Desperate call for help

Alice Fortes contacted me as a last resort to help her to resolve an issue with MTN that had been going on for more than a year.

“Please help me before I go completely off my trolley,” the Oranjezicht woman pleaded.

“My horror story began in November 2016 when MTN debited my account for R8 000 instead of the usual R1 000. I reversed the debit and asked MTN to specify what this charge was for. There was no response from customer care except that at the end of December MTN took R11 000 but again I reversed the debit.

“I had two 350 minute Anytime Contracts with what I thought was a capped amount, and a R1 200 ceiling on my bank debit. As the contract was under my business name, if I required more airtime or data I had to present MTN with a request on a company letterhead if I needed more. I wanted to know what the item ‘packed switched data’ referred to in Gigs – what was consumed, and how did this get used on a capped contract,” Ms Fortes said.

MTN blocked both cellphones at the end of February 2017 so I was unable to continue my business with that number which I had owned since 1996. But they still supplied the airtime and data even though the line was defunct.

“For a month I tried to get a response from MTN at Century City, which they escalated to Pretoria. No one got back to me and on my third visit they advised me to enter a case with the Consumer Goods Ombudsman (CGSO), where Penelope Kwape said she would get a response within two weeks,” Ms Fortes said.

She didn’t and after several months Florence Mbedzi handed it over to the National Consumer Commission (NCC), again without any tangible result, except on August 22 they said Ms Fortes would get a reply within 60 days.

Ms Fortes again complained to MTN’s customer care centre, to no avail.

Meanwhile, MTN handed the bill over to the debt collectors, VVM Attorneys, who include SABC on their client list. An internet search will show numerous complaints against VVM.

Despite lodging a query on September 15, VVM escalated the debt adding more interest and MTN’s response was to send a copy of all invoices since 1996 to VVM.

Zandile Dlamini of VVM did call Ms Fortes but she wasn’t of much help.

“I wanted to know what the MTN charges were for as I explained to Ms Dlamini I was entitled to a breakdown. She said she would revert to her client and get back to me by the end of the day. You guessed it, she didn’t. For a year MTN have ignored me, the NCC, the CGSO and VVM have been less than helpful,” said Ms Fortes.

“VVM now demand payment or they will ‘proceed with further action’ and the debt is now
R15 000 and I have no defence. Our consumer bodies are impotent and have wasted hours and hours of my time on forms and emails, while MTN gets the upper hand like a school bully and the debt collectors are a ‘locked shop’. Brian Joss, you are my last hope before I drown here – please find me a lifeline,” Ms Fortes asked at the tail end of 2017.

The problem was reasonably easy to resolve. The call centre agents should take the blame. It’s a big problem for them when they have to think out of the box: that is go off script and VVM are reluctant to help.

MTN’s complaints executive, Farzanah Karriem, said Ms Fortes had a contract with Nashua Mobile for a broadband product and when her billing was moved to MTN, the system did not recognise the limit she had with Nashua Mobile and MTN does not offer a bill limit on a broadband product.

“This means that the contract is an open line – wherein the subscriber’s data sessions are not interrupted even after they have depleted their monthly provisioning. Consequently, her bill was not capped according to her arrangement with Nashua Mobile which explains the bill shock.

“We apologise for the inconvenience this error has caused and have resolved to write off all the outstanding amounts. We will instruct our collection agencies to withdraw the complainant’s file,” Ms Karriem said. “Hope this is in order.”

Indeed it is. “I have just heard from MTN that they have written off the outstanding debt and have instructed VVM to withdraw my file. This is amazing news and I am utterly relieved.

“However, I wonder why MTN put me through 12 months of stress and immense paperwork without ever responding.

There is no explanation regarding the billing, but I am happy to take this offer and stop the madness. I am incredibly grateful to you for directing this to the right person,” Ms Fortes said.

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