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Free cell phones are not really free

by Chris Nagus

KMOV.com

Posted on September 19, 2011 at 10:20 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 22 at 1:56 PM

(KMOV) -- A free phone might sound like a great deal, but what if you don't want it?

We all know nothing is really free, that's why a south county man called News 4 after he received a government supported cell phone he never asked for, turns out he's not alone.

Emil got a box from UPS in July that he wasn't expecting.  "My goodness what is in here so I opened it up and there's a phone inside" said Emil.  Emil received a free phone along with a free charger and a note saying welcome to Life Wireless.

But since Emil already has a cell phone he certainly didn't need this one.  So he called the company, “I called the number and they said you got a free phone. I said why? They said you are entitled to it."
After working his entire career Emil knew he wasn't entitled to anything.  So News 4 called Life Wireless, the woman who finally answered our call didn't sound surprised and said the same situation happens all the time.
 
Life Wireless is owned by a company called Telrite.  In Missouri Telrite has already received more than 1.4 million in subsidy payouts this year.  The money comes from a program that's supposed to provide low income residents phone service.  But Emil isn't low income he said “I have a phone, I have a landline, a cell phone I'm retired, I have income, I own my own home, I'm not poor."
 
The money paid to Telrite is collected through the Universal Service Fee - something you pay every time you pay your phone bill.  It helps low income residents, but the big winners are the phone companies.

In Missouri phone providers made $4.7 million worth of subsidies in the first three months of 2011.
  Nationwide the total was $382 million for the same period.  But it's clear some people getting the free phones don't need them.  Emil wants to know who signed him up, " How did you get my name, I don't know we just got it, they could never tell me.”
 
A representative couldn't tell News 4 either, but did say he could have been signed up by a Life Wireless agent.   Emil says he hasn't made one call on his free phone, and he's not planning to.
 
Statement released by a spokesman with Life Wireless:
 
"Life Wireless has been aware of the problems reported by Emil and is currently investigating. Upon Emil notifying Life Wireless of a fraudulent order we canceled the account and returned all monies to the Universal Service Fund.  No Universal Service Fund or other government money was misused as a result of this incident. Life Wireless has absorbed all costs related to this incident. As most of the costs fall on Life Wireless, it is in our own self interest to prevent fraud.
 
It is unfortunate that there are some dishonest people who attempt to take advantage of government and private companies.  Life Wireless works diligently to prevent  fraud upon our company, the Universal Service Fund and third parties like Emil. A majority of the orders placed by the salesman were stopped prior to shipment. Emil's order occurred prior to our fraud detection. Life Wireless continues to investigate this incident and will press charges upon final determination.  Life Wireless is working to be a good corporate citizen in Missouri.  Just this year, Life Wireless gave customers affected by the disasters in Joplin, Missouri free unlimited service to help stay close with their loved ones.
 
News 4 wants to hear from you if you have received a phone you did not ask for.
Send Chris Nagus an email at cnagus@kmov.com

 

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