BBB Cautions “Free” Cell Phone isn’t Free

June 19, 2014

Consumers are calling Better Business Bureau Serving Southern Arizona about a full-page ad which appeared in the June 16, 2014 edition of the Arizona Daily Star, questioning the ad’s offer of “easy to use Senior Mobile cell phones free.”

The advertiser is Ohio-based Universal Commerce, LLC, which has an F rating with BBB due to its lengthy negative advertising, failure to resolve the underlying cause of a pattern of complaints, and 37 serious complaints filed against the business.       

According to the ad, for a one-time activation fee of $97 plus shipping, Tucson area residents who beat the 48-hour deadline will receive a free Senior Mobile cell phone, getting nationwide coverage with no long distance charges, no contracts, no deposits and no monthly bills. The ad also repeatedly expresses that seniors are risking their safety by not having a cell phone, and that the government urges them to carry one.

BBB of Canton Regional and Greater West Virginia became aware of the Senior Mobile product in May 2013. Their investigation revealed, among other concerns, that the “free” offer isn’t really free and that the company inflates the costs of its activation fees to cover and profit from what’s advertised as “free.”

BBB cautions consumers that offers which seem too good to be true usually are. This “free” offer will cost consumers $97 plus shipping for access to 911 services, which are already provided by all wireless carriers for free. Also, despite having “no monthly bills,” consumers must pay for minutes once their first 250 prepaid minutes are used, or after 60 days.

BBB offers the following tips:

  • Get the details. Read and understand all terms of any offer. Ask questions if something doesn’t make sense or isn’t agreeable.
  • Question free offers. BBB Code of Advertising gives guidelines on “free” offers, including:
  1. The word “free” may be used in advertising whenever the advertiser is offering an unconditional gift.
  2. If receipt of the “free” merchandise or service is conditional on a purchase:  the advertiser must disclose this condition clearly and conspicuously together with the “free” offer (not by placing an asterisk or symbol next to “free” and referring to the condition(s) in a footnote.

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