The hidden dangers in your mobile phone contract

Three Business Blog Team
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On: 11 Jun 2014
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Nobody likes checking documents with a fine-tooth comb, but being careful with your mobile phone contract can save you some expensive mistakes.

We all know we should read the small print before signing anything, but few of us do. In one notorious reminder of this, game retailer Gamestation once inserted a new clause in its terms and conditions requiring customers to sign away their souls. As part of an April Fool’s prank back in 2010, it demanded: “By placing an order via this web site… you agree to grant us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within five working days of receiving written notification from gamesation.co.uk or one of its duly authorised minions.”

While customers were allowed to opt out by clicking on a link, only 12 percent were sharp-eyed enough to do so.

The Irish government is currently considering regulation over the use of small print in contracts by stipulating a minimum font size and basic level of intelligibility. However, this may well end up extending only to consumers and explicitly excluding business contracts.

So what are the most common hidden dangers that can lurk in a mobile phone contract?

Can you understand the contract?

The biggest danger by far is it being unintelligible to begin with. Contracts are often mired in such extreme legalese that it’s impossible for the layman to make head or tail of them. Sheer length can also grind you down, so that your eyes glaze over and nothing actually sinks in. A company with nothing to hide should minimise both these problems, using language that’s as clear and concise as possible.

Check the trial period of a plan – some may be shorter than you expect – the notice period, and whether the contract will automatically roll over when it ends. Check how much you’ll pay if you go over your allowances for calls, texts and data – an all-you-can-eat deal may well work out much cheaper in the long run. And be wary of ‘fair usage’ clauses – your idea of what’s reasonable may be very different from that of your provider.

Can the provider change it without notice?

It also makes sense to be particularly careful when checking what the mobile phone contract allows the carrier to do. Some are written in such a way as to allow it to change just about anything – including monthly payments – with little or no advance notice. Sometimes, customers find that an add-on service – maybe even one that’s vital for their business – can be cancelled or cut back. Check for late payment fees and unexpected surcharges as well.

What rights do you have?

Look beyond the cost. See what level of service and support you can count on. It’s not uncommon, for example, to find clauses designed to get the seller out of replacing faulty items, or to give unreasonably short time limits for the return of goods.

Above all, read everything carefully – however long it takes – and ask for an explanation for anything you don’t understand. After all, your immortal soul could be at stake…