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October 2

Switcher Beware: Verizon’s Hidden Activation Fees

tl;dr: If switching to Verizon, keep in mind they charge a $35 Activation Fee per device, even if you are moving a device from an existing account. They keep these fees completely hidden from you in the online order process, and in my case will not even tell it to you when in their stores. They expect you to know this, despite the fact that it’s not listed anywhere until you get your first bill.

So like many others, I decided to end my relationship with AT&T with the release of the iPhone 5. I was sick of AT&T and the promise of a better network on Verizon for the same price was appealing. I decided to try the network out for the first two weeks, the length of their return policy, and use a new number instead of porting my number out right.

I did a good amount of research of prices and comparisons before I even pre-ordered the phone. Never once was any form of “Activation Fee” mentioned for anything related to my new iPhone 5 or my iPad was mentioned or on any line item anywhere. I even did a Google search for “Verizon Activation Fee” before I ordered the iPhone 5 and found nothing but talk of their “Upgrade Fee” which is standard and mention that they had a no Activation Fee according to Best Buy which was the second response. So I never considered it something I had to worry about it, or so I thought. In hind sight I should have researched this further.

After a solid week of good service with my new iPhone 5, I decided to make the switch and port my number. I also had to move my iPad over to the shared data plan which would cost me only $10/month so it was a no brainer. So I was told by a phone rep to go into a store to do this, as it was a complicated process. So I did, and it went mostly smoothly. I had to call back to get the job finished as the store messed up, but it was working in the end. There was no mention of any fees while I was in the store, who were very helpful. So I walked away a happy camper and glad I had finally switched.

The ugly truth of the matter was revealed earlier today when my friend Jonathan Wight tweeted about getting charged $60 to move his iPad onto his Shared Data plan. I then replied that I hadn’t been charged for the same thing, so I found it weird he was being charged.

Just to be sure I re-opened up the three receipts that were emailed to me from that day at the store, and found I HAD in fact been charged $35 for adding that iPad to my main line. This fee was never told to me, as I said before. No requests for me to authorize charges to the line either. In the store I was asked to sign to authorize the porting of my number, but that was it. They basically charged me $35 to move my iPad from one account to the newer account with the shared data plan. It’s not even a new line of activation, it’s a simple move. Below is the receipt in question which includes a prorated two months of $10/mo shared data.

Click to view the full receipt with the personal info redacted.

Then my friend Aaron Douglas spoke up that he too was charged for each of the three iPhone 5 he pre-ordered, without that fee being disclosed up front. That discovery got me wondering, maybe I should check if they gave me an activation fee on my iPhone line as well? So I first checked my iPhone 5 invoice, which showed again no Activation Fee just as I had remembered. I remember being glad when I didn’t see a fee or mention of a fee when ordering. You can take a look at the invoice below, which only has a $34 tax on the full price of the device, but no $35 Activation Fee line item.

Click to view the full invoice with the personal info redacted.

Then I logged onto My Verizon and opened the bill, and low and behold, there is a $35 activation fee. You can see it there below.

Click to view the full receipt with the personal info redacted.

So is Verizon is being very sneaky by not showing this when you order? It was time to find out. I created a new order, went thru as far as I could with fake information, and not ONCE did I see a activation fee line item. The only place it’s mentioned is in the Verizon Customer Agreement, which doesn’t say how much it is but that you can’t get it refunded unless you cancel within three days. Another mention of a $35 fee also doesn’t apply to my situation: “You may have to pay a $35 fee to re–activate Service if your Service is terminated”. Again no mention of a new account activation fee, and what that fee is.

In fact doing this I confirmed what I remembered: the online order process never calls out the activation fee at all. Here’s one of the final screens I captured, which illustrates the total cost of the order. Check out the screenshot below to see for yourself.

Click to view the full order page.

Even Verizon’s own Twitter Support team said it should be “listed in the Total Due field “, which it was not as you see clearly above. This Twitter account is usually super helpful before I signed up, to the level of almost being a spammer, but the second I started having a problem it stopped responding to me. Figures.

Also, if the Activation Fee was in the Total Due why would it also then be on my first bill? Makes no sense.

Because neither fee was told to me upfront, I tried to call Verizon today to get these two Activation Fees waived. But I was told the fees are their “policy” and was denied a waiving of the fee. The rep agreed it wasn’t “right” with how I was misled at two different points but couldn’t do anything for me. I objected to this decision and requested an escalation to her supervisor, who was out to lunch, but so far have not heard back. I fail to see how these fees are policy if it was never in writing anywhere that I agreed to.

So Verizon is hiding these fees from potential and existing customers and also won’t waive it if you don’t like the fee once you notice it. I would have no problem paying this if they were just upfront about it, but as a new Verizon customer none of this was made aware to me until I got my first bill. If I didn’t already port my number from AT&T, I would be considering dropping my new Verizon service right now as I’m still within the 14 day window just because of how they have failed to handle this situation.

I think my friend Luke Wallace said it best:

"The worst carrier is the one you’re on."

Update 10pm CST: Finally got help from a @vzwsupport agent on Twitter, ^LA, who actually went the extra mile and removed my activation fees. She agreed that the iPad plan migration should have never been a fee at all and also that the iPhone 5 purchase online should have shown the activation fee as part of the process but for some reason did not. I hope Verizon either waives all new customer activation fees online, or makes the Activation Fee much clearer than it is today to avoid problems like mine.

Update 10/3 5pm CST: I just heard back from a Verizon executive support team member today. It was a follow up to a note with a link to this blog about the hidden activation fees I passed along to Verizon Wireless CEO Daniel Mead's email. I simply asked him to look into it and clear up the issue. I told him I felt hidden fees was something that is very becoming of any company. The agent wanted to let me know they are looking into the issue and would work to correct it so that online customers are properly notified of the fee during the checkout process. They told me that hiding or not making this fee clear was not their intention.

She also did state to me that moving an iPad from one Verizon Wireless account to another shared data plan should NOT count as a device activation and should not incur a fee. So I say anyone who got socked with this fee should fight it.

So now I guess to wait to see if the fee is actually clearer in the future.