Monday, October 19, 2015

Swirling Thoughts #234 Escape from Cellcom…One woman’s tale of woe and deception

Disclaimer: I am fully aware that some of my perceived conspiracies are an outgrowth of my illiteracy and lack of cultural understanding. Perhaps most or even all of them. Nevertheless, my perception is my reality.
It all started one year ago in May of 2014 when our american credit card company decided, in light of the previous Thanksgiving’s credit card breach via Target, to cancel and re-issue cards to all its customers.

I promptly called every number on my credit card statement to let them know to automatically bill the new card in place of the old.

When I reached Cellcom I was informed that they would not be able to automatically bill the new card as it is a non-Israeli card.
But the old card was a non-Israeli card.
Yes but we can no longer accept non-Israeli cards for payment.
But if my card number had not been switched we wouldn’t be having this conversation and you would still be billing my non-Israeli card without incident.
And so, we cleared up the terms of Cellcom’s secret grandfather clause.

When a family makes money in America (Bob works in NY, remember) and spends it in Israel, suffice it to say the most efficient way to pay bills is to have them all centralized to a credit card in the country where the money is. That said…

It’s no problem just give us your Israeli card.
I don’t have one.
Insert long conversation of them not believing I don’t have an Israeli card and me not believing they won’t take my American card. A game of Chicken, if you will.
Then you will have to pay every month.
How will I know to pay?
We send an email.  
Small detail. Bob gets the emails. He doesn't always remember to send them to me.
Can you send me the email?
You are not authorized on the account so no.
How will I know to pay???
We will send you a text. Do not worry. 
Wait. A red flag just went up somewhere in the universe.
Are you sure?
Yes. I am sure.
And sure enough over the next many months I received the kinds of texts even an illiterate immigrant cannot ignore. With words like ‘immediately’ and ‘settle your debt’. They sure do talk tough over there at Cellcom. I tried calling many times to figure out better ways to work the billing. One time they told me to photograph my bill, my American credit card and my national ID card and sms it to a cell phone number they provided. Out of desperation I did this and was answered a week later with a debt collection text.  

And so I would go to the post office, ask to pay my Cellcom bill, identify myself as Robert (really they just take the ID number) and pay. And pay and pay and pay. Those bills seemed so high. Hundreds and hundreds of shekels high. And those texts were so threatening! I went to the post office early a few times hoping to avoid the nasty text. Each time they told me I didn’t have a balance! How could it be?

I spent a few hours poolside with my Israeli neighbor this past Pesach. She was horrified to find out I was paying anything more than 80 shekels. 
She got on the phone with Cellcom and demanded answers.
Why isn’t Lisa paying 80 shekels LIKE ALL OTHER ISRAELIS PAY?
She pays late every month.

Turns out that those texts are only sent after the billing cycle is over and the bill hasn’t been paid. At that point a 100 shekel late fee is added to the balance! Text does not equal bill. And for some strange reason the post office cannot identify my not-yet-overdue Cellcom balance without a paper bill. 

So for starters we asked for paper bills to be sent. Eureka. But the monthly average is still so high.
It’s still too high!
Oh but it includes home telephone services!
We don’t use Cellcom for our home telephone services.
But you should! You are paying for it.
Also it includes Television.
But it’s so worthwhile! You are already paying for Cellcom television!
We couldn’t take anything off until they spoke to Bob for his authorization. Because Bob set up the account. He got on the phone and asked that they authorize me, his wife, to also make important decisions regarding our account. They required that request in writing with a copy of my national identity card. OMG.

After Pesach I checked the mailbox for our new paper bill at least twice a week for a month, effectively doubling the amount of trips to the mailbox I’ve made since we made aliyah. Guess what? No bill. I checked with Bob. Not even an email bill. But I got a LOT of phone calls trying to re-sell me Cellcom TV service. Until I realized the benefit of living in the HOLY land.
We don’t have TV!
Don’t you want TV?
We’re religious Jews! We don’t believe in TV! Please stop calling!

Now my Hebrew isn’t great and I rely a lot on pictures to explain things like, for example, the booklet my kids brought home on how to deal with possible emergencies such as rockets, shells and

(Incidentally, I asked my 5 year old what we are supposed to do if we find ourselves in this particular situation. She answered very matter-of-factly. We pray.)

And I rely a lot on my kids to translate for me. Which is exactly what Barbara did last week when she got the ominous debt collection text from Cellcom.

And so I reached my limit. I dispatched Bob to hook us up to a new cell phone provider just hours before he left for New York. Like 2 hours before. He saw I meant business.

And like that, we were free. For about five minutes. 

The first call came in exactly 12 hours later. It was Yossi from Cellcom. I started laughing right away.
I know I’m a funny guy but I didn’t even say anything yet!
You don’t have to Yossi.
Our connection isn’t so great. Probably because you are no longer using Cellcom!
It’s okay, Yossi! I’m not coming back.
But we have a great deal!
Barbara was in the car with me. I assured her they would be calling back.
Eventually they will even call back in English, I told her.

Today they called her looking for Robert. She gave them my number. This is how it went.
Shalom, can we speak to Robert?
This is Robert.
(Pause….Robert is not... a man?

This was my chance.
Oh, no! Robert is short for Roberta. In America, Roberta is a woman's name. When we made aliyah they dropped the a.

Somehow this ridiculous lie was deemed reasonable and she continued with her pitch. I cut her off.

I can’t. I won’t. There is nothing you can say that will bring me back.
But why? Please. Explain it to me. You can speak in English.

She really wanted to understand.

I paid hundreds of shekels extra each month in late fees all because they refused to take my American credit card and that the only way I would ever come back is if they would repay me those fees and accept my American credit card. I’m done.
I understand, Robert.
Thank you! And please please please have them stop calling me. Because I’m not coming back.

Post script. No Cellcom calls or texts were received from this last conversation in May until today. I guess “NO” means “Ask me again in five months.”

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