When Someone With Your 15 Year Old Disconnected Phone Number Orders FiOS, You Get The Bill

Reader Joan once had a phone number. 15 years ago, she disconnected it. Now she’s being charged for someone else’s FiOS and she’s not happy about it. For the past 6 months she has called Verizon to ask that the error be fixed and each month she’s been told that the stranger’s FiOS has been removed from her bill and that she’ll be credited for the error. It hasn’t actually happened yet.

Joan launched an EECB and cc’d us so we could listen in:

I am a Verizon telephone, DSL and wireless subscriber [redacted].

I have been dealing with an erroneous billing situation and its severe customer service consequences for over six months. In September 2007, the owner of a telephone number I once owned (and disconnected 15 years ago) ordered FIOS. Since then, that person’s FIOS charges have been appearing on my bills, despite different account numbers. The new owner’s account number shows up on my bill as [redacted]. Since discovering the error, I’ve contacted customer service six times – once per month, beginning on September 21st. During those calls, I spoke to [redacted] and a few others whose names I’ve misplaced. Each of them assured me that the problem would be corrected immediately and that my bill would be credited immediately. In each case, this proved false.

My latest bill, dated February 7th, shows an overdue balance of $149.35 for this FIOS service, as well as a new $39.95 charge for another month of another person’s FIOS. In understand from the bill that I not only am I being charged for the other account’s FIOS, but I am being charged interest on an overdue balance that does not belong to me. Further, I have worked hard to ensure my excellent credit standing, and I am concerned that this issue is being reported to credit bureaus. This is clearly unacceptable and should be rectified immediately.

Satisfactory resolution of this issue would include the following:

1. All erroneous charges removed from my account
2. Separation of my account from the other person’s account so that the charges do not reappear in the future
3. Assurance that this mistake has not been reported to a credit bureau (and if it has, assurance that a correction has been filed with the bureau
4. A credit on my next bill for the exceptionally unreasonable amount of time and energy I’ve had to expend in my efforts to have these charges removed.

Given that I have been pressing this issue for six months now, I will expect appropriate resolution within 48 hours.

Sincerely,

Joan

Great letter, Joan. For more information about how to learn to launch your own EECB, click here.

(Photo:JohnMarino92)

Comments

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  1. gamehendge2000 says:

    Why don’t you show spread some kindness around, and just pay the other guy’s bill?

    Good things will come to you.

  2. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    Next month tell then you’re going to file Mail Fraud charges against them.

  3. Myotheralt says:

    Great letter, and if its a paper bill charge them with mail fruad.

  4. Black Bellamy says:

    Maybe the Consumerist can publish a short article called “How To Sue Big Companies In Small Claims Court”. This way more people can become aware that there are avenues open to them other than plaintive e-wailing and the gnashing of teeth.

  5. snazz says:

    what is the mail fraud you speak of? is it illegal to send someone a paper bill in the mail for service/goods that is not theirs?

  6. strixus says:

    By definition mail fraud is “any scheme which attempts to unlawfully obtain money or valuables in which the postal system is used at any point in the commission of a criminal offense”. By that, I think this qualifies. They are a) attempting to charge for a service not ordered or rendered, and b) using the USPS. Therefore – Mail Fraud.

  7. qwickone says:

    @Jaysyn: Brilliant!

  8. MDSasquatch says:

    FIOS seems to be a good service and Verizon is a pretty good company. Pay the bill and have the service transfered to your house.

    Now for the hard part:

    Somehow have Comcast connected to the other guy’s house. Should keep him busy for a year or so.

    Paybacks

  9. Buran says:

    @snazz: Yes it is. You are fraudulently using the US mail to make illegal demands. The OP never signed a contract for FiOS. Verizon is demanding that she adhere to a contract she did not enter into. This is fraudulent. Verizon is therefore committing a federal felony.

  10. MDSasquatch says:

    a federal felony? I think you would have a hard time showing INTENT.

    Seems to be more of a computer issue, maybe the computer/database can be hauled into court or even worse, forced to run Vista

  11. warf0x0r says:

    @gamehendge2000: She’ll just end up killing Hailey Joel Osmand like in that movie… AI.

  12. RogueSophist says:

    I hope you’re never on a jury of my peers. The mail fraud statute — and most fraud, generally — requires specific intent to “engage in a scheme or artifice to defraud.” The facts suggest that Verizon, as we learn routinely, is simply inept and can’t sort out its billing. Unless the state can show specific intent, there’s no fraud.

    Please, either go to law school or — and this is a cheaper, if less reliable method — snoop around the “Internet” a bit before making sweeping legal conclusions.

  13. RothRandom says:

    If all else fails, jump on the “Grab A Lawyer” bandwagon. :D

  14. RogueSophist says:

    previous comment directed @Buran.

  15. SadSam says:

    Can’t she show intent to defraud since Verizon has failed to fix this ‘billing’ problem over the course of 6 mos. 1-2 mos. of billing errors is a computer glitch, 6 mos. of billing errors after the customer has made several attempts to alert Verizon to the problem = fraud?

  16. picshereplz says:

    I agree that it would be a very tough sell to say that Verizon acted fraudulently, but I think there’s enough there to hang her hat on, given the fact that she’s contacted them once a month for six months.

    And I’m sure Verizon would “take seriously” a civil suit based on fraud charges, especially if you sweeten the pot by saying you might look to certify a class for class action. Even if they don’t think she could win, they would be concerned about a clever plaintiff’s attorney digging through a lot of their internal dirty laundry through discovery.

  17. ironchef says:

    @warf0x0r:

    Pay it forward! brilliant!

  18. MissPeacock says:

    What a great letter. It’s short, to the point, emotionless, professional, and exudes gravitas. Bravo.

  19. @RogueSophist: “I hope you’re never on a jury of my peers. The mail fraud statute — and most fraud, generally — requires specific intent to “engage in a scheme or artifice to defraud.” The facts suggest that Verizon, as we learn routinely, is simply inept and can’t sort out its billing. Unless the state can show specific intent, there’s no fraud.”

    Hrm. If they fix it after the first notification, that’s one thing. Once they fail to credit her, and continue to press for collection, by continuing to bill her, doesn’t it cross the threshold for an artifice/scheme to defraud? Me thinks a skillful prosecutor could make the case, given that they’ve had 6 months to fix it and have persisted in billing her. Feigning incompetence could be part of the artifice.

  20. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @MDSasquatch:

    After 7 instances I don’t think you’d have a hard time showing intent.

  21. RogueSophist says:

    @PotKettleBlack: It’d be a tough case, indeed, drumming up the requisite intent from this chain of events. It seems like negligence — a.k.a. idiocy — maybe recklessness at best, which still wouldn’t be enough. Now if there were a company-wide e-mail from management lying around “suggesting” to customer service employees that such “mix-ups” be ignored, that they’ll go away on their own, etc., then we’re talking!

  22. AaronZ says:

    The letter was excellently written, and includes my #1 rule for dealing with CS, tell them exactly what you want!
    The only thing better she could have asked for would be for them to waive the other guy’s bill also, being that they’ve screwed it up for him for 6 mo too. (That would be a great ‘pay it forward’ also.)

  23. AaronZ says:

    Regarding mail fraud, intent and all that… You don’t have to prove intent, you just have to accuse them of it. The issue would never really go to court anyway, they’d just settle.
    Ultimately though, if she can get the matter resolved with a letter and not have to take a day off work to go to court, wouldn’t that be the better option?

  24. weedpindle says:

    ROGUESOPHIST, do you work for Verizon?. At the least a mail fraud investigation will at the least get their attention.

  25. edrebber says:

    @RogueSophist: “The facts suggest that Verizon, as we learn routinely, is simply inept and can’t sort out its billing.”

    Your assertion is incompetent, irrelevant, immaterial and assumes facts not in evidence.

    The facts are as follows.

    1. Verizon was notified of a billing error.
    2. Verizon acknowledges the bill is in error.
    3. Verizon continues to send the erroneous bill.

    Intent can only be determined by an investigation by the Postal Inspectors. The Postal Inspectors will also check to see how many other complaints they have received against Verizon.

    The general public can only view each complaint as an isolated incident and this makes it easy to excuse the complain as a mistake. Suppose the postal inspectors have 100 more complaints like this one against Verizon, would you still say it’s a mistake?

  26. Buran says:

    @RogueSophist: Considering she has asked them multiple times to fix it and they continue making the demand, seems to me like they sure do have intent to defraud her. She reported it multiple times and the demands have continued. After they were told it was going on, they made more demands. That looks intentional to me. “I’m an idiot”, which is what I bet Verizon would plead, isn’t an excuse to violate the law.

  27. IphtashuFitz says:

    @AaronZ: That’s an excellent point regarding a request for a waiver on the other persons bill. It makes me wonder if Verizon has somehow been double-billing for this one FiOS account – billing both the true account holder and this woman.

  28. RogueSophist says:

    @edrebber: I’m sorry, but intent is determined by postal inspectors? Are you serious? Postal inspectors, like police inspectors, or FBI investigators, help determine the facts of the case by gathering evidence. It is not their job to determine whether those facts combine to create the specific intent to defraud. That’s determined by legal fact-finders — a judge or jury.

    You’re right that many more complaints like this suggest that something shady might be going on. But if you think that those facts alone are enough to convict someone of fraud, then call me officially frightened. I have no idea what’s going on with Verizon here — maybe you’re right — but mistakes happen. Incompetence, and incompetent customer service representatives, happen. Even on a grand scale. I’d think that spending time on this site would make that abundantly clear.

  29. backbroken says:

    I’ve got $50 that Verizon has been billing (and collecting from) the correct subscriber as well.

    Any takers?

  30. Nick986 says:

    Excellent letter. Very straight forward and to the point. Hope to see a response to this soon, from Verizon. 6 months of that crap is unacceptable.

  31. jollymonjeff says:

    Gotta get jackie chiles on the case!
    “That’s totally inappropriate. It’s lewd, vesivius, salacious, outrageous!”
    That’s deplorable, unfathomable, improbable.
    It’s an infringement on your constitutional rights. It’s outrageous, egregious, preposterous

    Oh, and by the way, they’re real, and they’re spectacular.

    @edrebber:

  32. RogueSophist says:

    @RogueSophist: I might remind everyone we’re talking about convicting Verizon of a crime. That’s tough to do — especially when it’s specific intent crime like fraud — and I’m presuming innocence (which might be foolish, but that’s just how I roll, you know?). The non-fraud avenues to civil relief in this case would probably be easier to tread (legally, but not for the people who’d have to put up money for representation).

    To be clear, there’s no doubt in my mind that Verizon is doing something wrong here. I’m just not so sure how wrong.

  33. agit says:

    this kind of stuff used to happen to me all the time w/SBC. Worst part about it was that I worked for them.

    I had their Dial-up for a short time, after getting a DSL connection, I cancelled the dial-up (which was supposed to be included in the DSL package I got).

    For the next 2 years, not months but years I got billed for Dial-up, and every month I had to call to get the charge removed from my bill.

    I did phone support internally, and got a high ranking manager of the Internet services division one time, while talking them through the problem we were chatting and I mentioned the issue.

    I never got charged for Dial-Up again.

  34. Schlarg says:

    @snazz: Snazz your sarcasm wasn’t lost on me.

  35. ARPRINCE says:

    @gamehendge2000:

    Why don’t you show spread some kindness around, and just pay the other guy’s bill? Good things will come to you.

    GREAT IDEA! Better yet, why don’t you send her the check so she can use it to pay for the other guy’s account.

    I bet a gazillion good things will come to you. :)

  36. GearheadGeek says:

    @RogueSophist: …and an important detail that’s oft overlooked is that all that is wrong is not, alas, illegal.

  37. picshereplz says:

    @RogueSophist:

    Some are talking about criminal fraud, but some are talking about fraud in the civil litigation context.

    You could easily plead fraud as well as negligence in separate counts.

  38. goller321 says:

    @GearheadGeek: No, but this is sue-able… Next step small claims court for %4000 and a court order forbidding future billings from occurring…

  39. Jordan Lund says:

    The worst part is, when the bill is finally untangled, the poor schmuck who ordered the FIOS in the first place is going to get 6 months of delinquent bills. DOH!

  40. starbreiz says:

    This is quite common for Verizon. Several years ago, I moved out of my house and a new resident ordered their DSL months later. They started re-billing my credit card that they’d had on file, which makes absolutely no sense, since they’d obviously have gotten the new resident’s billing information with the order. Resolving that issue took a ridiculous amount of phone calls, letters, and frustration. I think their billing department is really run by a couple monkeys.

  41. DrBologna says:

    FWIW, this is my mother. She went this route b/c last week, I coached my sister into doing the same thing with her crummy DirecTV service. Among other issues, my sister wasn’t getting HD service for a long time, was told to d/l a “patch” that conked out her whole receiver, wasn’t able to cancel another account that should have transferred from Penn. to Calif. to become her new (and dysfunctional) account, and ended up buying a service plan that DTV refused to provide service under. I think Liz copied you on that too.

    After a successful EECB (which restored her service, canceled her other account without penalty, and had an executive customer support person telling her to never call regular CS again and always call her instead), my mom was all over me this week to tell her “how to do the consumerist thing.” I sent her to your Ultimate Guide, pulled all the e-mail addresses for her, and wrote the letter the way so many folks here have suggested.

    As an update, she sent me an e-mail at 4:15 saying that her account does now show a $0 balance. So, not only did the EECB get this nonsense cleared up, Verizon cleared the WHOLE bill as a courtesy for her troubles.

    Our family has always stood up to companies when they pull crap like this, but we’ve always thought there was a certain frontier beyond which we just couldn’t do anything. Thanks to Consumerist, that frontier just got extended a lot farther after twice in as many weeks the EECB has solved “unsolvable” problems for my family.

    Kick ass!

  42. RandomHookup says:

    When I switched my number years ago, I stopped receiving long distance charges (handled by a different company than my local calls, but included on my overall phone bill). It was a couple of years before they figured it out (I assumed I had been slammed to a company that didn’t know how to bill me).

    In the meantime, it appears they were billing the person from whom my new number came. I’m not sure how she ever handled that. Fortunately for Sprint, I didn’t make many LD calls.

  43. picshereplz says:

    @DrBologna:

    Way to go, DrBologna’s mom!

  44. Ragman says:

    I’d suggest just having the other account cancelled, but Verizon would likely cancel the wrong one, or both.

  45. worrytron says:

    I’ve noticed some strangeness with the FiOS database too — whenever i check for service availability in my building, it tells me i already have existing phone service in my unit (and to therefore enter my land line phone# instead of my address.) I don’t have a land line — I haven’t since i got tired of paying $60/mo for their $35/mo phone service. I think there are quite a few crossed wires over there.

  46. RogueSophist says:

    @picshereplz: Indeed you could, and that would be wise. But enough law! For Joan’s sake, I hope the EECB works. Because no one’s suing Verizon over this anytime soon, methinks, and we all know that only the lawyers would really win.

  47. edrebber says:

    @RogueSophist: “I’m sorry”

    I forgive you.

    RogueSophist: “It is not their job to determine whether those facts combine to create the specific intent to defraud.”

    False! The investigator has to suspect there was intent or negligence to proceed with the investigation. Your disjointed view of the legal system would create a police state where the police could go endless fishing expeditions to hoping to find wrongdoing.

  48. goodkitty says:

    @edrebber: LOL. Yeah, it’s good we don’t have that now (FISA, gitmo, watch lists, ad nauseum).

    I hope Joan’s existing Verizon contract (with free binding arbitration) doesn’t preclude her from suing them for the wrongful billing.

  49. whatdoyoucare says:

    What I find amazing is that she even remembered what her phone number was from 15 years ago. I can’t even remember what my phone number was from 1.5 years ago. I would have been, “What the frick is this about?”

  50. RogueSophist says:

    @edrebber: Oh, come on. My comment was not intended to suggest that investigators have powers beyond what they’re granted. Like police officers and FBI investigators, of course they need a certain level of suspicion or “cause” to go around investigating. I was simply trying to illustrate that legal intent — that is, whether it exists or not to satisfy the elements of fraud — is ultimately determined in court, and not by the investigators. If you don’t understand that, then I think we’re simply talking past each other.

  51. edrebber says:

    @goodkitty: Enemy combatants don’t have constitutional rights. Guantanamo Bay is in Cuba and not part of the US. Non uniformed enemy combatants are spies and can be executed at the whim of the president. None of this has anything to do with mail fraud.