"You better keep your fucking mouth shut if you know what's good for you!" Those were the words screamed at me by my supervisor's boss after I made a report to the fraud department implicating his top performing supervisor in a fraud ring which was stealing millions of dollars of phones and service monthly. This was not in a closed office or outside, this was on the callcenter floor, in front of my completely flabbergasted supervisor and coworkers.
Yes, this was Sprint. Specifically, this was in their "retention" or "account services" department which was tasked with keeping customers from leaving, probably the most stressful but lucrative job in the company at the time. The year was 2007 and customers were leaving in droves after one of the most ill-conceived mergers in history. Sprint, which had been plagued by a number of issues including a billing system with more flaws and loopholes that you can think of, a customer service reputation that would cause most companies to change their names and fire en masse, and the decline of demand for landline services, had merged with Nextel less than two years prior. The original theory was that if they could somehow combine the rabid brand loyalty and high revenue customers of Nextel with the Sprint home phone service, perhaps this would finally create a super communications giant that could finally compete with the likes of AT&T and Verizon again.
Instead, customers (especially Nextel customers) began climbing into every available lifeboat and leaving as fast as they could, often not deterred by early termination fees. $150 or so per line to leave a company that constantly messed up their bill each month and added costly services without permission was a bargain. The introduction of the Iphone didn't help matters either as Sprint had always been known for having the newest and best phones. Yet, Sprint had it's head in the sand and decided to throw money at the problem, lots and lots of money. We were basically paid to give money away to customers, free phones, free services, we would have probably been forced to show up at customer's houses and wash their cars if it wouldn't have been a legal nightmare.
The thing they didn't realize was that legit customers who didn't have problems were probably not going to call and the people who did have issues had been jerked around so many times that they often didn't bother calling to complain, they'd just port their numbers out without warning. The other problem was that a couple years prior, Sprint felt the need to add customers, no matter how poor their credit was and then keep them on the books, profitable or not. Often, these customers would call constantly to complain and ask for free things, but records would show they had not paid their bill in months. "Keep the customer from canceling, no matter what you have to do." That's what we were told over and over again, and month after month, we continued to throw money at the problem while month after month, we continued to hemorrhage valuable customers.
So where does my story fit in you might ask? Well, it seems that there was a well organized group of cellphone dealers out of the Northeast US, New York specifically, that had found a number of loopholes that basically allowed them to buy for pennies on the dollar Sprint phones and services that they would then resell at a massive profit. In addition to this, they had a number of Sprint corporate employees, including members of management who profited in a variety of ways by making sure these fraudulent accounts stayed on the books. These same dealers would also pose as employees of corporate and government accounts, place large phone orders on accounts such as UPS or the EPA and then have the phones shipped to locations across the country. The phones would then be sold out of kiosks and Ebay or Craigslist, usually to customers who had no idea that the cool new gadget they just bought was stolen.
Management knew about it and there were some that either were aware of the issue and did little or nothing to stop it or they were completely on the take. There were a few honest employees in our department who played by the rules, tried to stop the fraudulent accounts from growing and do what was right for the company. Yet, because of this, we made less commissions and were often passed over for promotion because we refused to cheat. Many of us were railroaded out, harassed or even terminated for bogus offenses for blowing the whistle. Eventually the new CEO realized what was happening and some heads did roll, but the damage was done. Many of the accounts are still there and not all the loopholes are plugged. To this day, phones continue to be fraudulently ordered and shipped. Customers are still charged for services they never authorized. The exodus continues...