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Direct TV Treatment of Joplin Tornado Victims Protest Message

Widely circulated message claims that victims of the Joplin tornado who call to cancel their DIRECTV service due to the destruction of their homes are being told to send in their remote control or box or pay a fine of $500. The message asks recipients to boycott DIRECTV in protest.

Brief Analysis
DIRECTV has repeatedly denied the claims in the message. So far, I have not seen any credible news or consumer reports that confirm the claims in the protest message.

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Detailed analysis and references below example.

Last updated: 4th June 2011
First published: 4th June 2011
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer

Pour some salt on that wound, Direct TV!! - As Joplin victims call Direct TV to cancel their service due to homes completely wiped off the map, they are being told to send in a box/remote control or pay a fine of $500+ to cancel service. Direct TV should be boycotted. Tell their employees to go to these former HOMES and find the remote controls themselves... REPOST

Detailed Analysis
This message, which has circulated widely via Facebook, Twitter and email, claims that US based TV service provider DIRECTV is telling victims of the devastating tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri in May 2011 that they must return the service's equipment or face a fine of $500 to cancel the service. Since many victims had their homes completely destroyed in the tornado, it would be impossible for many customers to return, or even find, the DIRECTV equipment. The message asks recipients to boycott DIRECTV in protest against such shoddy and callous treatment of Joplin victims.

However, DIRECTV has repeatedly denied the claims in the protest message. I contacted DIRECTV to ask about the claims and received the following response from a company spokesperson:
I understand your concern about the equipment non return fee or cancellation fee that may be applied on an account if a customer is unable to return a leased equipment or cancel their service before their agreement is up. Please note that we have special handling or accommodation for these customers who are affected by natural disasters like severe storms, flooding, and tornadoes. I can assure you that DIRECTV does everything to assist our customers with their account and equipment.
Another person who contacted the company about the issue received the following response:
This is just a rumor being spread around Facebook. We are not charging customers from Joplin to replace their boxes and we urge them to call us at 1-800-531-5000 so that we can assist them.
The company has also denied the rumor a number of times via its Twitter feed with posts such as the following:
This is a false rumor. We're helping all tornado victims and encourage anyone affected to call in.

Hi, this is not true. We are working with customers in the affected areas. We urge those affected to call 1-800-531-5000.
Of course, the company's denials alone may not be enough to alleviate the concerns of people who receive the protest message. However, it should be noted that I am yet to find any credible news or consumer reports that confirm the claims in the protest message.

Moreover, DIRECTV's supposedly callous response to Joplin victims does not reflect their treatment of customers affected by other natural disasters. A May 17 news article about the tornadoes in Alabama notes:
DirecTV waives replacement costs for equipment damaged in storms if customers continue services, spokeswoman Vanessa Dunham said. If service can't be restored because of damage to the home, DirecTV offers to cancel the account and waive fees for not returning equipment, she said.
Another report about the Alabama Tornadoes notes:
Ellen Filipiak, Sr. Vice President for Customer Service at DIRECTV, stated, "We join all service providers in Alabama in a sincere expression of sympathy for the people of Alabama who lost loved ones and homes in the terrible storms that hit the state last month. We are working with both our customers and employees in Alabama to help them rebuild as well as reconnect their TV services. And to ease the burden and worry for our customers who were affected by the disaster, we have suspended accounts for those who were without power, offered free service calls and have waived equipment replacement costs and all other fees. More broadly we are also providing support to all victims of the storm through the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity." Consumers may contact DirecTV by calling 1-800-531-5000.
One could postulate that the rumour started because an overzealous DirecTV company representative initially gave a Joplin victim incorrect information because he or she was "following company procedure". Such a scenario is not unprecedented. An April 2nd DailyMail report claims that an 83 year old woman whose home was destroyed by a tornado in Tennessee was initially told by a DIRECTV representative that she would need to pay $170 to cover damage to equipment and for a service cancellation fee. However, the company later waived the fee and apologised to the family noting that the "customer representative should have handled the family's situation with more compassion".

Thus, at this point, there is no evidence that supports the claim that Joplin tornado victims are being charged $500 if they cannot return equipment and wish to cancel their service. However, perhaps DIRECTV would do well to take further steps to alleviate concerns about the issue by publishing an official news release or other official statement.

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Alabama tornadoes: Lost cable boxes could add to storm costs
Policies to protect storm-affected cable, satellite customers
Sorry you lost your home in a tornado, but that'll be $170 in charges and early termination fee', DIRECTV tells 83-year-old

Last updated: 4th June 2011
First published: 4th June 2011
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer