Monday, January 14, 2013

How I Left Verizon

This is a story all about how my life got flipped; turned upside down. Wait, that was the Fresh Prince. No matter; this is the same sort of thing. I’m going to tell you how I got rid of my Verizon contract and not only avoided paying an ETF, but made money in the process. Top that, Will Smith! All you’ve got is that mildly entertaining but ultimately forgettable movie “Hancock.”

He must have super shoes, too, since they didn't get damaged.

Verizon, for me, has often been something like a relationship with a hot but psychotic girlfriend. One minute you feel like the luckiest guy on earth while enjoying the . . . benefits (I was going to say “coverage area,” but that doesn’t really transfer over as an analogy without a lot of imagination). The next, you’re jumping through hoops trying desperately to not cross some made up line that gets you in trouble. It’s incredibly expensive and you most certainly can’t have it your way. When the going’s good it sure is great fun, but the rest of the time you’re left feeling trapped, manipulated, and wanting out. After a long enough time, even the plain-Jane T-Mobile girl starts to look enticing. Sure, she’s not as flashy as Verizon; but she’ll get the job done and still let you play video games. My analogy’s wandering, here, but you get the point.

So what’s a guy to do? Simple. Manipulate back. What I’m about to divulge is completely legitimate and above board. This is how to get out of your Verizon contract without any tomfoolery and without leaving a huge dent in your pocketbook. As to how you’ll get out of that toxic relationship with the crazy bikini model? You’re on your own for that one. Sorry.

Did I mention my new Share Everything plans? What's yours is mine . . .

Verizon’s definitely a clinger. Try to step out on your own and BAM! $350 early termination fee (or ETF, as it’s known by Verizon employees and internet dorks). I had heard of several ways to dump your line without eating the ETF, but each seemed problematic to me. There was the old “lie to Verizon and say you’re moving to Antarctica” trick, but that involved lying (staying above board here, remember?) and, from my research, not everyone was able to get away with it. There’s the tried and true complaining about fee increases (since the little penny fee increase here and there could arguably constitute a change in agreed charges during a contract period, which would get you off the hook), but not only have people had very limited success with that, but even if you made a huge stink over $0.02 Verizon could simply offer to refund it to you. No dice there.

I think it's easier to simply walk into Mordor.

After nearly giving up, I stumbled upon the end-your-contract-without-an-ETF holy grail: Assumption of Liability. Clean, simple, effective. Only one problem: you need a third party. You see, an Assumption of Liability (AOL to us dorks; not to be confused with how you got online in 1995 when Mom was off the phone) is when someone takes over your line of service. The contract then transfers along with the line to the new owner, leaving you scott free to frolic about in the meadow. Now, you just left Verizon so frolicing is all you can do since you have no coverage all the way out there, but I digress. The point is an AOL lets you give away your line to another party and be completely free of your Verizon contract; no muss, no fuss, no ETF. Just once and done.

“OK,” you ask, “what good does that do me? It’s not like I have a family member I can dupe into donning Verizon Red shackles.” Not to worry; I’ve got you covered. You see, grandfathered Verizon unlimited, and even grandfathered tiered Verizon Family Share plans, are pretty coveted out there. I won’t go into the reasons why people want them because, well, it should be pretty obvious. If you’re not after the latest unlocked device and money isn’t an issue, it’s hard to do better than one of these grandfathered Verizon plans. OK, I lied; I did go into the reasons. In any case, if you have an old unlimited or other Verizon plan, there are people out there who want what you have. And they’re willing to pay for it to boot.

I only accept Ninjabucks as payment.

I was sitting pretty on a 700 minute Family Share plan with no texting (Google Voice ftw!) and two lines. One line had grandfathered unlimited data for $29.99, the other 4GB a month for $30. But that shiny new Nexus 4 came out, and it had me salivating over T-Mobile’s $30 a month prepaid plan. Not to mention the disco-ball back. I’m a sucker for all things disco. I was at the time paying, before taxes and fees, $129 a month to Verizon for the privilege of accessing their mobile network. That’s pretty good compared to some of the newer plans, but still a decent chunk of change more than $60 a month for two lines with T-Mobile prepaid. After some research I found a couple of active marketplaces where people were selling their phones and lines like a Somali black market sells AKMS rifles. The best two I found were Howard Forums and Cell Phone Forums:
Howard Forums
Cell Phone Forums

I posted my Verizon plan particulars (just prices and features; no personal stuff) and watched the PMs pour in. OK, it wasn’t that easy, but in all honesty it was pretty darned close. In not too much time I had a few offers for the lines, and I worked out a deal with two separate parties on Howard Forums; one for the minutes and 4GB line, the other for the unlimited line. I got paid via PayPal, had everything handled with Verizon’s AOL department, and viola! Contract free. I ended up making $100 off of the deal, too. Had I gone the ETF route, I would have been looking at over $600 in fees to Verizon to simply walk away. Going my route, I ended up pocketing $100 and still being able to sell my now clean ESM phones (that just means they can be reactivated on Verizon) on ye olde Craigslist and pocket another $350. Easy peasy.

For those of you willing to brave this method, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, the risk. You’re dealing with random strangers on the wild internet, so there’s always the possibility you could get scammed. Someone could pay via PayPal and then dispute the payment once they have the line. Someone could get your line, then refuse to deactivate your device rendering it unsellable (though you could use it on their dime, so I don’t know how likely that is). Someone could use your information to track down your cat and force it to learn how to fetch and make a YouTube video about it and show it to all of your cat’s friends, which would be very embarrassing and emotionally hurtful. Use your head and don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with. I take no responsibility for any harm that comes to you or your cat.

Be wary or face the wrath of Grumpy Cat.

Second, Verizon has some rules for transferring grandfathered lines. First, you can’t transfer just the unlimited data line to someone and have them keep unlimited. It has to either come along with your minutes plan or the buyer has to have an existing Family Share plan to add it to. If neither of those things exist, then the person taking over the line will be forced onto a tiered data line (though not one of the new Share Everything plans). Second, the person doing the AOL will have to pass a standard credit check and the line will be under a 1 year contract. It doesn’t matter if your line had 6 months left or 18 months left; the new contract owner’s contract will be 1 year. Third, the phone number on the line will have to transfer with the line; if you migrate the phone number before the line is AOL’d, then you’re hit with the ETF. More on that later.

OK, let’s talk logistics. Say you have a buyer and you feel comfortable doing the deal. How do you go about getting it done? It’s actually surprisingly easy. I expected Verizon to make me jump through hoops on fire and juggle knives (metaphorically; though I wouldn’t put it passed them to make me do it literally), but they didn’t do any of that. I simply called 888-832-4540, which is Verizon’s AOL line. I verified my information and then told the rep the name of the person I’m authorising to take over my line and which line they’re authorised to take over. The buyer then called the same line, gave the rep their information, passed a credit check, and went on their merry way. I have to give a huge thumbs up to Verizon for how smooth and hassle free the process was; I’ve never done it on another carrier, but I can safely say they all should strive to make the process work as well as Verizon does.

It was a nice experience, but I don't know that I'd go this far in my VZW love.

The whole affair is all very simple and straightforward except for two little things: your existing phone, and your existing number. Both will be tied to the line that you transfer, so unless you’re selling your phone with the line and you’re already using Google Voice for all of your calls and texts (which you really ought to be, in my opinion), you have another couple of steps to go through. First, in order for your phone to be free from the line it’s attached to the buyer will need to activate another device on that line. One of my line buyers had his own iPhone that he wanted activated. He’s obviously a crazy person, so he’ll have fun with the metaphorical crazy girlfriend. The other had a Galaxy Nexus, which is far more sensible. In both cases, I had to wait for them to activate their devices before my associated phones were free and clear to sell. Not a big deal, but definitely something to be aware of.

As for the phone number, that’s a little trickier. Like I said, you can’t migrate the number or else the line will get hit with an ETF. However, the new owner can migrate their old number to the line once they take it over. This frees up your old number for migration. Once it’s free, why not migrate it over to Google Voice? This way, you have it as your texting number for free SMS over data with the Google Voice app, and when you make phone calls people will still see that same number. If you go with an unlocked device on prepaid like the GSM Galaxy Nexus or the Nexus 4 (provided Google Play gets off their duff and sells you one), you can switch SIM cards between AT&T, T-Mobile, and Straight Talk without ever worrying about having to switch your phone number over. It’s a one-time fee of $20 and well worth it if you’re going prepaid (heck, even if you’re going to a new contract). Google Voice integrates very well with Android, so you’ll never have to give friends and family a different number again; regardless of switching phones, carriers, plans, lines, etc. Or, you can simply get a new line of service with a different carrier (or even with Verizon; this is a nice way to get a device upgrade when you’re mid contract, but you’ll be forced to also get a Share Everything plan) and have them migrate your now freed up number to the new line.

Take your Nexus weapon; strike me down in your anger and your journey toward the Dark Side will be complete!

I get the allure of Verizon’s network; I really do. This article is not meant to convince people to switch from Verizon to another carrier. Verizon has a killer network and their LTE speeds are pretty stinkin’ awesome. It’s like that hot but wacko chick; I get why you stay with her. Heck, I dated her for years and her insanity never really got to me. But for those of you for whom her charms have faded, you don’t have to feel trapped. There is a way out that doesn’t involve her keying your car or posting defamatory images of you on Instagram. Enjoy the freedom, Android friends. And besides, she’ll always be right outside your window watching you sleep if you ever want to come crawling back; she’ll just make you pay for it in the form of Share Everything plans. And you’ll have to take her Mom out for a nice steak dinner.

I know this image isn't the most relevant, but it's awesome. Deal with it.