Wake Up with Wealthtender: July 3, 2020
🎆 Good morning, America. While 4th of July celebrations this weekend may lack the typical...
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If there are any companies who have fully earned a love-hate relationship with me, it’s cable/broadband/phone providers and wireless phone carriers. Inscrutable bills proving incredible creativity in how to charge fees with meaningless-to-me names, that might as well all be called “because-we-can fee” as well as periodic increases in plan costs. When I call and try to get out from under, there’s clearly a script in front of the phone rep that helps her deflect any objection I might come up with, and at best an offer for a limited-time discount that lessens, but doesn’t completely undo, the increased cost, and even that only temporarily.
This makes me a natural target for companies who promise to step into the ring with these corporate behemoths, and use their self-reported expertise, superior knowledge, and negotiating skills to cut my bills down to a more acceptable size. Companies like BillShark, with their tagline: “No Bill Is Safe!”
When first signing up for a BillShark account, you can sign in with your Google account, or create a BillShark account using your email and a new password. Preferring to err on the side of caution, I chose the latter.
Next, you see icons for the types of services BillShark can help you negotiate lower costs: Wireless, Internet, PayTV, Home Security, Satellite Radio, and Others.
I chose to start with Wireless, or cell phone service. This led to a screen displaying the four main providers: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint; in case my provider wasn’t listed, I could click to state that and upload my bill. My carrier is Sprint, however, so I click that icon.
The next step allowed me to enter my monthly bill amount for a quick estimate of savings. Entering my $304 bill, I get a promising estimate that BillShark could save me $103 per month. If true, that would save over $1200 a year, and after BillShark’s 40% cut, I’d still save over $700 a year – very promising!
Entering my $304 bill, I get a promising estimate that BillShark could save me $103 per month. If true, that would save over $1200 a year, and after BillShark’s 40% cut, I’d still save over $700 a year – very promising!
Next, I need to choose between uploading my bills (PDF, JPG, GIF, or PNG) or giving BillShark my Sprint credentials so they could download the bills themselves. As alluded to above, I tend to be on the cautious side, so upload my bills rather than give an as-yet-unfamiliar entity my Sprint account number and password or PIN. BillShark makes uploading very convenient, allowing me to drag and drop my PDF bills into their form.
Done. Next, I click on “Lower My Wireless Bill.”
BillShark asks for my name, wireless number (here, you can click on the question mark and get the following promise: “We will never sell, share or spam your mobile phone number. We request the number for select notifications on your bill negotiations.”, and, what’s this? They’re asking for my PIN?!?
I thought I’d sidestepped that when I uploaded the bills myself rather than ask them to get them from Sprint! Clicking on the question mark here sets my mind at ease because they say that, “We request the PIN to negotiate, faster, on your behalf. If unknown, please leave blank. We can still negotiate and obtain savings.” Ok, I’m not in that much of a hurry. BillShark can go ahead and do it without my PIN.
Their Pricing and Terms say, “Our modest fee is 40% of your savings. If we save $1,000, our fee is $400 before any applied discounts. If there are no savings, there are no fees. Payment plans available up to 6 months. Our average savings is nearly $300 per bill and the highest savings for a single bill is $9,500. I consent for BILLSHARK to contact me at the number/email address provided for reducing my bills via phone, email or text. Making a purchase is not required to consent to receive communications. Further details in Terms of Service and Our Guarantee. Still have questions?”
I’d hardly call a 40% fee “modest,” but getting 60% of something is much better (potentially) than 100% of nothing, so here goes…
I click “Save Now.”
A shark fin circles an icon of a bill, with the amusing caption “Beware Sprint, no bill is safe!”
After enough circling to drop the walls of Jericho several times over, I see the following message: “You’re almost there! We received your bill and you’re just one small step away from the Dashboard. Please check your email and verify your account so that the Sharks know it’s really you.”
That makes sense, so I head to my email to confirm my identity. A click and several seconds later, a new tab opens and I’m prompted to log in again, which takes me to my BillShark dashboard, where I see that I’ve submitted one bill.
Another email in my inbox reads:
We’ve sent your request to a group of sharks who specialize in these types of bills, to make sure you get the best possible deal. They’re chomping at the bit and can’t wait to get started. Negotiations generally are completed within the billing cycle.
In the meantime, check your email or the BILLSHARK mobile app or website for updates. The app is currently available for iPhone and Android. Your Reward is sent via separate email once your bill is validated. As a reminder, this is a contingency service.
If we save you money, there is a standard fee of 40% of total savings achieved (capped at 24 months), before any promotional discounts are applied. If we don’t save, there are no BILLSHARK fees. Six (6) month payment plans are available and accessible when invoices are presented. We invoice 3 business days after negotiations are completed.
We will not commit you to any contracts without your express permission. Note, we lock in savings and length during our negotiations with your service provider. We have found in our experience, those savings/discounts can disappear on a follow up call; hence, we do not contact you prior to locking in the negotiation results achieved.
You can spend the 1-2 hours and do this yourself. We will do it better and faster as our negotiators have each done thousands of negotiations and we uncover unpublished promotions. Please reply to this email with “Cancel” within 24 hours to opt-out of the service.
Please be aware that while we are negotiating your bills, you may receive communication (email and/or text) from your provider. If this email is in your Spam Folder, please mark it as ‘Not Spam’ to ensure you receive all subsequent emails.
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Shortly thereafter, I receive both an email and a text message from the “Shark” assigned to do battle with Sprint on my behalf. Taylor introduces herself and, wait for it… wait for it… asks for my PIN.
I reply that I’m not comfortable handing out my PIN, and point out that the BillShark website specifically says that while providing my PIN will make the process faster, they can cut my bills without it.
Taylor’s response? That’s true for some accounts, but (surprise, surprise!) not for mine. Taylor then offers that I can change my PIN temporarily to one I’d share with her, and change it back once she completes her work.
At this point, I decide to do a bit of online research to see other people’s experience. One source of reviews I found was ConsumerAffairs.com. Here, I find that BillShark gets an average of just over 4 stars.
However, knowing that the most important source of information is often the less-stellar reviews, I hone in on those, ignoring ones where the site questions the review’s credibility or where the reviewer seems to have missed things that BillShark states pretty clearly, like how much they charge and when they charge it.
Note that the following is taken from online reviews posted by others, so I have no way of independently verifying their veracity or accuracy. I can only assess their plausibility.
One review that seems plausible is a May 2019 2-star review from Dustin of Mesa, AZ. Dustin relays that BillShark negotiated a reduction in cost by agreeing on his behalf to have his hot-spot throttled. He seems understandably unhappy, quoting BillShark’s terms of service as stating that a reduction of services as a means of reduced pricing does not constitute a successful negotiation. Nonetheless, BillShark insisted on him paying them half of their normal fee. He also states that: “The director of operations was hostile during the process and refused to allow me to review the recording of the conversation they claim constituted my consent.”
Another that struck me was an October 2017 2-star review from Arthur of Lebanon Junction, KY. Arthur relates how he asked for help with his broadband bill, but told BillShark in the comments that he wanted to keep his 100-MB speed. He continues, saying that after BillShark texted him that they had saved him $10/month and increased his speed to 100 MB. He was able to confirm the cost savings, but found that his connection speed had dropped to 66 MB.
Both cases show something that various Reddit users say about BillShark, that while the company claims they will save you money through their superior knowledge, expertise, and negotiating skills gained through thousands of negotiations, what they really do (at least sometimes) is get carriers to reduce your services in return for reduced bills, which then allows BillShark to charge you for 40% of that reduction.
This is not to say that BillShark can never save you money without reducing services. The large number of 4-star and 5-star reviews on ConsumerAffairs.com seems to demonstrate that there are far more happy BillShark customers than unhappy ones. However, it appears that this does happen at least some of the time, and that when it does, BillShark still charges their cut.
With this in mind, I decide to go along with my initial decision and not provide my PIN. I email Taylor, and in parallel open a ticket with BillShark’s customer service. In both cases, I state that I’m not willing to provide my PIN, and given Taylor’s statement that she cannot negotiate savings for me without it, they should (a) delete the bills I uploaded, (b) cancel my BillShark account, and (c) email me a confirmation that they’ve done so.
The website promises a 24-hour response, and the system generates an email confirming that they’ve received my request to open a ticket. Less than an hour later, I get responses from both Taylor and customer service. Taylor’s is a friendly one-liner saying “Okay you got it I apologize for the inconvenience!” The one from customer service displays a subject line saying, “Opher, BILLSHARK account canceled” with the body of the email saying that they’ve canceled my negotiation request.
A day later, I check to see if my BillShark account has indeed been canceled, finding that it is still alive and swimming, allowing me to log in.
Not cool, BillShark.
However, my wireless “negotiation” is indeed listed as “canceled.”
Just within the 24-hour response period, BillShark customer support emailed me again to let me know that they’ve deleted my bill images and closed down my account with them as I requested. I was then able to verify that I can no longer log into my BillShark account. Kudos!
The promise on the website that they could negotiate bill reductions without my providing them with my PIN is at least misleading, if not outright false. If this is only true for some accounts (as stated by Taylor), the site should be clear about that. Otherwise, it feels like “bait and switch.”
The bottom line is that it turns out I’m not BillShark’s ideal customer.
I don’t mind spending the time to negotiate discounts with carrier reps, and I’m fairly effective at it. In fact, I’ve succeeded in the past in e.g. getting Nissan to pay for my wife’s Sentra $1600 repair when it blew a head gasket at 74,000 miles, far beyond their 36,000-mile warranty, at which point they were not legally required to cover anything.
On the other hand, I am very much security conscious, and would not give my PIN and the implied blank-check permission for someone else to do anything they want with my carrier account, even if only on a temporary basis.
Given the above, it is no surprise that things turned out as they did, which is why I give BillShark a neutral 3-star rating.
However, I find their pricing, at 40% of claimed reductions for a 2-year period, to be very high. I also don’t like that they charge this regardless of how it was achieved, and that they require payment within days of concluding the negotiations.
This way, you end up paying nearly 10 times the monthly savings (40% times 24 months) before you get even a single month’s worth of savings. If you then decide to sign up for a different plan or leave your current carrier a few months later, you end up having paid more for BillShark’s service than you save on your carrier’s bill.
Finally, what I liked the least was the bait-and-switch feeling around whether or not BillShark would require my PIN.
What do you think? Is BillShark for you? If so, you can click here to get started. Have your own experience using BillShark? Let our readers know in the comments section below to help our community make an informed decision.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to encourage any lifestyle changes without careful consideration and consultation with a qualified professional. This article is for reference purposes only, is generic in nature, is not intended as individual advice and is not financial or legal advice.