AT&T Mobile Insurance, which costs customers $6.99 a month, is said… (Justin Sullivan, Getty…)
There are a lot of really unfriendly consumer contracts out there.
But the absurdly worded terms and conditions for AT&T Mobile Insurance, the company's coverage for wireless devices, take corporate meanness to a whole new level.
Marianna Yarovskaya thought she was being smart when she recently purchased AT&T's insurance to safeguard the new iPhone 5S she bought before an overseas trip.
"With AT&T Mobile Insurance," the company's website says, "you can protect your investment and get a replacement device quickly to keep you connected."
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Yarovskaya, 42, of Hollywood, agreed to have $6.99 added each month to her wireless bill for the peace of mind that comes with knowing she was covered in case of loss, theft or accidental damage.
She should have saved her money.
Not only did AT&T and its partner, an insurance provider called Asurion, bury the most weaselly of provisions in their contract, they did so using language not even a master cryptographer could have deciphered.
While on the trip to Indonesia in January to research a documentary film, Yarovskaya's iPhone was stolen from her hotel. She filed a report with the local police and then submitted a claim with Asurion.
"They denied the claim," Yarovskaya told me. "And then I submitted another claim and they denied that too. And then a third one."
An Asurion rep explained to Yarovskaya that because she was outside AT&T's network when she signed up for coverage — she had enrolled while on the Indonesian trip, using her hotel's Wi-Fi connection — she wasn't entitled to a replacement phone.
"This is crazy," Yarovskaya said. "They are saying that if you travel, the insurance becomes worthless."
Actually, that's not quite what they're saying. The problem is how they're saying what they're really saying.
When Yarovskaya signed up for AT&T Mobile Insurance, Asurion emailed her nine pages of terms and conditions — the sort of linguistic briar patch few people attempt to traverse.
Had she taken the time to read it, though, it's entirely possible that Yarovskaya would have come away with the impression that all was well anyway.
Under "eligibility," for example, on the sixth of the document's nine pages, it states that "covered property must be actively registered on the service provider's network on the date of loss and have logged airtime prior to the date of loss."
No worries. Yarovskaya had purchased the iPhone and started service with AT&T before departing Los Angeles. She was thus "actively registered" with the carrier at the time her phone went missing.
On the seventh page of the terms, under "additional conditions," the insurer states that "the coverage territory is worldwide," although the cost of any replacement or repair will be valued in U.S. currency.
So far so good. The clear impression up to this point is that if you're already registered with a wireless provider, you're covered anywhere you go.
It's not until you get to the eighth page, under "definitions," that Asurion reveals that for a phone to be considered "covered property," it must be "actively registered on the service provider's network and for which airtime has been logged after enrollment."
You could read that a dozen times and still not know what it means.
What it means, according to Bettie Colombo, an Asurion spokeswoman, is that your phone won't be considered insured until you perform some wireless activity on your carrier's network after you've signed up for coverage.
Let's underline that thought: You have to do something on your carrier's wireless network after coverage begins for coverage to begin.
In Yarovskaya's case, because she was in Indonesia — outside AT&T's network — when she signed up for AT&T Mobile Insurance and when her device was stolen, her iPhone was not considered a "covered property" by Asurion.
That's a pretty sneaky thing to slip into a contract. But I'd have been at least a little open to such a rat-faced condition if it was clearly disclosed in the obvious part of the terms and conditions — the section on eligibility.
To stash something so important under "definitions" — the contract's glossary, for goodness' sake — and to use such impenetrable language seem deceptive at best and fraudulent at worst.
An AT&T spokesman, taking the corporate low road, declined to comment.
I asked Colombo whether Asurion is satisfied that it discloses its terms and conditions fairly and accurately.
You bet, she replied.
"The terms and conditions are all very important," Colombo said. "Everyone should read them. We've included everything the customer needs to know."
And that catch-us-if-you-can attitude is everything you need to know about Asurion and AT&T Mobile Insurance.
Buy it at your own peril.
David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to email@example.com.