Purchasing a cellular phone can be a confusing task. For one Portland State student, that confusion may have cost him $250. Valentin Havugiyaremye, an engineering management student from Rwanda, became a Voicestream Wireless customer in Oct. 2000 through one of the merchants between Smith Memorial Center and Neuberger Hall.
Veces Chhim, then a reseller for Virtualhost Internet Services, sold Havugiyaremye a Voicestream phone with a $250 deposit that Chhim said was required because of Havugiyaremye’s credit history.
As Havugiyaremye understood it, he was signing a one-year contract and his deposit would be credited to his account to pay for monthly services. According to Havugiyaremye, Virtualhost received and cashed his check, but he has not seen any of those funds credited to his account.
Less than two months after he signed up for service, Havugiyaremye began receiving bills from Voicestream for airtime services. When contacted, Voicestream denied that Havugiyaremye was ever required to pay a deposit or that they had ever received a check for that amount from him.
Most consumers do business through a reseller, or a dealer, for a major cellular phone company. When a reseller signs a new customer up, they cover the initial expenses for the cellular phone and collect any required deposits, which are paid directly to the reseller.
Resellers use an automated credit check line to determine whether or not Voicestream requires the customer to pay a deposit. When the paperwork is forwarded to Voicestream, the company then sets up the new account and sends the reseller a commission check. If a deposit was required on the customer, however, the deposit amount is withheld from the commission check.
Because there is no record on Havugiyaremye’s account of a deposit being paid, he is concerned that Virtualhost had simply lied about his required deposit and kept the cash themselves. Chhim, however, says it is simply a matter of misunderstanding.
According to Chhim, the automated credit check system instructed him to collect the deposit before he could issue a phone to Havugiyaremye. Chhim recorded the check on the service agreement and forwarded the check to Virtualhost.
After that, Chhim says, “I do not know what happened. I think it is with Voicestream. They have a lot of young people working for them and they make a lot of mistakes.” Havugiyaremye contends that Chhim’s role is not as innocent as it sounds, however.
When Chhim was confronted, Havugiyaremye claims he was told, “No, forget it. You will not get back your money.”
Chhim is no longer working for Virtualhost, but owns his own company, Direct Communications. He denies any wrongdoing and insists that Havugiyaremye was confused.
According to Chhim, Voicestream requires one year of service with no late payments before refunding a customer’s deposit. “This is where he is confused. He was late, and that means Voicestream can keep his deposit now,” he said.Michael Nguyen at Virtualhost claims that there was simply an error and that the company is working hard to clear it up. According to Nguyen, he is requesting a copy of the service agreement from Chhim and searching through his commission records for proof that Voicestream did, indeed, withhold the $250 from the company’s commission check.
“If they did not deduct the money from our commission,” he says, “we will give him a refund. If they did collect the money, we will request a refund from Voicestream.”
Nguyen was certain that the error was innocent and will be resolved by Tuesday at the latest. Others are not so sure.
Dan Blue, Havugiyaremye’s supervisor at Portland State is afraid these merchants may be “preying on foreign students and taking advantage of language barriers.”In fact, both Havugiyaremye and Chhim both claimed that language played a part in the confusion. Havugiyaremye suggests that his broken English made him more vulnerable to manipulation. Chhim claims that Havugiyaremye’s minimal understanding of English contributed to his misinterpretation.
The issue has been reported to Campus Security and is currently being investigated by representatives at Voicestream. In the meantime, Havugiyaremye says he has learned a valuable lesson: “Before I came here I thought everyone was honest. Now I know that.