Beware agreeing to a cellphone contract over the phone

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler has warned that South Africans should think twice before agreeing to a cellular contract over the phone.

The latest case Knowler investigated involves a Vodacom customer who signed up for a deal offered by one of the operator’s telesales subscontractors.

Their nightmare first began in November 2022, when the customer agreed to a laptop contract offered by a sales agent.

However, when the laptop was received, it was clear that it did not meet the specifications he had been promised over the phone.

After taking this up with Vodacom, the company confirmed the sales agent had lied about the laptop’s specifications, and offered the opportunity to send the laptop back and cancel the contract.

The customer did this and received confirmation from the courier service that the package was delivered to Vodacom three days later.

Nonetheless, the customer has continued to be charged monthly for the laptop, despite him continuously trying to stop the debit order since April 2023.

Complaints to the Consumer Goods and Service Ombud, as well as the National Consumer Commission, were also unsuccessful.

More issues

A day after Knowler contacted Vodacom about the situation, an “executive client liaison officer” contacted the customer to confirm that the situation would be dealt with and that he would be paid in full.

According to the Vodacom representative, “there was an issue with the manner in which the laptop was booked with our courier company, which also contributed to the delay in the cancellations of this contract.”

“Part of the root-cause analysis will include investigating what transpired with the courier company, as well as what transpired during the call interaction with our call centre agents.”

An unfortunate trend

Unfortunately, this customer is not the only person to have issues with South Africa’s telecommunication companies.

According to the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud’s (CGSO’s) third-quarter newsletter for 2023, the telecommunication and satellite services sector received the most complaints of all tracked sectors.

“Telecommunication and satellite services narrowly edged online transactions out of the top spot of the products and services most likely to cause consumers to turn to us for help,” the regulator said.

The telecommunication and satellite services sector includes companies like Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Rain, Cell C, and various Internet service providers.

Other technology categories like “cell phones” and “computers and accessories” finished fifth and sixth on the list, respectively, while a new category was also added — “solar systems, inverters, and batteries” — which finished eighth.

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Beware agreeing to a cellphone contract over the phone