Sarah Scheuring tried for two months to contact her husband stationed in Afghanistan using a multitude of the prepaid AT&T calling cardsavailable to military personnel and their families, only to have the minutes on her cards disappear, leaving her with about two minutes of talk time for each $27.50 card.
An AT&T spokesman said the company believed it was an isolated incident and credited Scheuring's account.
I have spent over $700 in the last two months because I have no other option to get a hold of my husband, Scheuring wrote to us in mid-May.
Her husband, Charles, was deployed to Afghanistan in March after a 12-month stint in Iraq in 2005 and 2006.
He is stationed in an area where there is not even running water let alone Internet or a call center, Scheuring said. His international cell phone is all I have to communicate with him.
When she tries calling Charles on the prepaid cards sold exclusively on the Army Air Force Exchange Service Web site, she said 99 percent of the time it won't connect. Rather than just disconnect and not incur any charges, the service makes a noise like a fax machine and then starts ringing.
Instead of someone picking up the line, the phone just keeps ringing and while it's ringing it incurs charges, Scheuring said.
How is constant ringing a connected call? she asked.
It took her a a handful of $27.50 phone cards the most expensive AT&T offers soldiers and their families before she learned the incessant ringing was draining her minutes so quickly and now she said she knows when I hear the ringing, I hang up immediately.
But, even when she does not hang up the phone as soon as it starts ringing, it still charges her connection costs, which quickly burn up her minutes.
Frustrated with the almost complete lack of connectivity through AT&T and missing Charles, Scheuring decided to use her cell phone to make the calls. Even though her cell phone provider charged her $3.05 per minute, it was cheaper than what she was paying through the AT&T cards and considerably more convenient since her cell phone calls always went right through to her husband.
Scheuring said AT&T offered her a $350 voucher and told her that it was because of Afghanistan's phone service that her calls didn't go through. They also said they cannot guarantee prepaid minutes made to cell phones even though that language is absent in their terms and conditions.
Scheuring said she'd rather have cash because AT&T's service is useless to her and she would like some assistance paying back her cell phone debt and to pay back all the wasted money on nearly useless phone cards.
Later, Sarah clarified that AT&T, which is also her wireless provider, credited her wireless account with $454 on top of the $350 phone card they gave her.
Fletcher Cook, an AT&T; spokesperson said he believes it is an isolated incident because of her husband's remote location in Afghanistan.
"We've worked with this customer at length," Fletcher said. "We want to keep her happy and retain her as a customer."
After a call from ConsumerAffairs.com, AT&T; called Sarah and converted her $350 phone card, which she said was useless since AT&T's service was spotty, into a $350 wireless credit.
In the past few days Scheuring found an even better solution: IDT). Since Charles' cell phone is provided by IDT, Scheuring can use IDT's prepaid cards and connect immediately. She said she pays $10 for about 55 minutes now.
It's still more than what AT&T advertises for its cards, which are the only options for soldiers using the call centers at bases overseas, but Scheuring said she's just happy she's found some way to keep in contact with Charles during his 15-month deployment.
AT&T advertises these cards to troops and their families knowing that we do not have any other option, Scheuring said. Then they turn around and rip us off.