Beware ever-changing fine print online

One reader who read the fine print before signing his satellite TV contract learns that reading it once is not enough

In response to my post, "Read the fine print of your satellite TV contract," Gripe Line reader Ronald wrote in to say there's more to the story than just sneaky language in fine print and the misrepresentation of said fine print by sales reps in the satellite TV industry. In fact, the Better Business Bureau's "read the fine print warning" before signing satellite TV contracts doesn't go far enough. As Ronald tells it, you have to keep reading the fine print over and over online because it can change without notice.

"I had been a DirecTV subscriber for close to 10 years when I switched to Verizon FiOS TV two years ago," Ronald says. "When I became a subscriber, I had to buy my own equipment, which I understand is no longer the case."

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He had a service plan on that equipment, and on a service call, the company replaced both of his receivers. "But I verified at the time of replacement that since it was an equipment swap, I still owned the equipment."

Like those who complained to the BBB, he got a hard time from the representative he spoke to when he called to cancel his service: "When I finally got through to her that I was cancelling because the cost to add VTV to my FiOS service was less than half of what DirecTV charged, she told me she would ship boxes to send my receivers back. Even though I bought and paid for them!"

After much back and forth with the company, Ronald learned that DirecTV had changed the terms of the service contract online. He reports, "The new terms of service indicated that the replacement units were now rentals from DTV, not swaps that would still be owned by me. And DirecTV refused to terminate my service until I agreed to return the units."

He continued to fight over this since he had originally paid full price for that equipment, noting, "I finally got through to a supervisor who agreed that the change in the terms of service occurred long after my equipment replacement and that the equipment was mine. But I was chided for not checking the online contract terms on a regular basis."

And just as he thought everything was resolved so that he could leave his 10-year relationship with DirecTV, he got hit with a $399 early termination fee: "My one-year year agreement had long expired, and I was on a month-to-month payment plan," he says. But the supervisor he spoke to insisted that his agreement wasn't only for one year anymore.

"It seems they'd changed those pesky contract terms online again," says Ronald. But even the online contract was only for 18 months, and Ronald was well past that. But on this point, the supervisor was intractable.

"I had to threaten to get my lawyer involved on that one," says Ronald. "The final straw, though, came when the company insisted on taking my credit card right then and there to pay off my account for the balance of the month." He agreed. But he was no longer in a trusting mood, so he went online to verify that the last payment was received and the account was closed.

It was -- and the next day, all access to his account was gone.

"But a few weeks later," he says, "I got my credit card statement and there was an extra month's charge on it -- posted after the account was officially closed."

For this problem, Ronald turned to his credit card company. That company reversed the charges.

"I got some nasty letters from DirecTV after that," says Ronald. "I told them that if they can prove I owed them money, I'd pay it. And that's the last I've heard from them."

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