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Shopping for Cell Phone Service

Before you sign a contract and choose a plan and a company that meets your needs, you should ask these types of questions:

  • Where can you make and receive calls? Most providers now offer a choice of local, regional, or national plans. A local plan offers low-cost options if most of your calls are near home. Regional plans generally offer a larger geographic area - sometimes several states. If you call outside the area covered by these plans, you will pay long distance and roaming charges in addition to the airtime used. National plans are the most expensive, but they let you use your phone anywhere in the country for a single per-minute price.
  • How frequently will you use the phone? If you just want a phone for emergencies, an economy plan with a few minutes a month may be all you need. On the other hand, if you are going to be a heavy user, a plan with several free hours and the lowest airtime charge is a wiser choice. If you plan to use texting, pick a plan that will meet your needs and avoid surprises on your billing. Most services allow you to upgrade a plan without an added one-time charge.
  • Is a family plan option available? Instead of individual cell phone plans for each member of the family, you can share one cellular service plan and a pool of monthly usage minutes among several phones. The cost of the additional numbers per month is usually less than if you purchased individual accounts.
  • Is there a trial period? Many people experience "dead spots" where a cell phone doesn't work. A trial period lets you test your service and try the features of the phone without incurring a termination fee.
  • Know your options. Make sure you are only buying the options or features you really need. It is always easier to upgrade a plan later if you feel you need another feature.
  • What happens if you want to cancel your service? Most providers have a penalty. This is a concern if you have to move out of the area covered by your plan.

Smart Phones

Smart phones are like miniature computers; they provide basic phone functions, along with advanced features, including browsing the Internet, accessing email, interacting on online social networks, listening to music, watching videos, uploading pictures, and using apps. They also allow use of a QWERTY keyboard to make texting and emailing easy. (The keys are arranged the same way they are on a computer keyboard.)

When shopping for a smart phone, consider these tips:

  • Consider the shape and size of the phone.
  • Make sure you can use the keypad easily or use the finger swipe technology to make calls and send messages.
  • Compare the cost of data plans. These plans govern use and costs associated with mobile access for email, web browsing, social networking and applications.
  • Take advantage of special pricing and promotions.
  • Is there a limit on the amount of data you can use each month?
  • Be wary of buying phone insurance, which may sound tempting, but consumer groups generally advise against it.

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Lost or Stolen Cell Phone

Mobile phones are a vital part of life. You may store passwords, account numbers, phone numbers, addresses all in this one device. If your phone is lost or stolen, your privacy, identity, and bank accounts could also be in jeopardy.

Cell phone carriers and manufacturers have taken steps to protect you, in these situations. The carriers manage stolen phone databases, where they can record your phone’s unique ID number when you report it missing. This makes it impossible for your lost or stolen phone to be reactivated on their network (also called “bricking”). There are also apps available to help you locate your phone. Take steps to protect your phone’s content and your privacy:

  • Set up a PIN or password to access your phone’s home screen and settings.
  • Export and backup your sensitive information onto an external device, like a USB drive.
  • Report your lost or stolen phone to your cell phone carrier and the police immediately. Keep your cell phone provider’s phone number in a separate place so that you can report your lost phone. Ask for written confirmation from your carrier to verify that you reported your phone missing.
  • If you report your phone lost or stolen to your carrier, you are responsible for all fees incurred before you report it, but no charges after you report it missing.
  • Ask your carrier to remotely delete the content, contacts and apps on your phone.

Get more information on lost cell phones from the FCC.

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Mobile Payments Using a Digital Wallet

Paying for your purchases using a smart phone app has become more common and convenient. In a sense you have a digital wallet that contains your credit card numbers, store loyalty cards, and even digital coupons. When you get to the checkout counter, you pay by swiping your phone at the checkout. You can also use it online. Before you decide to use a digital wallet provider, make certain that your phone has the required chip that allows you use the mobile payment app. Also find out how the company ensures the security of your cards and each transaction. Some questions to ask:

  • Is it possible to freeze your wallet if your phone is lost or stolen?
  • Are the details of your purchases shared or sold for marketing purposes?
  • Is there a PIN to secure access to your digital wallet?
  • Are there other security measures in place (encryption of your cards, security codes)?
  • Who is responsible for fraudulent or unauthorized purchases, and what is your liability if this happens?
  • How do you dispute a purchase?

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