I live in New York City, and I was able to obtain a SafeLink phone quite easily. Due to a job layoff, I was forced to apply for emergency financial assistance from the city. Basically, this consisted of one month of food stamps from the HRA (Human Resources Administration), the city's welfare department. I found that workers for SafeLink were standing outside both the HRA and food stamp offices, trying desperately to give out their Tracfone phones, which run on the Simple network.
I took one of these phones, but not many other people would accept one. Now I can see why. The phone is horrible, and the service is even worse. You do get 500 free minutes for the first three months, but the 500 minutes only lasted me two weeks during the first month. I then spent $40 to purchase an additional 400 minutes. That's where the trouble began. Every few days, the minutes I purchased would suddenly disappear, leaving me with no service. I would then have to call SafeLink to get them reinstated.
Things got even worse after I ported my previous phone number to SafeLink. In order for the port to work, I was required to order a new SIM card from SafeLink and then to call SafeLink from another phone. Because I can't currently afford another phone, I went down to the local Simple wireless store. The staff there spent two-and-a-half hours on the phone with SafeLink before they could get the new SIM card to work. They weren't at all happy about this, and I don't blame them. "We aren't SafeLink. That is a separate program, run by the government. We are Simple," they told me.
Okay. So then, on July 1, I called SafeLink from my phone to ask when my next monthly allotment of 500 free minutes would be available. The rep who took the call didn't even listen to my questions. Instead, she told me that my phone hadn't been activated and needed to be activated. I told her that this statement was ridiculous, because I had activated the phone a month ago and was talking on it as we spoke. But she then deactivated the phone and reactivated it without my permission, causing it not to work at all. The remaining 182 minutes that I had purchased disappeared in the process.
When I tried to use the phone the next day, I found that it was useless for anything other than calling 911. I couldn't even call SafeLink, Simple, or Tracfone. I went back to the Simple store, and the staff there refused to call SafeLink or Simple, although they did allow me to use their store phone to place the call. I spent another two-and-a-half hours talking to SafeLink, speaking with three technicians. The third of these technicians told me that someone had reported the phone missing or stolen on June 27, and it had been deactivated on that day. I assured him that this was not the case. First of all, I did not make any call like that. Nobody else could have, either, because the phone was in my possession at all times and the SafeLink phone number was securely stored in my apartment, which nobody has access to aside from me. Furthermore, the phone couldn't have been deactivated on June 27 because I was using it quite well through July 1.
I finally got a manager on the line, who said that he didn't know whether the phone had been reported lost or stolen, but that it had been deactivated, although he didn't know when or why. He also said that the SIM card was now defective -- not "physically," but because of some problem with it on Simple's network. He further informed me that the phone will remain utterly useless until I receive yet another SIM card from SafeLink, which will take five to seven days. Then, of course, I will need to call from another phone in order to activate this additional SIM card. So I plan to buy a non-Tracfone phone, wait from the SIM card to arrive, install it in the Tracfone, port my number to the new phone, and then throw the Tracfone in the garbage, where it belongs.
Beyond all of that, it is a very junky phone. If you want to text, you need to resort to 1970s technology. Also, SafeLink doesn't use normal services like ordinary 411. Instead, it has its own, very strange 411 service, which generally gives you the wrong number if you can get any phone number at all.
Many of the reps don't speak English very well, and even if they do, they have thick accents that make it very difficult to hear them, particularly given the poor quality of Simple's network.
So if you can't get a SafeLink phone, I wouldn't be too disappointed. I don't mean to sound ungrateful. do think it's a great idea for someone to provide an inexpensive cell phone. However, Simple, SafeLink and Trackfone don't seem to be able to get their minds around the idea that if they're going to offer a cheap phone to those experiencing financial emergencies, the phone needs to work well and the customer service should be half decent. It could be argued that those facing financial emergencies are even more in need of good phone service than a lot of other people, because those receiving assistance have to stay in touch with government agencies and to contact prospective employers. A lapse in telephone service of five to seven days, because of a glitch on SafeLink's part, doesn't seem acceptable to me.
Monetary Loss: $40.