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I am hitting a wall helping my father purchase a cell phone. Together we cannot convince any company to provide service to us. Credit is tip top, and we'd be charging a credit card. Is it normal for this process to be exceedingly difficult with many dead-ends?

My father is stuck in an assisted living facility without viable transportation except for medical needs. We are very cautious about trying random cell phone companies because most don't work inside the steel building. We're sure of Sprint. T-Mobile also has good prospects. *Every other one is off the table because reception is either proven bad, or not worth a big gamble. The gamble is that father would take too long figuring out the service stinks, and miss the free return period.

But we had this same problem with Verizon, before we crossed them off the list because of poor reception.

I've tried four times now to purchase a cell phone for my father, online and by phone. I'm better at running the computer, so I do all the data entry.

Every time, we hit a stone wall. The online is not enough; they want additional documents and say these can be scanned and sent as JPEG. Then they decline. The have asked to speak to my father directly; I arranged that. Then they want my father to come into a store; not gonna happen, and they refuse any ADA accommodation.

They always decline, claiming it is a credit decline. That's not possible.

I've also tried running it as "no-credit-check"; i.e. buying a device for cash outright. They refuse to provide service. My father is now banned from Sprint; the agents hate this term but cannot find any service their system will allow.

So, a couple questions.

Is this sort of thing the normal state of affairs with signing up new cell phone customers online? Is it common to punt you over to phone contact, then demand you come into a store with a stack of identity docs? Is the "sign up online" thing just a lure to get you to call or appear? (in other words, under what circumstances does online actually work)?

When I pursued the no-credit-check option, the agent asked permission to run a No-credit check. The phrasing made it sound like a "no-credit check" was a thing, specifically a type of credit check. What on earth is that?

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    Are you trying for a traditional contract-based arrangement? What about just buying your own phone and doing a month to month plan? They typically don't require any additional identity or credit checks at all, because there's nothing at stake. I do this through a different carrier but I think Sprint offers their own monthly plans and/or sells them through Boost Mobile or other carriers. – dwizum Nov 26 at 18:44
  • @dwizum Contract is harder, but I've offered to BYO (or to be more precise buy one of their phones at full retail) and they still say we don't qualify for service. Apparently they feel there is something at stake because I could refuse to pay the bill, or run up a huge bill on 900 numbers or in-app purchases or however that works these days. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 26 at 18:47
  • I suspect there is now a big "fraud" marker against your father's name and address. Fraudsters taking out a contract using someone else's name and address is a common problem for them. So they will no longer accept anything from you over the phone or internet. – Simon B Nov 26 at 23:28
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Is it common to punt you over to phone contact, then demand you come into a store with a stack of identity docs? Is the "sign up online" thing just a lure to get you to call or appear? (in other words, under what circumstances does online actually work)?

I don't recall ever having to bring in a stack of documents, my first smartphone purchase was through Amazon and I just had to call Verizon to deal with account issues. When switching networks I went to the store to get sim cards but could have done it over the phone. In fact, cancelling a line could not be done in the store and required calling in instead. What is typical might vary by state, but your experience sounds atypical to me.

Pre-paid plans are low-hassle. They are popular among people who cannot provide documentation. All the major networks have pre-paid options (sometimes under a separate brand).

I found it most economical to just add my grandparents to my phone plan, it didn't require any of their information to add a line to my plan, I did swing by the store to buy a sim card for them, but they can be ordered online as well.

Also, as far as reception goes, if he has wifi a provider like T-Mobile that supports wifi calling can get around reception issues.

  • Sprint, our most certain carrier, has no prepaid; they send you to Boost. The WiFi is a little weird, you have to start a browser, visit neverssl.com, do the guest signup and good for 24hrs. I gather that won't be a problem? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 26 at 18:57
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica Boost is owned by Sprint and runs on the Sprint network, they just re-brand their pre-paid offering for some reason. That's a good question about the wifi, if it doesn't automatically connect then you'd have to intervene to activate it, but I would imagine it works fine otherwise. – Hart CO Nov 26 at 19:04
  • Historically, both Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile operated as separate companies (albeit, still using Sprint's network). Eventually, Sprint bought both companies. I'll note that Sprint, Boost, and Virgin all offer pre-paid plans. Sprint is usually more expensive, but I believe it provides better off-network service (i.e., if necessary, your Sprint service can make use of Verizon's towers). – Brian Nov 26 at 22:21
  • Anyhow, both Virgin and Boost will happily sell you both phone and phone service online. They don't ask for documents at all. – Brian Nov 26 at 22:27
  • @Brian: Same with TracFone, at least in my experience. They'll sell you a phone, or you can use one bought from eBay &c. You might have to check reception in your building, since they use different carriers... I imagine other pay-as-you-go providers are similiar, but have no experience with them. – jamesqf Nov 27 at 5:02

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