IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Gotcha Room: A $200 cell phone call

Everybody knows cell phone calls can be expensive. But can a single call to your provider's customer service line cost you $200? It sure can.

Chris and Irene McCann of Palmdale, Calif., found that out the hard way. Irene called the company in September after the couple had moved and run into trouble using their phones. The conversation seemed harmless -- until Chris tried switching cell phone providers nearly a year later.

Their story, like the tale of Yon-Paul Siebeneck we shared earlier this month, will make you want to grab your most recent cell phone bill looking for answers. Trouble is, you might not even find what you're looking for in the small print.

But you will find an explanation in the Gotcha Room by watching this video, produced by NBC's Andrew Gross, with graphics by NBC's Corey Hall. You can also click to read a transcript.

This transcript has been added in reaction to several comments below. Thanks to readers for the suggestion.

TRANSCRIPT:

When Chris McCann switched cell phone companies, he thought he was free of his original contract. But then he and his wife were hit with a $200 early termination fee. Why? His two-year contract had been quielty extended an extra year.

McCann: We had no paperwork. We had no signatures. We had nothing from them indicating we had ever done anything to extend our contract beyond the original two-year obligation that we had.

What happened to Chris? Let's go to the Gotcha Room.

Gotcha Room: It might not seem right but it is how they do business. Cell phone companies can extend your contract without you ever signing anything. Say you call up your cell phone company and you ask for more minutes or just an address to mail a check. You might find your contract has just been extended another two years.

The key to changing providers without paying an early termination fee is knowing when your contract is up. But that's easier said then done. Especially when contracts are extended without your knowledge.

McCann: They never send you anything in writing. It never appears on your bill. You really have no way of knowing unless you call them and specifically ask. And even if you do ask they seem to be a bit evasive in trying to answer the question.

Want to avoid this kind of surprise? End every call or visit with your cell phone company by saying clearly you do not authorize any contract extensions.