Life on a fixed income: Disabled man threatened with cellphone disconnect

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Keeping up with bills is a headache for many of us. It's even more challenging when you live on a fixed income.

Forrest Thompson says he's trying to keep up. He's a disabled veteran police officer, and relies on his portable oxygen pouch and his doctors to stay healthy. He also relies on his cellphone to receive and send medical alerts.

"It's my lifeline to the world so it's critical that this cell phone is up and running all the time," Thompson said.

And in order to pay for the phone, Thompson has to wait for his social security check each month.

"That's when I have the money,'' he said. "While I have the money, let's rock."

And so, it was a real problem when his Sprint phone bill came due before he got his monthly payment.
Here's what happened: Thompson went into a Sprint store right after getting his Social Security check. He says he paid cash for the first month of service on October 3rd, expecting to get his next bill on November 3rd.

Instead, he got a bill on October 27th, after just three weeks of service, and a full week before he'd get his next Social Security check. Thompson says he had already used up his monthly benefit, and wouldn't get more until November.

"I don't have it to save,'' he said. "I get $1,066 per month. That's it. No more."

When he didn't pay, Sprint texted him -- his account was past due. Three days later, Sprint warned his phone would be disconnected. Thompson complained to Sprint, saying he'd paid for October and only got three weeks of service. He also claimed the Sprint store clerk had assured him the bills would come due on the third of each month.

"They just kept saying that's how the computer calculates it,'' Thompson said. "They expect you to pay on the third week when actually you haven't had 30 days' worth of service yet. But I had made it clear to the sales person that I could only pay after I get my Social Security."
Sprint responded that his service would be cut off on October 31. Thompson contacted 7 On Your Side, and we asked Sprint why it was billing him early. The company says the money Thompson paid in October did not include phone service. It covered his down payment on a phone lease plus other fees.

However, Sprint agreed to remove the October service charge as a gesture of good will, saying: "We worked with Mr. Thompson to help him understand his receipt, (and) his expected future billing, and (we) provided him with a goodwill credit. We apologize for any confusion and inconvenience."

"You were immensely helpful,'' Thompson told 7 On Your Side. "I will sing your praises to all I meet."

A final note: Thompson thought his initial payment included his monthly phone service. Sprint claims it did not. However, Thompson had paid in cash and did not get an itemized receipt. The case points out how important it is to obtain that itemized receipt - and keep it.

Written and produced by Renee Koury
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