeed at getting
my 30 minutes added. I will also blog the present essay,
so if you are reading this, I will have succeeded.

Tracfone®'s response to my emails so far has been
typically corporate in a Bushian 'we don't owe you information'
kind of way. In situations such as this, Brealey and Myers'
'a project isn't a black box' doctrine doesn't apply,
as that only applies when it's your project.
One can only speculate as to why Tracfone®'s
product has become next to worthless.

Tracfone® appears to be trying to make
the Tracfone® product less attractive to
people who don't have Internet access. This
isn't shocking. Apologists for marketist
ideology parrot that the customer is always
right, but in the real world this is simply
not true. In capitalist PRACTICE, CERTAIN
customer demographics are often identified
(in the aggregate, of course)
as low-profit customers, net liabilities,
or more trouble than they're worth.
It's no loss to the company if these
customers walk away in an angry huff.

During the trip to the library that I'll
have to make later today, I'll download the
'agreements' (or try to) to the competing 'contract-free'
dispose-a-phone products, assuming their
business models are even transparent
enough to allow for 'ask before you buy.'
This will verify whether I'm dealing
with a scumbag company or a whole scumbag

If it turns out that Tracfone® is
nickel and diming its customers to pay
legal bills due to our Staussian government's
insistence that use of prepaid wireless
somehow makes someone somehow suspicious,
then I will take back anything mean I ever said
about the company behind the Tracfone®
and NET-10® brands. But absent such
revelations, I can in good conscience only recommend
AGAINST purchasing their products
or services.

1 comment:

Lorraine said...

Attached is an email I sent to Tracfone. For the record, Tracfone reimbursed me 45 minutes without a fight. Therefore this post is a compliment, not a complaint. Well done, Tracfone.


Dear Lorraine,

Thank you for your interest in TracFone Wireless. We are responding to
your recent inquiry.

We would like to take this opportunity to apologize for any
inconvenience you may have experienced with our service. In order to
further assist you with this issue, we will need to speak to you

Please contact one of our customer care representatives at
1-800-867-7183. For your convenience, our representatives are available

Monday-Saturday from 8:00 AM to 9:45 PM EST, and on Sunday from 8:00 AM

to 6:45 PM EST. To expedite your call, please have your TracFone
and serial number available.

Thank you for being a TracFone Wireless customer. We appreciate your


TracFone Wireless

Original Message Follows:
At approx. 13:24 EST (GMT-5) I received an unsolicited
text message. Afterward my main screen read 0.0 units
(previously it was definitely between 40 and 50

The message is as follows:

Sender: 36245 c.hat u can c my pf @

I require specific answers to the following questions:

1. Have you received other complaints of this nature,
especially a recent spike in such complaints?

2. Do you know it to be possible to steal airtime
units via text messaging?

3. Can I please be reimbursed for the stolen units?

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