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HERB BENHAM: Too good to be true

Monday started with a call from AT&T.

The disembodied female voice asked if I wanted to save $70 a month on my internet/TV service. Go from $140 to $70.

Did I want to save money? Does a monkey have a backside?

Like most people, in addition to figuring out how I can live forever, I'd like to find a way to cut my cable bill. Cut the cord but still have something to watch.

When I asked for more information, the disembodied female voice switched me to a friendly young man with an accent who explained the deal, which he said was a joint promotion between AT&T and eBay.

"If you pay upfront for six months — $420 — then all you have to pay is $70 a month for the last 18 months of the promotion," he said.

"Why would the company do this?" I asked.

"AT&T lost millions of accounts during the pandemic," he said. "We're trying to win them back."

Sounded reasonable although I was a customer anyway so you don't have to win me back but whatever. I'm a shrewd guy. I can spot a good deal a mile away.

I did the math. Rather than paying $1,680 a year I would pay $840. That was almost a thousand dollars in savings.

Tell me how I can sign up.

"You go to any grocery store or drugstore like Walgreens and buy three eBay gift cards, three because you can only load $200 on each card, then call us back and give us the activation code, which I will text you, and the numbers on the eBay cards," he said.

If I did it in the next 90 minutes, he would give me a $50 AT&T gift card that I could use for anything I wanted. Anything. This deal was getting better by the moment.

"I'm probably not going anywhere in the next 90 minutes because it's hot outside," I said to my salesperson who was probably working in front of a fan, an open window and not much more.

I thanked him, hung up and Googleed AT&T and eBay. I discovered I was one of 22 million who had also wondered the same thing.

The question was "Is AT&T running a promotion with eBay?"

The first entry said, "It's a scam: AT&T is not trying to get the word out about eBay gift cards."

"We've received many pleas for help from distraught victims of this particular eBay gift card scam during the past month," the site said. "They've lost hundreds and even thousands of dollars to this scheme. These consumers all want the same thing: to retrieve their stolen money from the anonymous predators who tricked them."

The stories started to sound familiar:

"I received a call from a man who said he represented AT&T. He told me that if I paid half of my next six months' DirecTV bill upfront using eBay gift cards, eBay would pay the other half. So I just needed to buy $450 in eBay gift cards to pay my half. The man on the phone said this promo was to get the word out about eBay gift cards and it was time-limited."

When the prospect didn't jump at the chance to save $450, the caller sweetened the deal. He offered her some free premium movie channels. That did it. She was hooked like a fish and ended up losing the $450 she had loaded on the eBay gift cards whose information she gave to the caller.

"It's always a scam if someone asks you to use gift cards to pay your TV bill," said a spokesperson from eBay.

It's easy to forget the age-old adage: Sometimes when a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

We'll have to figure out another way of watching good TV while we live forever.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or (661) 395-7279.

 

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