The City of San Diego water department does not employ smart meters, but are they gearing up to do so? Recently, a UCAN member tipped us off that the water department is installing new water meters capable of transmitting wireless reads.
When installing his new water meter after his old one flooded, one of the water department crew mentioned to our member that this is one of "their new smart meters." Upon closer inspection, he noticed that the manufacturer is Recordall - - the same company that manufactures SDG&E's Smart Meters.
After questioning the water department about this, they stated they do NOT have an electronic meter reading system - - this meter must be read manually, just like all the other meters. However, they did admit that this device does have the capability to send wireless reads. My contact assured me that the water department would have much to do before beginning such a venture.
Reading between the lines, it's pretty clear what's going on: the water department is gearing up to implement a smart meter system. I've heard rumors of the idea floating around, but this tells me it's under serious consideration. If I had to guess, I would say that when the water department needs to install a new meter, they are installing these bad boys. That way, by the time they have their ducks in a row for smart meters, a good amount of homes will already be set up with the meters they need.
My suggestion to the water department? Take heed of the mistakes the energy companies made in their Smart Meter roll out. Be transparent about your intentions, alert your customers to what you are doing, and make room for an opt out policy.
Have you had a new water meter installed recently? Does it look anything like this Model 35 Recordall? Send an email to email@example.com and let us know.
If you receive email bill alerts from Verizon Wireless, watch out! Our associate, Dr. Telecom, caught a very, very convincing fraudulent email that could have cost him $1,000.
Let's take a peek at the email he recieved. Looks legitimate, doesn't it?
This particular type of fraud is known as phishing. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, here's an excerpt from UCAN's Scam Guide:
What it is: Scammers will send emails that appear to be from a company with a payment link for an "outstanding bill" or sale offer. When you click on the link, the scammer recieves the payment AND captures your payment method, which they can sell to other scammers or use to make fraudulent purchases.
So, we know phishing scams exist. But how do you avoid them?
1. Scrutinize the email
It can be very difficult to recognize a well designed phishing scam. In general, if you get a payment link in an email, don't click on the link. If you want to check on a purchase or bill, enter the company's known URL into your address bar. After all, if it's a legitimate bill, you can find it through your online account. Same with sale offers.
But there are signs of a phishing email. Here's some tips from Dr. Telecom to recognize this particular scam:
"The FROM line looks legit: AccountNotify@
Here are some clues that it’s not from VerizonWireless:
1. You don’t have a Verizon Wireless Account. Duuh…
2. with most email apps these days, you can hover the mouse pointer over any email hyperlink and see what the link is. Here’s what ONE of these messages turns up:
JUVENTUDEPROVIDENCIA.CL is neither Verizon nor even English! Different editions of these fake emails have different links.
3. It doesn’t have even a small chunk of your account number on it. A valid VZW email says: Your current bill for your account ending in 1234-00001 is now available online in My Verizon
4. Look at the Headers. Different email apps have different ways of getting to them and Outlook 2010 is pretty tricky – you have to open the message, then go File>Info>Properties and look at the bottom of the Properties window.
a. The X-HELO header shows the name of the server that sent the mail. In this case we get:
b. Another step in the mailing handling process in this one is:
Received: from [188.8.131.52] (helo=sjqmr.nsihk.org) Again, not Verizonwireless.com
c. Don’t pay attention to the FROM: or X-ENVELOPE-FROM: or REPLY-TO: headers as they are easily faked.
5. The dollar amount may seem way off: my bill is typically $250 and yet I am getting bogus ones that show $900+ and $1200+
Don’t wonder or take a chance! Don’t click those links or reply to the email. Just call Verizon if you aren’t sure!"
2. Scrutinize the payment website
Say the email checks out and you do click on the payment link. When you enter your payment information on a website, look at the address bar. If the address bar contains a “https,” that means the site is using an SSL server that will keep your information secure. Be wary if it only contains a “http.”
3. Use a secure payment method
If possible, always use a credit card when making purchases. By law you are not required to pay for fraudulent purchases that appear on your credit card.
If you do encounter this scam, let us know by filling out our online complaint form. Even better, let Verizon know! Consumers can forward the emails (please get the headers and paste them into the mail before sending) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
UCAN's Fraud Squad is currently offering a full range of service to our members and San Diego residents. At this time, the Fraud Squad can still assist you with a dispute with SDG&E, City of San Diego water department, and San Diego telecom companies. Feel free to fill out our online complaint form and we will contact you if we can assist with your issue.
The internet has been buzzing about AT&T decision to throttle their top 5% of data users (which they proport to be 2GB and above). Despite the intense PR pressure, AT&T has refused to renege on the wildly unpopular policy. However, a California small claims decision could throw a wrench in their plans.
When AT&T wireless users with unlimited data plans experienced throttling earlier this month, everyone assumed it was a glitch. Yes, AT&T warned their unlimited plan subscribers back in 2011 that they would begin throttling the top 5% of users, but why would customers experience throttling at 2GB? It seemed nonsensical considering the fact that AT&T offers data plans at 3GB and 5GB without throttling. Customers quickly discoverd it was NOT a glitch. AT&T stated that according to their summer data, 2GB and above qualified as the top 5% of users. To add insult to injury, AT&T bemoaned that because their merger with T-Mobile fell through, their network was overloaded and they simply couldn't offer unthrottled data to those 2GB+ hogs. Oh, unless they wanted to upgrade to their 3GB and 5GB plans for an extra fee, which is what the company is recommending to frustrated unlimited users.
Most thought there was little that could be done other than convince AT&T to let users out of their contracts. However, one California user made news by taking AT&T to small claims court - and winning! The judge awarded the customer $850; $85 for the 10 months left in his contract. Unfortunately, small claims decisions don't create legal precedent so AT&T users can't automatically cash in. However, under AT&T's current contract, any customer can take the corporation to small claims court, so you can try to get your share as well.
Interested in the small claims court process? Contact your local small claims department; most offer free phone sessions with an advisor. Interested in getting out of your AT&T contract over the issue? Contact the Fraud Squad and we'll help you out.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: NEWS MEDIA CONTACT:
February 15, 2012 Janice Wise, 202-418-8165
FCC ADOPTS RULES TO STRENGTHEN CONSUMER PROTECTIONS AGAINST UNWANTED TELEMARKETING “ROBOCALLS” TO WIRELINE AND WIRELESS PHONES
Washington, D.C. – To further protect consumers from unwanted autodialed or prerecorded calls, often referred to as “robocalls,” the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today approved changes to its telemarketing rules. Unwanted telemarketing calls and texts were consistently in the top three consumer complaint categories at the FCC in 2011. Robocalls invade consumers’ privacy, and can, in the case of calls to wireless numbers, use up their minutes.
The Order adopted today helps put an end to these intrusions by empowering consumers with increased rights under the FCC’s telemarketing rules. The new rules reduce regulatory uncertainty with minimal burden on industry and maximize consistency with those of the Federal Trade Commission. Specifically, the rules protect consumers by:
- Requiring telemarketers to obtain prior express written consent from them, including by electronic means such as a website form, before placing a robocall to a consumer;
- Eliminating the “established business relationship” exemption to the requirement that telemarketing robocalls to residential wireline phones occur only with prior express consent from the consumer;
- Requiring telemarketers to provide an automated, interactive “opt-out” mechanism during each robocall so that consumers can immediately tell the telemarketer to stop calling; and,
- Strictly limiting the number of abandoned or “dead air” calls that telemarketers can make within each calling campaign.
The rules also ensure that informational calls, such as those related to school closings and flight changes, continue to be available to consumers who wish to receive them.
Action by the Commission February 15, 2012, by Report and Order (FCC 12-21). Chairman Genachowski, Commissioners McDowell and Clyburn. Separate statements issued by Chairman Genachowski, Commissioners McDowell and Clyburn.
For further information, contact Karen Johnson at 202-418-7706 or email@example.com. Press contact: Janice Wise (202-418-8165; firstname.lastname@example.org).
As a UCAN member, you’ve no doubt already signed up to receive our latest and greatest offer: UCAN's Blackout Buster, an emergency crank radio. This is a great little piece of technology, as it is not only a flash light and a radio but it is also a charger for your cell phone. Most people with smart phones know just how atrocious the battery life can be. The UCAN emergency crank radio is great for charging phones and you should consider it a vital tool in your emergency kit.
However, just like any handyman worth his salt has multiple tools in his tool kit to tackle any job, a prepared UCAN member should have more than one tool in their emergency kit. In addition to the UCAN crank radio, you can now get an emergency cell phone that is powered by a single AA battery.
SpareOne is an emergency cell phone that you can keep in the trunk of your car or in your earthquake emergency backpack in your closet at home. It’s fairly no frills (it doesn’t even have a screen) but the beauty of this device is its power supply. Instead of fumbling around for various chargers or trying to keep a proprietary cell phone battery pack charged, the SpareOne uses a single AA battery to power the phone. SpareOne boasts a 15-year battery life, too. To be fair, this is limited only by the shelf life of the battery you choose to use in your SpareOne.
Additionally, it’s a piece of cake to use. According to SpareOne’s website, there are three steps to operating the phone:
Making a first call:
Step 1: Remove battery door and Insert SIM card
Step 2: Power On [ On sound beeps ]
Step 3: Dial
If you are an AT&T and T-Mobile customer, you can put the SIM card from your every day phone into the SpareOne and make calls on your same calling plan. If you are a CDMA customer and don’t have a SIM card, you can easily get a prepaid SIM card from many of the prepaid GSM providers. In a real emergency where you simply need to dial 911, you do not need a SIM card and can just dial 911.
While not a be-all-end-all solution, the SpareOne would be a nice complement to the UCAN emergency crank radio in your emergency kit. Next time SDG&E decides to cut your power for an unexplainable reason, you will be well-equipped with your UCAN emergency crank radio, your SpareOne phone, and a Costco-sized box of AA batteries. The SpareOne goes on sale in March for around $50.
Recently, Cox released a lower-cost cable package that, surprisingly, does not include ESPN. For those sports lovers out there, ESPN is a must-have. However, for those people who spend their time watching other stations like the Travel Channel or Food Network, ESPN is an unnecessary channel. As it turns out, ESPN is one of the most expensive cable channels that cable companies offer to its customers. Does Cox’s unbundling of this expensive channel mean that it is finally moving towards an a la carte pricing method?
Now, this news shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who regularly reads our blog. In fact, we had a post up last fall discussing this exact move by the cable providers. Instead of providing channels individually for a specific cost, cable companies are just repackaging certain channels and offering other channels as premiums. This doesn’t necessarily provide a consumer with more choice, but it may reduce the strain on a consumer’s wallet.
Cox is marketing its newest cable package as a low cost alternative. But at $34.99, it isn’t really that low cost. When you factor in the cost of a cable box at around $10 a month, $45 a month for 20 channels doesn’t really seem like that great of a deal.
Instead, you could spend $8 a month on Netflix, $8 a month on Hulu Plus, and about $7 a month for Amazon Prime, which would give you access to thousands of movies and TV shows, both new and classic. And that do it yourself cable package will run you about $25 a month. You could even buy a little device like a Roku box for around $50 so you can watch your shows on your TV rather than your computer. This doesn't even include the myriad of free content options available on the internet.
While it is great that cable companies are moving forwards in its cable plan offerings, we can help but wondering if cable packages as we know it are a dying breed. With inexpensive devices that bring streaming content to your TV, as well as internet-enabled TVs looming over the horizon, cable providers may need to drastically shake things up to retain its subscriber base—and something much more drastic than a $35 “low cost” option without ESPN.
AT&T announced this week that its smartphone data plan prices are going up. Starting on January 22, AT&T’s $15 data plan becomes its $20 data plan and AT&T’s $25 data plan becomes its $30 data plan.
While the prices are going up, at least AT&T is kind enough to offer more service for the additional money. AT&T’s smaller $15 data plan originally only allowed for 200MB of monthly access. With the new $20 plan, your extra $5 gives you an extra 100MB, or 300MB for the month. Similarly, AT&T’s $25 data plan only gave you 2 GB of monthly access, compared to the new $30 plan that gives you an extra 1GB, or 3GB for the month.
AT&T still is sticking firm with its tiered data plan and it looks like it isn’t going to even consider an unlimited plan. If you want an unlimited data plan on any smartphone, including an iPhone, your only option is Sprint.
Does AT&T’s new rate hike make you want to change providers? Or do you feel that AT&T is doing its customers a service by providing plans with more data access, even that the expense of an extra $5 a month? Let us know in the comments.
Have a problem with AT&T or another wireless provider? Fill out our online complaint form and let us know your phone problem.
One of the greatest things about this country is the availability of choice. Want a breakfast cereal? You can choose from a multitude at your local grocery store. A loaf of bread? White or wheat no longer cut it--now, the more grains you have the better. 5? 10? 15? The grain sky is the limit. The ability for consumers to choose can be a good thing as long as there is actual choice. However, when we look at certain consumer areas--cell phone providers, for example--the actual ability to choose a specific provider is a limited one.
Sure, there are many prepaid providers popping up along the wireless landscape, but it seems that the prepaid providers are shutting down as quickly as they are starting up. Your main choice of carriers in San Diego is the big four: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. Most offer homogeneous plans for a homogeneous set of phones. Nevertheless, even amongst the big four it can be difficult to change providers. The culprit? The early termination fee.
The early termination fee (ETF) is a lovely little device used by the wireless companies to ensure they make all their profit if you, the consumer, happen to change your mind and want to move to a different provider before your service contract is up. The ETF amount is set at the beginning of your contract term and decreases for every month you are in your contract.
Using Verizon as an example, the ETF at the beginning of your contract is $350 and that amount decreases by $10 for each month of service you complete. The large ETF makes it difficult for anyone other than Warren Buffet to switch providers mid-contract. However, what about situations where consumers are near the end of their contract and want to switch providers, say with only a month left on their contract? Even further, the consumers are willing to adhere to their obligation and pay for the remaining months of service. This way the consumer has made all available payments and the wireless carrier is not wanting for any payment or profit. At this point, shouldn't the wireless carrier allow the consumer to cancel their contract before the end of the two-year term without an ETF? The wireless carriers should allow this, but it is not always the case.
Using Verizon as an example, let us say the customer was on the lowest voice minutes plan with the lowest data package for around $70 a month before taxes ($40 for voice, $30 for data). With one month remaining, the customer had made 23 monthly payments to Verizon. This means the ETF should have decreased by $230 (23 months time $10 a month). With one month to go, this customer's total ETF is $120 ($350 original ETF minus $230 reduction). This is approximately $50 more than the customer's last month's payment.
However, we have found that this is not the case. Wireless providers will hold a consumer to the end of their contracts, even after the consumer has made all payments required under the service contract. We believe that this is another example of the lack of availability of choice for a wireless consumer.
Moreover, along this same vein, we have found that wireless companies have put up more barriers to choice by making the process of cancelling your contract at the end of the term very difficult. Most consumers enter into two-year agreements with a wireless service provider. At the end of the two-year agreement, your service contract automatically rolls into a month-to-month contract. This can be a nice feature because it prevents any disconnection of service.
On the other hand, if you want to cancel your contract at the end of the two-year term to avoid any rollover, you need to call the wireless carrier on the exact day your term ends to cancel. If you call too early, the wireless carrier will not let you cancel and will make you call back on the exact day your term ends. If you call too late--after the two year term ended--you can cancel no problem. All you have to do is pay for the remaining month of service.
Again, using Verizon as an example, you must call on the exact day your contract expires to cancel you contract. If you call too early, there is no mechanism available to set a cancellation date for the future. If you call too late, it is easy enough to cancel. However, your cancellation will not be effective until the end of the next billing cycle. Since Verizon was so nice to put you on a month-to-month agreement, this means the end of the next month's billing cycle. If you call the day after your contract expires, this means that you will have to pay for an entire extra month's service. In addition, there is no proration available--you must pay the entire month's amount whether you used one day or 28 days of service.
A colleague of mine calls this the "two year and one month contract." Since you cannot call ahead to schedule a cancellation, the wireless carriers leave you with a very small window in which you can cancel your wireless service without incurring any additional expenses or fees: one day. If miss that day, another month of service is automatically tacked on to your contract, giving you not a two year contract, but a two year and one month contract.
Are you a victim of these barriers to choice? Did you try to cancel your contract in the last month but were forced to pay an ETF? Did you try to cancel your wireless contract after your two-year term expired? Has a wireless carrier forced you to pay for an entire extra month's service because you missed that one-day window? Let us know in the comments or file an online complaint form.
In dealing with the San Diego Water Department’s Customer Service Representatives, have you been the victim of one of the following:
• Unprofessional customer service?
• Apathy, rudeness, or disrespect from a representative?
• An unclear, confusing explanation from a representative?
• Unreturned phone calls?
• Kept on hold for an unreasonable period of time?
• An incorrect meter reading or no meter reading at all?
• A broken meter that the Water Department was slow to repair?
• A back bill for which an unreasonable payment plan, or no payment plan was offered?
• An estimated bill that overestimates your water and/or sewer usage?
• A mistake on the part of the Water Department for which you were given no compensation or apology?
• Your water being shut off and not offered a payment plan for restart of water service?
If you have had one of these, or similar experiences, it is important you let us know so that we can bring these issues to the attention of the Water Department on your behalf. You can comment below, call us at 619-696-6966, or fill out a complaint form.