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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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  • by mevets (322601) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @06:29PM (#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 @06:35PM (#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 !

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

    by Dryanta (978861) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @06:41PM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 16, 2011 @08:22PM (#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 hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@gma i l . com> on Saturday July 16, 2011 @08:54PM (#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.

  • My Experience (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 16, 2011 @11:46PM (#36790598)

    I'm 31 and, being a long-time grad student then unemployed, haven't had anything except a catastrophic medical policy since being kicked off my parents policy the day I turned 22. Now, whenever I had a really bad cold or something, I'd still go or old family doc. He worked almost entirely on a cash-basis; pay at your visit, or arrange payments, etc. (We are in an area with a lot of Amish, who pay cash for everything, so it was a good win-win practice.) A typical visit cost $75-100 plus whatever prescription you might get.

    Well, he passed away a few years ago. Winter before last, I had a terrible cold and lingering cough that I finally decided needed checking out. No longer having a doctor, I went to a walk-in clinic in our area run by a large well-known hospital system. When I arrived, nobody else was waiting. After filling out my paperwork and noting that I had no insurance, I had: 5 minutes with the nurse, who read my vitals; 5 minutes to take a chest x-ray; and 5 minutes with the doc who listened to my chest, looked at the x-ray, and sent me out with an antibiotic. The whole visit lasted less than 20 minutes.

    When I walked back to the front desk and asked how much I owed, the receptionist stared at me blankly.
    "I'd like to settle up now you see," I said. She seemed very surprised. "Oh, I have no idea what it will be. We will send you a bill."

    That made me a bit uneasy to say the least, but I figured, "Hey, my old doc was $100 for a similar visit, at worst I may be looking at $250, right?"

    Well, over the next 7 months I received a grand total of almost $1,750 in charges spread across 5 different bills. (Doctor's bill, x-ray technician's bill, clinic bill, a bill from the parent organization, etc.) The most egregious was a $460 "facility use fee," which, after much calling and bitching, was finally dropped. Apparently it was incurred simply by walking in the door.

    By the way, the friend recommend the clinic -- who was sick with the same ailment I had and who held some insurance through his job -- paid a grand total of $35 after his policy co-pay.

    The moral is twofold here.
    One, medical billing is akin to brutal rape in a pitch black room.
    Two, the fact that the MedicalMafia asks for, and then insurance companies pay, those unconscionable fees is the whole damn reason that our system is so farking broken.

  • by AllenNg (954165) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @11:49PM (#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 swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Sunday July 17, 2011 @12:40AM (#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.

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

    by Solandri (704621) on Sunday July 17, 2011 @04:31AM (#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:What they do (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 17, 2011 @04:39AM (#36791494)

    They throw a few dollars extra charge onto several million bills every month, knowing that only a small fraction of people will dispute a 4 dollar charge. $4 a month times 12 months times 10 million customers is $480 million dollars extra a year.

    I'm getting tired of hearing this kind of Conspiracy bullshit. Nobody is sitting around rubbing their hands together and muttering "Ok, how can I slide more charges on their bills to make fast cash". That would violate a dozen different federal statues including RICO laws.

    I used to work in Billing for a phone company. You know why that charge showed up on your bill last month? No, it wasn't any kind of global billing conspiracy. It was this bitch named Melissa who is in charge of building macros on the billing platform and won't pay attention when I say things like "No, you can't do it that way, or else it'll end up running on the wrong people's accounts!" Yeah, well 2,500 jacked up accounts later and she finally admits I was right (of course she still won't admit she was wrong). Out of that 2,500 people, 150 called in before Melissa could fix her fuck-up, and most of them are now thoroughly convinced that we're actively plotting ways we can slip charges into their phone bills.

    Yup folks, you caught us. We actually have a "cramming" committe, composed of 12 team members for eachcustomer. We spend 40 hours a week cackling and rubbing our hands together, and trying to find ways to slip a penny or two onto this one specific person's phone bill. (rolls eyes)
    If you want to know where your phone company is robbing you, it's not in the line-item charges. It's the service cost itself.

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