Phone company puts woman on expensive plan without asking first

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KGO) -- It's easy enough to run up a huge phone bill - but a Bay Area woman says the phone company did it for her - putting her on a costly plan without telling her first

"I was shocked when I saw the statement in March,'' said San Rafael resident Sara Woodland. "I can't afford that. I live on social security."

Woodland came to ABC7 for help after she says AT&T switched her phone plan without her consent. Hundreds of dollars were automatically deducted from her debit account, putting her perilously close to a default.

"I just don't know how a company can do that to someone, and the money was just gone,'' she said.

For decades, Woodland has used the same landline service. She had a sweet deal, paying just under $35 per month for unlimited local and long distance calls. Then in February, her phone bill suddenly nearly quadrupled from $35 to $147. In March it reached $165.

"I called them up and I said, 'Why did my bill go so high,' and they said, 'because you're paying by the minute.'"

It turns out AT&T had switched her from the flat-rate plan to one that charges her for each minute on the phone. Even local calls came with a fee. The plan allows just 200 minutes per month, with extra charges for every minute after that.

Woodland ran up charges for more than 1,000 extra minutes each month, accounting for those high bills.

"I said, 'I can't believe you all would change my plan without asking for my authorization,''' she recalls telling AT&T. "I've always had unlimited calls and unlimited long distance. Why would you change it?"

Woodland said she and friends spent hours on the phone with AT&T. A representative finally agreed to restore her old plan, and to refund the extra charges - at least, most of them.

"They still owed me $56 and that's a lot of money for someone on a fixed income,'' she said. "It's a week of groceries."

Woodland came to ABC7, and the 7 On Your Side team contacted AT&T. The company did not explain why it switched her plan without notice, telling us, "A customer can contact us anytime and we're happy to work with them to find options that best meet their needs. We can work with the customer to help change any of her account selections. Understandably, for privacy reasons we cannot share personal account information."

Woodland said the company did not give her an explanation for the switch either. However, AT&T did refund the rest of her money. And Sara's happy now-- paying just $30 per month for unlimited calls.

"I'm telling everyone if you have a problem with a business, call Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side,'' Woodland said.

Written and produced by Renee Koury
Copyright © 2019 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.