Pulling the plug on these companies isn’t easy. Photo: Tay Green
Many Israeli consumers have trouble disconnecting from a service provider. Companies like 012, HOT and Cellcom systematically ignore their customers’ requests to disconnect, and continue to bill them. How do these companies get away with it? Because the laws and regulations are cleverly rigged in favor of the companies and against us consumers. So you have to disconnect exactly right, or risk paying for months of service that you never get.
What happened to me
012 was my Internet provider for several years. Last summer, I switched from 012 to Bezeq Beinleumi. Bezeq automatically emailed a notice of disconnection to 012 in my name. The notice looked fine: It contained my name, Israeli ID, and a clear request to disconnect me and stop billing me.
In spite of Bezeq’s clear notification, 012 continued to bill me. I emailed 012, attached Bezeq’s notice of disconnection and asked them to credit me with the NIS25 that they had billed me. An 012 customer rep called, tried endlessly to sign me up for another package, and told me to send the email again. I sent the email again. 012 never returned my money, and billed me for a second month as well.
I sued 012 in the Small Claims Court for NIS1,000. Their legal rep called. She offered me NIS400 and a nondisclosure agreement (NDA). I emailed her that NIS400 wasn’t enough, and that an NDA was unacceptable. She answered, “Then we’re going to court.” A week later she offered me NIS1,000 and an NDA. I emailed her that NIS1,000 was OK, but the NDA wasn’t. She answered, “Then we’re going to court.” This time she meant it.
When we got to court, I discovered that Bezeq’s notice of disconnection to 012 was legally invalid! Why? Because the notice must come from me, not from a third party. In addition, 012 was not even legally obligated to inform me that Bezeq’s notice was invalid. So 012 didn’t honor Bezeq’s notice, didn’t contact me about it, and continued to bill me. Not ethical, but legal.
Because my notice of disconnection was invalid, my case fell apart. The judge could have even ruled that I pay several thousand shekels for 012’s court costs. But 012 compromised, and I walked away with NIS400. Why did 012 compromise when they probably would have won? Probably so that I couldn’t appeal the verdict.
How to give a notice of disconnection
I learned the hard way that Bezeq’s notice of disconnection was worthless. So how should I have notified 012 of disconnection? I know of four ways, and they’re all bad.
- A company called NeTek provides a free notice-of-disconnection service. See https://www.netek.co.il. NeTek provides a form into which you type your name, Israeli ID, last 4 digits of your credit card, email address, and telephone. NeTek creates a notice of disconnection from these items. The problem is that NeTek reserves the right for itself and for its business partners to call you, email you, and SMS you. Theoretically you can opt out of all this spam, but I find the risk unacceptable. Also, NeTek suggests that you follow up with a phone call to 012 anyway, so NeTek doesn’t even eliminate the annoying phone call to 012.
- You can send a registered letter to 012 that requests a disconnection. But to be legally binding, this letter must include information such as your Israeli I.D., customer number, last 4 digits of your credit card, and who knows what else. And again, you should follow up with a phone call to 012.
- You can email 012 that you want to disconnect. Again, your text must include the same information as a registered letter, and you should follow up with a phone call to 012.
- You can call 012, tell their customer rep that you want to disconnect, and record the call. Speaking to a customer rep is time-consuming and big-time annoying, but I think it’s worth it. The next time that I disconnect from a service, that’s what I’ll do.
David and Goliath
012, and other communication providers, are Goliath. They have just two weapons:
- The company knows the loopholes in consumer law. For example, in my case they knew that Bezeq’s notification of disconnection wasn’t legally binding. Also, they know that to be valid your notice of disconnection must include the last 4 digits of your credit card.
- Their nondisclosure agreement keeps consumers defenseless. When someone like me discovers how easy it is to beat them, they sign him to a nondisclosure agreement and keep their vulnerability a secret.
But that’s all the weaponry that they have! Negotiating with the legal rep before the trial and during the trial, I didn’t see any hint of talent or intelligence. All they have is brute force.
You are David. You have several stones for your slingshot that can knock big Goliath on his back:
- For only NIS50, you can sue the company in the Small Claims Court for as much as NIS5,000. For the company, the Small Claims Court is expensive. That’s why 012 offered me NIS1,000 and an NDA to drop the case. Why didn’t I know this? Because most claimants sign the NDA. Only grouchy old men from The Bronx refuse to sign the NDA, and then tell everyone how to fight. Note that 012 offered me the NIS1,000, even though they knew that my case was groundless.
- Even after the judge agreed with 012 that my case was groundless, 012 paid me NIS400. They probably wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t appeal a verdict. So with a little bit of luck, you can make a big mistake as I did, and still squeeze a few shekels out of them.
- There is an addition to the Consumer Protection Law called Punitive Compensation פיצוי לדוגמא. Punitive Compensation specifically covers the offense of continuing to bill a customer after he’s sent a notice of disconnection. In Hebrew this offense is called המשך חיוב למרות בקשת ניתוק. With this clause you can sue for as much as NIS10,000 without proving damage! The Israel Consumer Council states that most consumers don’t know about Punitive Compensation. They’re right. None of my friends had ever heard of it. In the Small Claims Court the filing fee of NIS50 covers a claim of up to NIS5,000. So you can cheaply sue for a large amount without having to prove damage.
If you're afraid of losing, don't sue. But if you're willing to take your chances, you have a reasonable case, and you're angry enough - sue!