Fired AT&T employees accuse company of pressuring them into unethical DirecTV Now sales tactics

AT&T / DirecTV Now
Abraham Buonya, once AT&T’s top sales employee in the state of Hawaii, and five other AT&T Honolulu sales workers were recently fired after a company investigation of fraudulent sales practices. (AT&T)

Former AT&T store employees in Hawaii are loudly blowing the whistle on what they say are the telecom’s unethical sales practices for bundling DirecTV Now virtual MVPD service with mobile plans. 

As reported by the news division of Hawaiian CBS affiliate KGMB-TV, Abraham Buonya, once AT&T’s top sales employee in the state of Hawaii, and five other AT&T Honolulu sales workers were recently fired after a company investigation of fraudulent sales practices.

Buonya, however, is accusing the wireless company of Wells Fargo-like practices, with managers pushing sales employees too hard with unattainable goals, and hanging them out to dry.

FREE DAILY NEWSLETTER

Like this story? Subscribe to FierceVideo!

The Video industry is an ever-changing world where big ideas come along daily. Cable, Media and Entertainment, Telco, and Tech companies rely on FierceVideo for the latest news, trends, and analysis on video creation and distribution, OTT delivery technologies, content licensing, and advertising strategies. Sign up today to get news and updates delivered to your inbox and read on the go.

Central to the controversy are promotions for DirecTV Now, which AT&T has been actively trying to bundle into its wireless sales.

According to Buonya, he and other sales employees were encouraged to falsely tell customers that mobile phone purchases carried a fee that could only be waived by subscribing to DirecTV Now.

Buonya said workers were also told by management to engage in a complicated shell game with $10 promotions for DirecTV Now, which normally sells in base configuration for $35 a month. 

A customer, unaware of the promotion, would agree to sign up for DirecTV Now. And since that customer expected to pay $35 for their first month of service, they were unaware that their credit card was being fraudulently used to open two other $10-a-month promotional trials. 

The scam worked in most cases because the total bill didn’t exceed $35. It relied on AT&T sales representatives cancelling the fraudulent trials in time to stop the customer’s credit card from being dinged for three separate $35 charges on the second month of service. 

Unfortunately for the sales reps, some of the accounts fell through the cracks.

“Last fall, we detected some simultaneous customer orders and cancellations of a free product trial,” AT&T told Hawaii News Now, in a statement. “We determined some employees had violated our policies and based on our findings we took appropriate action.”

Another fired worker, who chose to remain anonymous, told KGMG that managers mandated the process.

“My manager picked up my iPad, which was signed in under me, made a fake email and then activated a Direct TV Now subscription on that email and then said if I can do it, here you go, you can do the next one,” the former worker said. 

Launched in late-2016, DirecTV Now had amassed nearly 1.5 million subscribers by the end of the first quarter. The virtual pay TV service is widely suspected to be losing money, but it’s value as both an enticement and retention tool for wireless service has unique hard-to-directly monetize value. 

AT&T, meanwhile, believes margins will improve for the service as the company improves its advanced advertising acumen the platform.

Suggested Articles

Contrary to what stark video subscriber losses suggest about the state of the U.S. pay TV industry, PwC said that pay TV subscribers increase in 2019.

AT&T-owned DirecTV is prepping another round of price increases that will kick in early next year for subscribers to its satellite television service.

After quietly bringing back 4K content earlier this summer, Hulu is expanding availability to other devices.