Thursday, February 24, 2011

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Before I begin my story, a brief message to my Israeli friends:  if you are CellCom customers, I recommend you seriously consider switching carriers at the earliest opportunity.  Now, on with the tale.  Last year when I went to Israel as a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher, the State Department offered suggestions on the necessities of daily life such as transportation, housing, cell phones, etc.  Basically, we were on our own, though our Israeli hosts at both the Israel Fulbright Commission and Mofet were unbelievably helpful.  Upon our arrival in Tel Aviv, our Israeli Bed & Breakfast owner took us to the local mall and helped us navigate purchase of Israeli SIM cards for our GSM phones, and helped us sign up for a plan.  He patiently explained everything in Hebrew to the CellCom sales people, and then translated for us.  We only wanted a basic phone package, no international dialing, no texting.  I needed a cell phone for Fulbright business.  Pam and Noa needed phones so we could keep in touch as we travelled the country.  The whole cell phone process took only two hours to complete, plans seemed reasonable, cancellation at the end of our stay was confirmed, billing was to be in US $$ to our US Bank issued debit cards.  We should have been suspicious.....

As our stay in Israel neared an end, we visited CellCom headquarters (conveniently located a 10 minute walk from our Jerusalem apartment,) explained that we wanted to cancel our account due to the fact we were leaving the country, were assisted by very friendly CellCom folks, and left thinking all was well.  We received a phone call from CellCom the next day telling us we would have to pay an astronomical fee to cancel our accounts.  We returned to CellCom to plead our case.  We found ourselves up against a stonewalling bureaucracy.  The CellCom rep who helped us was so sympathetic she suggested that if the company would not cancel our accounts that we might be best served by canceling our credit card when we returned home.  CellCom told us they would make a decision in three days.  We told them we were leaving in two.  Hearing nothing we returned home.

Now, it is important to note that we paid for all of the CellCom service we used while in Israel.  We had told the initial CellCom rep that we needed a plan for 110 days.  We were prepared to pay by the minute, whatever we needed to do in order to use mobile phones in Israel.  She assured us cancellation would be no problem.  In hindsight she was either a sleazy sales rep, a liar, or had no clue as to what lengths CellCom would go to collect on its accounts.

Upon returning to Oregon, we cancelled the credit card with the bank.  We verified the card was cancelled.  We also confirmed that CellCom had indeed withdrawn the funds to which they were entitled while we were using their service.  Life slowly returned to normal.  Last week, we received a notice from the bank that our account was overdrawn.  Since we only used that account in Israel, we were puzzled that it should suddenly be overdrawn.  Pam's visit to the bank revealed that CellCom waited until we had been home for nearly three months, then began "manually" withdrawing funds from the account.  The account was also being charged for the conversion to Israeli Shekels.  The loss manager at the bank was stunned.  Since there had been no authorization on our part for CellCom to access funds, they should not have been able to withdraw anything.  CellCom must have some pretty interesting computer wizards in their offices.  Over the past 10 months, they had drained the account.  The loss manager graciously replaced the funds, apologized profusely for the fraud, closed the account entirely, and filed the appropriate paperwork with Visa, CellCom, and the bank's Israeli partner.

I have emailed both the US State Department and the US-Israel Fulbright Commission.  The United States sends Fulbright scholars of all ages to Israel every year.  They will now all be warned about the fraudulent practices CellCom uses.  If you travel to Israel, please avoid Cellcom.....or pay cash!  Oh, thanks to Noa for the image work.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the warning (and I am on CellCom), except for one not-so-slight problem. I seriously doubt that the other carriers in Israel are any different.