In the early 2000s, my wife and I had moved from a suburb of New York City to East Hartford, Conn. We informed our then cell phone carrier of the change and while the company was good at sending bills to our new address, it neglected to remove a couple of small monthly taxes which were only applicable to our former address.
The charges -- only a couple of dollars each month -- were so small that I did not notice at first. Once I realized the mistake, that I was paying both New York and Connecticut taxes, I informed the carrier of the problem and asked for a retroactive refund.
A credit was issued after some arguing, but the story does not end there. For approximately the next two years, the small charge would sometimes -- not every month, but many -- appear on my bill. This would lead to me having to call and explain to a customer service rep (who never had any record of this problem occurring previously) that despite my having a New York number I lived in Connecticut.
It was a frustrating process made even more so because at that time, about 15 years ago, bills were full of itemized charges for overages, roaming, and a handful of other things. You would think that now, in 2015, with the flip phone I proudly used in 2001 long since retired, that this type of billing snafu could no longer happen. You might also think that if it did, getting it rectified would be much easier than it was for me back in the days before smartphones, when Wi-Fi was not even a thing yet.
You would be wrong.
Lauraine Hollyer of Glen Ridge, N.J., says she recently learned that her Verizon (NYSE:VZ) bill contained a charge for a second landline that she had canceled many years before, NJ.com reported. The charge had dropped off her bill when the line was canceled around 2000, but it reappeared a decade later, beginning in 2010, according to the report.
After digging through her old bills she learned that she had been paying for the canceled line since April 2010 -- racking up $1,500.28 for the phone line she did not actually have, the news site reported.
That's where her real problems began.
It's rarely easy
Hollyer says she called Verizon in early June both to end the improper billing and to receive a refund for the five years she had been charged improperly. Getting the charge dropped was easy, but the person she spoke to could only authorize a refund for three months of the added fees she had paid. This set off a round of calls, dodges, and frustration not too dissimilar from my experience listed above.
While my situation was eventually resolved (after a lot of calls and a little yelling) Hollyer did not receive her full refund until after the media got involved. Not surprisingly once the case became news it was resolved quickly by a Verizon employee high up the chain of command.
A lesson for all of us
Verizon deserves blame here more for making it difficult to resolve the case than for its incorrect billing. Mistakes happen, but making a customer jump through hoops and then have to go to the press to get a fair resolution is way out of line.
What this case shows however is that it's the consumer's responsibility to check his or her bill. That's harder to do in this day of automated payment, where many of us never even look at our bills let alone pour through the line items.
It's easy to be complacent, but as we see here, small charges add up and companies won't always be eager to correct their mistakes.