It can happen to anybody. A Bay Area woman thought she was getting a cheap rate, until her low cost carrier was switched for a more expensive one. And her bill for one month turned out to be more than $1,000.
Mehrnaz Rangchi likes to stay in touch with all her friends and family back home in Iran. So for years she used a low-cost phone carrier -- "International Plus."
She paid 10 cents a minute, and her monthly bills were fairly cheap.
"For long distance which I use in my country, it's $10, $8, $7 if I call a lot," said Rangchi.
But one day she says she got a call from AT&T inviting her to join its low-cost international dialing plan for just $5.99 a month plus Modest charges for each minute and she could get worldwide coverage.
"Because it's lots of benefits and you can use it any time you want for Canada and Europe for good prices," said Rangchi.
She was dubious until the salesman told her she could still use the lower-cost "International Plus" to call Iran, so Mehrnaz signed up with AT&T.
Everything seemed OK until she saw the bills.
"The bill comes much higher than before," said Rangchi "They're charging me 60 cents a minute and I got so shocked because I usually pay 10 cents a minute with international."
Mehrnaz realized AT&T was now billing her, not International Plus. She was paying six times as much as before to call Iran. But that wasn't how she thought this was supposed to work, so she called AT&T and said she wanted out of the AT&T plan and back into her old carrier.
"Disconnect me from that, and switch me back to my own international," said Rangchi.
AT&T cancelled her international plan.
Mehrnaz went ahead and made more calls to Iran and then came the real shock -- a phone bill from AT&T for $1,033. Most of it -- $942 was for calls to Iran. It Turns out, she was being charged the regular AT&T default rate of $6 per minute.
"I got so upset my stomach was hurt, be honest with you, I couldn't sleep," said Rangchi.
Mehrnaz didn't understand how this could happen so she called 7 On Your Side and we sorted all this out.
Turns out that, on the day she signed up for the AT&T plan, AT&T replaced International Plus as her primary carrier. After that, Mehrnaz was dialing direct to Iran from her home phone not realizing she would be charged AT&T rates.
If she wanted to use her old low cost carrier she would have had to dial a special access code known as a "dial around.'' But after we contacted AT&T, the phone company agreed to charge her only 60 cents a minute for all calls to Iran, not $6 and it refunded her $839.
That was a big relief.
"I'm glad we have someone to help us sometimes, and thank you so much," said Rangchi.
It's a lesson to everybody. Make sure you know what company is designated as your primary carrier because generally those rates will apply, unless you dial-around to access another plan.