Shady Chinatown Phone Dealers Pile on Extra Charges

The World Journal  reported on yet another scam targeting residents of Chinatown last week. Chinese customers complain that the deals offered by unauthorized cell phone sellers come loaded with hidden charges — with some of dealers adding data and insurance services to their customers’ cell phone plans in order to earn more commission. Some dealers, the newspaper reports, have ordered cell phones using their customers’ personal information. The World Journal article is translated from Chinese below. 

In the past two years, unauthorized mobile phone dealers have victimized the city’s Chinese community. These dealers use services from AT&T, T-Mobile and other major brands to trick hundreds of customers to sign contracts, which may end up affecting the customers’ credit scores.

In Chinatown, Flushing and Sunset Park, many Chinese customers are referred to unauthorized dealers by friends and acquaintances.  Some stores promise high cash rebates, “buy one, get one free” deals or free registrations to attract customers.  Many customers later learn that these stores will refuse to give the promised rebates and they find hidden fees on their phone bills.  In some cases, customers realize that their cell phones are broken after using them for only a few days. Others discover that the stores have ordered BlackBerry devices using their personal information.

Mr. Liu, who has operated a mobile phone store in Chinatown for many years, said that such stores are run by unauthorized dealers, and that they steal their customers’ information to sign contracts that will pay them more commission.  In fact, the number of unauthorized dealers has increased in the past two years.  All of the dealers have been Chinese, and they have specifically targeted Chinese customers.

Mr. Wu, who owns a hair salon in East Broadway, said that three years ago, a friend recommended that he purchase a cell phone that would not require a registration fee and offer him a $300 cash rebate.  He said he discovered that he was being charged for data and insurance services a couple months later.  When he asked the store to cancel the services, Wu said the store refused to do so. He said he ultimately had to pay a total of $1,000 over two years because he could not speak English fluently enough to discuss the matter with the company directly. He added that after he finished his contract, he received a notice from the phone company claiming that he had ordered a BlackBerry. He said he eventually found out that the store had ordered a Blackberry using his information.

Liu said that many authorized stores add wireless and insurance services to phone plans because some smartphones, such as the iPhone and most BlackBerry devices, require such services in order to be activated. He said that many Chinese customers fail to take notice of this and just want a good deal, which makes them vulnerable to hidden charges.

Edited by Justin Chan

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