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Customer Asks For Itemized Bill, Verizon Tells Her To Get a Subpoena 415

Posted by Soulskill
from the customer-is-always-right-when-backed-by-a-court-of-law dept.
suraj.sun writes with this quote from an article at Techdirt: "A woman, who called Verizon to try to find out about the $4.19 she was being charged for six local calls, was told by Verizon reps that the only way it would provide her an itemized bill was to get a lawyer and have the lawyer get a subpoena to force Verizon to disclose the information. Instead, the woman went to court (by herself) and a judge told Verizon (.docx) to hand over the itemized bill info. 'It is a basic matter of fair business practice that a consumer should be able to contact a utility about a charge on a bill and learn what the charge is for and learn that the charge was correctly applied. The only verification that Verizon's witness could offer that a charge like [the customer's] $4.19 measured use charge was accurate and billed correctly was her faith in the accuracy of Verizon's computer system. The only way that Verizon would offer any information about a past charge in response to a consumer inquiry was to require that customer to hire a lawyer and subpoena their own usage information. By no reasonable standard could this be considered reasonable customer service."
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Customer Asks For Itemized Bill, Verizon Tells Her To Get a Subpoena

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  • I assume... (Score:4, Informative)

    by msauve (701917) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @05:23PM (#36789050)
    that this is Verizon, the RBOC, not Verizon Wireless. With VZW, you can view itemized billing on-line. Doesn't the landline company offer a similar capability?
    • Re:I assume... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jaymz666 (34050) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @05:28PM (#36789086)

      They charge a fee to provide a list of itemised calls on my cellphone bill, that alone shows how little regard they have for being transparent about what they are charging.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        if your cellphone bill is mailed then I can understand why itemized billing costs money; remember the giant iPhone bills everyone was getting?

      • Re:I assume... (Score:5, Informative)

        by BoogeyOfTheMan (1256002) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @06:07PM (#36789330)

        Only if you want it in print, you can view it for free on your myverizon.com website.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by lennier1 (264730)

        Strange.

        In other countries they're required by law to provide you with an itemized bill and sometimes they'll even give you a small bonus (e.g., doubling your FTP quota) if you choose their online billing system instead of having them send you a hardcopy.

    • by Vegeta99 (219501)

      Yep. I'm an 'ol Commonwealth resident, and Verizon is our ILEC/RBOC, formerly known as Bell Atlantic.

    • Re:I assume... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Dryanta (978861) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @05:41PM (#36789186) Journal
      Typically the LEC can bill for intra-LATA charges however they see fit due to the kludge of complexity the original anti-trust left recovering charges from another carrier. Because these rules are so convoluted and don't even make sense to the carriers themselves they tend toward official policy being "we say so and get a subpoena if you don't like it." As a telecommunications agent and broker, much of my interactions with carriers is resolving billing disputes and bogus charges. I got $ 14,000 back for a client in one instance where I had to file a California Public Utilities Commission grievance and escalate to the top tier of AT&T consumer affairs department. Most consumers don't even realize they have recourse and that the carriers are terrified of regulating bodies... but knowing how to handle these things is why people like me make money.
      • Re:I assume... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Solandri (704621) on Sunday July 17, 2011 @03:31AM (#36791480)
        The problem is not only with external carriers. Verizon's internal billing system just seems to be a convoluted mess of kludges. About 3-4 years ago, a friend of mine with Verizon Wireless bought a house. Her landline phone service was Verizon RBOC. One day they sent her one of those "Consolidate all your Verizon bills and get a discount!" flyers and she signed up. She started getting bills which showed both her landline and wireless charges, and she dutifully paid them.

        3 months later she got a phone call from Verizon Wireless about her account being overdue. She explained that she had consolidated billing with her home phone service and had paid. They insisted they hadn't received any payment. She called Verizon RBOC and they confirmed that she had consolidated billing and had paid her wireless bill. But nothing she or they could do could convince Verizon Wireless that she'd paid. They shut off her cell phone service, messed up her credit score, then eventually closed her account and gave her phone number to someone else before finally getting the whole thing straightened out about 6 months later.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by index0 (1868500)

      If a company wants to use brand name recognition, it works both ways. Good and Bad associations.

  • by houstonbofh (602064) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @05:25PM (#36789066)
    Can we get this judge to look into medical billing too? It is the only place worse than cell phone billing, and not by much. Both are worse than used cars sales...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 16, 2011 @05:59PM (#36789272)
      I'm a physician and I couldn't figure out what the charges meant on my last hospital bill. Turns out the hospital couldn't either. They had to drop the charges. This sort of thing happens all of the time and I'm constantly telling patients to look at their bills and appeal things that don't make sense. Ah, American medicine. The best there is ....
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I've found that insurance companies don't always want you to know either. My current explanations of benefits from my insurance company will not tell me what any of the procedures are, and I've found they won't tell me what they are when I call either. It is only by eventually matching it up with the itemized doctors' bills later, that I'm able to have any idea why a visit warranted 4 charges. I would not think this would be a good way to get people to report fraud.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 16, 2011 @11:13PM (#36790698)

          I've found that insurance companies don't always want you to know either.

          That's my experience too, and it's the part that baffles me. Does anyone know why? I would have thought they had a vested interest in reducing costs, but maybe they don't? Is it because they just scale premiums with cost? Does their profit increase as costs increase? If they encourage cost increase for that reason, then that is downright evil. Somewhere between Saruman and Sauron-level on the sinister scale.

          I went to my primary care physician (tvc.org) recently to have him spray a little liquid nitrogen on a wart on my foot. It took the family doctor a grand total of 5 minutes, most of which was friendly chit-chat. My insurance (Empire Blue) was billed $550, but that was knocked down to $450 thanks to the in-network contracted rate. That's $90 per *minute*, or $5,400 per hour. Now, I understand that medical school is expensive, but $5,400/hr? Really?

          Even if you assume the doctor spent two times as long doing other stuff related to my visit behind the scenes (15 minutes total), that's still $1,800/hr. Sure, there's lots of overhead with a building, nurses, receptionists, etc. But lawyers and CPA's somehow manage those costs while being paid a "measly" $200/hour.

          I called my insurance company and spoke with the insurance fraud department, but they said that $5,400/hour was normal and expected to spray one wart. (Procedure codes "17110" and "99214 25" for those of you following along at home.) Turns out that they pay the same amount whether the doctor spends 25 minutes or 25 seconds. But even if he had spent a full 25 minutes, that still comes to $1,080/hour (!).

          Here's where it gets even worse. My homeopathic doctor charges $15/hour for the exact same service that my medical doctor charged $5,400/hour for. (Actually, she does it for free, since it only takes her about 2 minutes, but if it did take longer for whatever reason, that's what it would cost.)

          But homeopathic doctors (mine, at least) aren't covered under my insurance, so I have to pay in cash. To add insult to injury, it's not even tax deductible (until the 7.5% IRS rule kicks in).

          Furthermore, with my Cadillac insurance plan, my visit to the medical doctor cost me nothing directly. No copay, no deductible, and no co-insurance. My nearest indirect cost is the $1700/month premium (more than double my mortgage, BTW) that is 100% paid by my employer. (Hey boss, if you're reading this, thanks!) The net result is that it's actually *cheaper* for me to go to the $5,400/hour provider than to the $15/hour provider.

          I used to wonder why "health care" costs were increasing so rapidly. Now I know one of the reasons first hand. No one has any incentive to reduce cost. Not the insurance, not the doctor, and not even the patient. There is no connection between the pain of increased premiums and the action required to actually reduce those premiums.

          Another reason that that affects me is that in the last three years, my employer has paid over $60,000 in health insurance premiums, while our "explanation of benefits" have totalled less than $2,000 in that time. A different plan would be more appropriate for me, but laws and the tax system severely penalizes choice and competition by making employer-provided benefits deductible above the line and forcing them to provide certain coverage for everyone, rather than what's appropriate to each.

          One action costs me $15 (cheap provider), and costs all policy holders nothing. The other action costs me $0, but all policy holders are charged $450 (spread out so that my portion is only a fraction of a cent). Now multiply that by millions of patients and health-related events and think of the effect.

          So what do we do about it? How do you incentivize someone in my position to put the good of the many (lower insurance premiums for everyone from the $15/hour provider) over the good of themselves (higher direct cost due to uncovered services)? How many people even bother to fin

          • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Saturday July 16, 2011 @11:40PM (#36790792) Homepage Journal

            Does their profit increase as costs increase?

            No. Their profits decrease as costs increase, and they do care about minimizing costs.

            Not all of them are particularly good at it, though. Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.

          • I went to my primary care physician (tvc.org) recently to have him spray a little liquid nitrogen on a wart on my foot. It took the family doctor a grand total of 5 minutes, most of which was friendly chit-chat. My insurance (Empire Blue) was billed $550, but that was knocked down to $450 thanks to the in-network contracted rate. That's $90 per *minute*, or $5,400 per hour. Now, I understand that medical school is expensive, but $5,400/hr? Really?

            That's crazy! Though, simple procedures like this are easy to do at home. I'm not saying that you *should* self-administer medical treatments, but things like this are easy to do at home and super-cheap. As far as I'm concerned, it's a waste of everyone's time to get warts burnt off - do you go to the doctor to brush your teeth or shave? Because that's about how complicated it is.

            And I'm canadian, and so it isn't even a question of cost, just convenience.

            If you want to know why costs for serious procedu

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 16, 2011 @07:22PM (#36789688)

        I was once charged for a doctor from another state (a neurologist) when I had a straight forward no complications thyroidectomy. I turned it over to the insurance company's fraud department. I've also been charged because someone had the same last name as I. Again, turned it over to the fraud department.
        My experience is that if you report the 'error' as an 'error' nothing gets fixed. If you report the 'error' as fraud. It gets fixed.

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        This sort of thing happens all of the time and I'm constantly telling patients to look at their bills and appeal things that don't make sense.

        I bet your hospital loves you.... :-D

    • I've never had a problem getting an itemized bill from the hospital. Have you tried asking?

      Once I was charged for a pair of crutches when I had actually brought my own in.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Itemizing it isn't necessarily the problem, it's the hours it takes to figure out what the various codes mean and it's frequently cheaper to just pay than to take time off work to go through the list with somebody that knows what all those codes mean.

    • by hairyfeet (841228) <.bassbeast1968. .at. .gmail.com.> on Saturday July 16, 2011 @07:54PM (#36789832) Journal

      Well if anyone can provide a website for said judge, or an email address I think we all need to send that judge a thank you note. It is so damned rare in this "the corps are always right" atmosphere to see a judge use good old fashioned common sense and apply simple fairness when it comes to the little guy dealing with supermegacorp he really does deserve to know he is appreciated.

      I just wish we had judges like that in MY area, instead they are bending over backwards here for these natural gas wildcatters who are causing all kinds of tremors and tearing shit up all over the place, and we all know once they've gotten what they desire they'll disappear and leave the state the cleanup bill. But it is nice to know there are still a few good judges using plain old common sense out there, even if they are few and far between. You sir have my heartfelt thanks.

    • A friend of mine had a phone call with a hospital billing department where they insisted that yes, during her hospital stay her mother had had a prostate exam.

  • by koreaman (835838) <uman@umanwizard.com> on Saturday July 16, 2011 @05:27PM (#36789080)

    Nothing will change; the utilities will keep fucking us over every chance they get. I'm not sure why this still surprises anyone.

    Our political system is so locked down by corporations that there is less of a chance of meaningful change here than in China or even North Korea. I'm not saying we're as bad as those places, but we're certainly headed that direction and there is literally no way to change that within the current system.

    Nothing will change in the United States without a revolution, which would first require a huge sea change in the culture to even be remotely effective.

    Again, chances are slim. May as well move to Europe or Canada as soon as possible.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 16, 2011 @05:31PM (#36789110)

      Have you been to Canada recently? Our government is more in the pockets of corporations, as least in regard to utilities and wireless service, that the U.S. could ever dream of.

      Except for healthcare. We have that part covered.

      • by koreaman (835838)

        Well, that sucks... I had hoped Canada was at least better off. Europe certainly is, although like most places it's moving in the wrong direction.

        • by MachDelta (704883)

          I don't entirely agree with GP. There are some area's that definitely need work (CRTC, i'm looking at you...), but on the whole I don't think Canada is near the plutarchy that the US has become. YMMV.

    • by epine (68316) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @08:21PM (#36789984)

      Nothing will change; the utilities will keep fucking us over every chance they get. I'm not sure why this still surprises anyone.

      You're part of the problem, but this doesn't surprise me at all. Greater society is to blame. I've been reading and thinking intensively in the area of economics and the foundation of wealth. Why are some societies better off than others? Ideological purity? I think not.

      The people thinking above the scale of the last quarterly profit report are widely in agreement that wealthy societies have superior social institutions. This shows up most of all in discussions about the rule of law. If you think rule of law makes a society impervious to corruption, you're smoking the drapes. But on a larger scale, there's a lot to it. There are certain kinds of financial and legal shenanigans that we implicitly don't accept, where someone in Africa would be posting "I'm not sure why this surprises anyone" about intermittent refrigeration.

      America is the most effective venture capital market in human history for good reason: pragmatic presumptions about rule of law are right more often than wrong. You think the Russians drink for no reason?

      This is a bit like people thinking there's a health care crisis in America, completely blind to the retirement savings crisis. These are not compatible crises, to the discerning mind. Yes, the health care system is mired in lamentable suckitude. Rule of law is the nucleus of the fruit, not the whole thing. The flesh of the fruit is the venal nature of business and politics as usual. Yes, we've noticed.

      The reason that people act as if this kind of behaviour from Verizon is shockingly unexpected is because we cling to the march of human history as mediated by communal opprobrium. The rule of law is still in there and dictates shared attitudes more than you think.

      Not in a thousand years will you catch me playing the learned helplessness card on the rule of law. Yes, you might look more hip by stating what's superficially obvious. You're also throwing out the baby with the bath water.

      Recently I listened to Dan Carlin interview Gwynne Dyer. He echos what Stephen Pinker has also put forward: human violence is on a significant downward trend over the past 3000 years. It spiked wildly upward when we first started to confine ourselves to permanent settlements. Since then, we've been coming to terms, with millennial stubbornness.

      Concerning nuclear weapons in the 20'th century Dyer remarked "we passed the midterm", i.e. we haven't yet blown civilization sky high. Dyer is a specialist in the history of warfare. I didn't much care for his lectures on global warming, nor his comment in the Carlin interview that replacing fossil fuels with alternative sources is just a "diddle" costing 1% of GDP, or some insanely small figure. Shockingly, one idiocy doesn't make him wrong about everything else. He views a looming evacuation of Bangladesh as portent to the end of civilization. Clearly he sees the progressive detente of the past 3000 years as strictly territorial, as if the moment you displace a human from his emotional patch of soil, we're right back to baboons. He could be right. Israel has only taught us so far how things could get an awful lot worse. I got sucked into a long conversation with a Turkish political refugee (now Canadian) about the Israeli question the other day. My god, the learned helplessness card had never looked fatter or more attractive. But still I resist.

      Nothing will change in the United States without a revolution, which would first require a huge sea change in the culture to even be remotely effective.

      It was a huge insight for me when I read that disgust was a primary emotion, and that purity was a universal cultural response (emphasized to different degrees in different societies).

      We'll just suspend rule of law while we fix the purity problem by draining the creme of the social and

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      Our political system is so locked down by corporations

      - you have to understand that the corporations that are locking your political system down are in the position to do so because the government got into their business in the first place.

      At some point government of USA even declared AT&T to be a national monopoly specifically, so that nobody could challenge them, they were a 'national resource'. Government by regulations, taxes and subsidies creates the corporate monsters, who then take over the government.

      Nothing will change in the United States without a revolution, which would first require a huge sea change in the culture to even be remotely effective.

      - yes, a revolution against the government,

  • by mevets (322601) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @05:29PM (#36789092)

    To determine that by no reasonable standard could Verizon's customer service be considered reasonable?
    Nice that they were stupid enough to pursue it to court - now their competitors can use the decision in their ads....

  • nice fine ! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dolphinzilla (199489) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @05:35PM (#36789136) Journal

    to top it all off the judge assessed a civil penalty of $1000 dollars against Verizon, as a deterrent for treating customers badly in the future !

    • A $1,000 fine for not explaining a $4 charge is a pretty heavy fine-to-damage ratio. It might not be sufficient to change all business practices, but the hope is to send a message that not disclosing billing details to customers could be costly.
      • by tompaulco (629533)
        $1000 would cover a development project to put a flag on her account to tell customer service to giver her that information when she calls.
        • by icebike (68054)

          Development?
          All CRS systems worth running have a comments section.
          I'm sure there are some choice notations in there already.

    • The $1000 charge probably covers what the woman lost/spent pursuing this $4.19. My hats off to her for looking out for her own interests as well as ours.
    • by yuhong (1378501)

      Suggested, not assessed.

      • by yuhong (1378501)

        Sorry, it is assessed. From:

        That within 30 days of the date of entry of the Commission’s Order in this case, Verizon Pennsylvania Inc. will remit a civil penalty in the amount of $1,000, payable by money order or certified check to:

    • by icebike (68054)

      In addition the judge ordered them to cease and desist in violating section 1501 of the Public Utility Code which required them to provide information about charges. So they can't do this again.

      BUT if they do, everybody gets to go to court all over again, at great time and expense.

      The $1000 fine was merely an embarrassment to the green behind the ears lawyer they assigned to this case, management probably is entirely unaware of this issue, and they will probably continue to demand a subpoena because updati

    • Yeah! Enough to be punitive, but not so much that they can cry that the damages were excessive. I suspect Verizon would make that much in about a minute, and their lawyers cost them more than that to go to court. Serves them right for being so dumb in the first place. Heh - it would probably cost them more than that to appeal.

      It'll probably also cover this lady's phone bill for the next 5 years!

    • by mysidia (191772) *

      to top it all off the judge assessed a civil penalty of $1000 dollars against Verizon, as a deterrent for treating customers badly in the future !

      Chump change for Verizon... they should have fined them at least a couple million, with a warning that they were being lenient on this time, because it was a first offense.

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @05:41PM (#36789182) Homepage Journal

    I tried to get Sprint to itemize a "sales tax" item on my company's bill (many mobile phones + 4G/WiFi hotspots) that added to about 17% (NY sales tax is about 8.5%). It took 2 months and several dozen emails through my dedicated account rep, two different divisions of Sprint, to finally get me the raw data in pieces that I put together and explained to them. It was legit, but they do charge a tax on a tax, which they're probably withholding from the government in a neverending lawsuit against "taxing taxes" while they collect interest.

    The telco cartel runs the US. Except where some other cartel has staked its flag deeper.

  • Landlines are going by the wayside as they are just cost prohibitive in the current atmosphere. Verizon wants to encourage people to go with VoIP or wireless service. I believe Verizon's wireline division just went through massive cutbacks in personnel not too long ago. Personally, I don't see a need for a landline anymore and I haven't had one since 2001.
  • by ickleberry (864871) <web@pineapple.vg> on Saturday July 16, 2011 @06:41PM (#36789484) Homepage
    4.19 scam
  • I have month after month of problems with Verizon Fios Billing.

    It was finally sorted out after a good time, but they were charging me all kinds of things when I was told my bill would be a certain amount of month, and each month it was ridiculously different and incorrect and as they tried to fix it each month it get screwed up further.

    In the end, I was credited for paying too much due to their stupid billing department... and the bill finally was what I was "SOLD" when I subscribed.

    FIOS is a great service,

  • get iphone,act like at&t

  • by AllenNg (954165) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @10:49PM (#36790610) Journal
    We were talking in the office one day and someone was complaining about some difficulty they'd had with customer service for a company from which they'd bought something. I mentioned that the "salt in the wound" is that there isn't even a person that you can get mad at (threaten, intimidate, assault) anymore. It's not like there is a PERSON somewhere who can say, "Ah, yes. I took such and such action on the Smith account because..."

    The order was created in the computer either by the checkout scanner or by the automated form on the website. The order was filled and shipped by an automated warehouse (In our warehouse, even the pallet trucks are tied into the system and automated. It's a little unnerving to see these unmanned trucks just whipping big pallets of raw materials and finished goods to and fro in the factory.). The invoice was automatically kicked out in a billing batch run and mailed. No human ever laid eyes on it or had any knowledge that your order ever existed.

    Think about that.

    It's not like you can call them up and complain to the person that made a certain determination. They hire people off the street to sit in the call center and read what's on the screen. If you owe $50, it's not because someone looked and evaluated the situation. It's because that's what the computer says you owe. If the computer had said $55 instead--THAT WOULD BE THE REALITY.

    All that remains is for the computer to become the final arbiter. Not being able or allowed to question or even review the automated data is precisely how that will come about.
  • by cheros (223479) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @11:14PM (#36790700)

    I must admit I'm a bit surprised. I know of several countries where it is mandatory for bills to contain enough information to check that they are accurate, so obfuscation and adding charges together under one header (for example "expenses"). can be challenged in court.

    A company asking to take to court before they detail their bills is hiding something - this needs a MUCH deeper look.

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