Is MagicJack a Scam?
How much would you pay for unlimited local and long distance on your land line?
Verizon's Freedom essentials offers all that and caller ID, voicemail, and call waiting for $54.99. AT&T offers a similar deal for around $34. I say "around" because their site is very confusing to get a quote from unless you're willing to actually order service from them. And then you have MajicJack, which promises the same services for just $20/year after buying the $40 device. That comes out to $1.67 per month and immediately raises all kinds of suspicions, especially after you watch their commercial:
It looks a little too good to be true, doesn't it? It reminds me a little bit of those 12 a.m. infomercials promoting stock-picking software that will make you rich.
But is the MagicJack really what it seems or is it just a bunch of fluff marketing? I decided to do a little digging and find out for myself. (See also: Frugal Ways to Stay in Touch on the Road)
What It Does
The device itself is pretty simple: you hook it up to your computer's USB connection and it uses your existing Internet connection to make phone calls. Kind of like Skype does, just in a different way.
The technology behind it is actually pretty good and when it works, it works exactly as advertised. That's how they get all those big names in their blurbs — the darn thing actually works.
As any product that seems too good to be true, the MagicJack has some issues: their customer service sucks. In order to save money, they've tried to assist all customers with live chat that's outsourced to the Philippines.
In part, it makes sense: if you're having phone problems you may not be able to call anyone. But most people have cell phones and when you're having serious issues most people will want to talk to someone on the phone.
That's been some of the reason why MagicJack gets such a bad rap.
Some people also feel scammed because MagicJack will track the numbers you call to try to show you more relevant ads in its software...something the infomercial obviously fails to mention. It's a little spooky and makes you wonder how you're really paying for the service.
It's a Good Product, but Not for Everyone
This PC Magazine story says it best:
As tech journalists, we can handle [routine networking problems], but for the average user that's a recipe for disaster.
The commercial makes it sound so easy that anyone can use MagicJack because it's so easy and so cheap. Turns out it's not that easy if you aren't technically savvy when a problem arises. Also, if your computer is off or is having problems, your phone won't work either. And we all know how often computer problems happen.
MagicJack is NOT a scam — it's a real product that works as advertised. But they don't tell you the full story about the advertising, tracking your calls, and dependencies on your computer. But for $20/year you could save a ton of money, so the downsides are to be expected.
In the end, MagicJack is guilty of nothing more than bad customer service and cheesy advertising. In that, they are hardly alone. If you can deal with the quirks, MagicJack might be a great way to save hundreds of dollars.