Monday, August 11, 2008


Prepaid phone cards are packed with ways to shortchange troops in Iraq

By Dan Thanh Dang - BALTIMORE SUNUpdated: 08/11/08 11:01 AM

For soldiers stationed overseas, phone calls are a crucial link to loved ones and the lives they left behind to serve their country.

So when Colin Sawyer’s mom in Mount Wolf, Pa., sent him an AT&T prepaid phone card, the 24-year-old Army gunner in Iraq was excited to have the precious 550 minutes to call home.

“I went to use it one night after patrol and an automated voice came on and said, ‘You have 55 minutes left for this call,’ ” said Sawyer, who was on leave recently to visit family.

“I had barely used the card so I thought that was strange. The thing is, letters can take two weeks or more through mail. Where I’m based, I don’t have Internet access or phone access every day, so I can go three weeks without any contact.

“So when I can call home, I don’t want to worry about whether my call will go through or if I have enough minutes to talk,” Sawyer said. “It’s happened on other cards she’s sent me, too. I never get the number of minutes it says I get on the card.”

Sawyer is right. What he stumbled upon is no glitch in the system or an accounting mistake. With prepaid phone cards — whether used by the military overseas or the public here in the States, whether it’s AT&T or another carrier — the gap between advertising and reality is exasperating and filled with gotchas.

Some prepaid phone cards come laden with fees, surcharges and insidious expiration dates.
Even worse, the amount of calling time a card owner receives may be nowhere near the amount of minutes advertised on the face of the cards.

“Why can’t AT&T just tell you exactly what you’re getting?” asks Kathleen Sawyer, Colin’s mom. “How is it that when you buy a 550-minute phone card, your son or daughter is not even going to get half of that when they use it?”

The angry mom said she has spent more than $1,000 purchasing 1,200-minute, 300-minute and 550-minute AT&T cards for her son and a 22-year-old daughter who was stationed on a Navy aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. It was often a mystery to both her children how many minutes they were actually able to use.

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Reese922 said...

I completely sympathize with this woman and all families and friends of military members.My husband is deployed right now and our minutes are valueable too, because we were only married 4 months before he left. He spent $50 on a 100 minute phone card over there, and we got to talk for exactly 27 minutes. It was very frustrating and depressing. I think they should create a card for the troops that is issued to them when they deploy and deactivated when their deployment is over. This card should grant them unlimited minutes for the duration of their stay out of country. It would be commendable for the telephone companies to work with the military to make this idea a possibility, since, you know, their security is being defended also.

Bill Corcoran said...

Reese: Thanks for writing. If I can make a suggestion, you might want to contact your local newspaper and see if they will do a story on your plight.

Please thank your husband for his service to our country.

Bill Corcoran

Anonymous said...

If everyone who reads this blog would call one of their Washington reps or even local politicians, firstly, then write a letter to a local newspaper about this issue and request they "Support the Troops" with something other than some stupid magnet on their cars, and provide these troops with phone cards, I really think we could make a positive difference. Just an idea I want to put out. I plan to do just that today. Why don't you? Politicians love to get a little publicity. Let's give it to them while at the same time hopefully HELP our troops.

Bill Corcoran said...

Anonymous: Excellent suggestion about writing Congress. I agree with you those bumper stickers and yellow ribbons don't cut it. The problem with this war is the media has decided the war is not worth covering anymore and so people have no vested interest in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is said because we have a combined almost 200,000 young men and women in both countries.