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We now interrupt our period of navel-gazing and travel talk to talk about something more practical. How I’m pretty sure Movistar tried to scam me the other day.

Movistar is my cellphone provider. There are three companies here in Chile, Entel (widely considered the best), Movistar (with many complaints, but still theoretically, a decent company) and Claro, which is rumored to have less coverage, but I have no personal experience with them.

After a series of off-contract phones that I provided myself, my latest one was finally not functioning properly. Specifically, the button to change functions wasn’t working, so if I was on the phone and then wanted to look at the weather, I had to turn my phone on and off. It’s old, probably impossible to repair, and well, I decided I wanted a new one. I decided to get an iPhone, because I am a brainless sheep of a follower, and anyway, I am already comfortable in the “Apple ecosystem,” which I can’t believe I just wrote. I decided on the 4S because I don’t want the latest and greatest, and also because the Iphone 5 is crazy expensive here.

I had done some comparison shopping, across companies (we have numeric portability now in Chile, so I was looking at Entel and Movistar (my current provider)), and across plans for the IPhone 4S, and arrived at a deal in which the phone would cost me X, and the monthly plan would cost me Y. I buy the cheapest plan, because I’m not a heavy phone-user. I don’t really enjoy being on the phone, and find messages and/or internet work just as well. Plus we have skype, oh, and whatsapp, which we use here often instead of SMS, as it’s free, and web-based. It also works internationally, so I get to hang out with my sister online at times, and that’s fun.

At any rate, I went to the Movistar store (which, since it is white inside, and glassed-in, looks very much like an Apple store) that’s on Huérfanos, near Cerro Santa Lucía. I told the woman at the door what I wanted, she checked to make sure they had the phone I wanted in stock, and she gave me a number. I was called to a particular window, explained what I wanted, and was told the following:

Him: You can get the Iphone 4S for X (my expected price) plus 15,000 CLP (30 US dollars), and a contract of Y.

Me: What?

Him: Repeat.

Me: Hmm, strange, I have been on the internet, and that is not the price of the phone I was looking at.

Insert blather from the guy about how the price of the phone is higher because the contract is cheaper, which I know, as I’ve already researched this, and in fact, have been researching it for years.

Insert me saying, no, that’s the contract I wanted, but the price of the phone is incorrect. Can you please get on the internet and look at the price I saw?

Him: The prices are as they are stated on the computer (and as an aside, in unholy irony, he couldn’t get on the internet).

Insert me thinking madly, how do you say “bait and switch” in Spanish. No, I say, the prices are as they are advertised on the internet, and the price is X, not X plus 15,000.

Him: I can’t give you that price, this is the price.

Me: Let’s walk over to the “prechequeo” people and see what they can find. Together with a representative in this part of the store, we go onto the internet, and find the price is X (as I originally stated). I go back to the same dude that was helping me before, the price handwritten on a piece of paper, from the prechequeo dude, but my original guy is helping other customers. I am sent to someone else, paper in hand.

The second salesperson respected the price I had shown her, waived the new simcard fee (which the first guy was going to charge me), applied my discount points, and brought me my new phone. Yay, great peals of joy.

And then I asked to see a supervisor.

Me: I explain the background, and then ask, “Can you explain to me how it is that I was quoted a price that I’d never seen before on the internet, with a contract that was equal to the one I wanted.”

Her: The price of the phone is dependent on the contract.

Me: I know, but in this case, the contract was the same price, but the phone was more expensive. How is that possible?

Her: Oh, he must have made a mistake.

And on and on she went, positing the kinds of mistakes he might have made.

Me: But how did he quote me a price that is not visible anywhere on the website?

Her: There are prices available that are not visible on the internet.

Me: How very transparent. Also, this price was MORE than what was listed on the internet. Can you explain that?

Her: Maybe a mistake, wrong information, data entry problem, confusion, lapse in concentration, etc.

Me: That’s all well and good, but it would have been my $30, plus the $5 that the new lady didn’t charge me for my SIM card. That’s $35 I almost spent unnecessarily. Can you explain to me the discrepancy in price?

And she posited possible mistakes again, and again and again, and assured me that as we got closer to me paying the discrepancy would have been discovered, and I would have been charged the price I eventually paid.

Me: I understand exactly what you are saying, and I hear every word of it. I also know that you do not set the policies here, that this is a job for you, and that you are not in charge of the work flow. But I believe that if I were not an educated consumer, I would have paid the higher price. I want you to tell your supervisors that to me this is a lack of transparency, and it stinks of fraud (huele a engaño).

Her: It was just a mistake.

Me: I understand that that is your position, but I want you to know that from where I sit, as a consumer with 35 extra dollars in my pocket because I educated myself before I walked in the door, and someone who was quoted two different prices by two different Movistar representatives, who sit a mere 40 cm apart, and one of whom was willing to waive the SIM card fee, and one wasn’t, I want you to know that it absolutely seems like an abusive practice.

And as I politely took my leave, I promised to publicize it. And so here we are now.

Lesson learned: Buyer beware, educate the hell out of yourself, ask for transparency in your transactions, ask for breakdowns of the various costs of whatever you’re being charged, for people to talk slowly (if necessary), and know that in Chile, as elsewhere, the cellphone companies are doing what they can to make a buck. And that buck might just be yours.

btw, and for what it’s worth, I bounced the whole story off of the lady in back of me at the payment line, and she said (without me prompting), that it sounded like an engaño.