Woman got stuck with 2 satellite TV contracts

October 24, 2012 8:34:07 PM PDT
With satellite TV you can get hundreds of channels, but signing up requires a big commitment. One woman didn't realize she was locked in to a contract and getting unlocked cost her a bundle.

This happens all the time. People see an ad for satellite TV with a low monthly fee, and often don't realize it requires you to sign a contract. One woman wound up with two contracts and a big question: are you entitled to cancel within three days?

Hope Chevalier already had a satellite TV system in her house so she certainly didn't need another one. Unfortunately that's exactly what she wound up with.

"I didn't call for TV service, I called for Internet," said Chevalier.

It all began when Chevalier saw an ad from Dish Network, offering Internet service for under $20.

"So I called them up and the guy on the line was like, 'Yeah, yeah Internet, but I would have to transfer you. Let me talk to you about TV,'" said Chevalier.

Chevalier already had DirecTV, but she says the salesman kept offering a low price for Dish. She thought maybe she could save by switching.

"He asked me if I was on contract with DirecTV and I thought I wasn't," said Chevalier.

So she agreed to sign up with Dish. Two hours later, the crew for Dish was at her front door, and the next day she called DirecTV to cancel.

"They said, 'Well, you know you're on contract with us, you're going to have to pay a cancellation fee. I said, 'No, I'm not on contract' and they go, 'Yes, you are,'" said Chevalier.

She checked and found that indeed, she had more than a year left on her contract with Direct-TV. Immediately, she called Dish to un-do that deal.

"I said, 'Dish, I'm so sorry, I made a mistake. I'm in contract with DirecTV. I need to cancel my service. You came yesterday,'" said Chevalier.

But Dish said she'd already signed a two-year commitment. It would cost her $420 to cancel.

"I said you've got to be kidding me. This has been 24 hours," said Chevalier.

She tried to invoke state laws allowing three days to cancel many types of consumer contracts, but got no response.

"And I was so scared of that $420 because they sent me a bill, 'That money will come out of your account automatically,'" said Chevalier.

She contacted 7 On Your Side and we checked out that three-day rule. Turns out there are state and federal laws requiring a cooling off period for many types of contracts signed in the home. Like other satellite customers, she signed her contract at home.

However, state and federal officials tell us, it's not clear whether the laws apply to satellite TV companies, since customers order the service over the phone. We asked Dish several times about those three-day rules. It said only: "We handle every customer interaction on a case-by-case basis while adhering to all applicable laws."

However, after our inquiries, the company did agree not to charge Chevalier that $420 early termination fee after all.

DISH said: "If customers feel they are not receiving the level of service necessary to... address their inquiries, they should ...request to speak with a supervisor."

"I'm just so grateful. This was such a weight on my shoulders and you know now my life can go on," said Chevalier.

The California Attorney General's Office tells us there have been complaints related to the cancelation policies of satellite companies. However, officials declined to provide specific information to me.

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