AT&T Lets You Close Your Account, But Not Stop Paying For It

Reader Steaming Pile is waiting, not so patiently, for AT&T to give him back his $160. He had an account set up with automatic bill pay, and when his contract was up in September he canceled the account. This should have been the end of his dealings with AT&T. A few months later, he was perusing his post-holiday credit card bill when he noticed a charge from AT&T. Reviewing his statements more closely, he noticed that while he was successful in terminating his service, he hadn’t convinced AT&T to stop taking his money every month. Thanks to automatic bill pay and (let’s admit it) his own negligence, AT&T had pocketed $160 for a closed account. In fact, when he called to terminate the automatic bill pay, not only did he have to argue for the credit, he’s still waiting for his money three months later. Check out his very angry email below.

I canceled my wireless service with The New AT&T (the old Cingular Wireless) last September when my contract expired. Since I had automatic bill pay, they took their sweet-ass time stopping the auto-pay part of the deal, which I noticed when going through my credit card statement. I called them, sounding quite irate, and asked them rather bluntly why they were still billing me after my account has been closed at my request. I was informed by the guy on the other end, who could have been the technician in the health clinic from the movie Idiocracy, that my number didn’t work anymore, and he was having trouble bringing up my account. I said, “duh, Einstein, it doesn’t work because the account is closed. My problem is that you’re still billing me every month for a service I no longer need or use.”

Suddenly, this brilliant rocket scientist managed to bring up my closed account, stop the automatic bill pay, and ask me if there was anything else I wanted. “How about a credit for the erroneous billing since September?” I asked. They were just going to pocket my money if I didn’t explicitly ask for it, so I was getting really, really upset. I got back something like, “oh, yeah. I can do that. (click click click) There you are.” He then connected me with another rep, this time a woman who reassuringly sounded like she had at least an average IQ, who started a “case” where I would eventually get my money back – $160.

Two months pass. It is now March, and I get the second of two monthly statements showing the $160 credit balance and no other action on my account. I call them again, and I am informed that since the final bill had not yet been generated when the “case” was submitted, it was denied. Some computer system they have over at The New AT&T. It reminds me of last year when it was Time-Warner Cable who neglected to stop billing me for two months after I canceled their service, which took six months before I got my refund check.

I guess the moral of the story is, never, EVER sign up for automatic payments on ANYTHING. You will have no end of aggravation at the end of your relationship with these companies, who will forget to stop billing you, sit on your money, hire morons as customer service reps, and cause you to expend more time and effort than you’d expend making the same amount of money at your job to get your money back in your hand. It was far less trouble back in the Stone Age just to write checks and send them out via snail mail. At least when I had to fire one of these people in the old days, they could send out all the bills they want, but they wouldn’t get another dime out of me.

We’d argue the moral of the story is “If you sign up for automatic bill pay, you have to double check your statement”, or “you’ll catch more flies with honey that vinegar”. We get his anger, which is justified, but low paid CSR’s have little incentive to help you when you treat them poorly. In any case, should the refund not appear, we suggest you contact CEO Randall Stephenson and talk to him. Nicely, this time.

(photo:nfarley)

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  1. sjg1402 says:

    …Two months pass. It is now March, and I get the second of two monthly statements showing the $160 credit balance and no other action on my account. …

    If you have a credit balance on your account you’ve received your money. What is it you want? I must be missing something..

  2. wickedpixel says:

    this is why I use my bank’s bill pay rather than that of the companies’ whose service I’m using.

  3. Maurs says:

    @sjg1402: I think he’s waiting for AT&T to cut him an actual check.

  4. Archetypal says:

    I had the nearly the same thing happen with AT&T when I switched regions. The original CSR didn’t completely deactivate one on line on my account, and it kept charging my credit card. I didn’t discover the error right away due to credit card cut dates and the fact that I was still expecting to see AT&T charges on my card.

    When I discovered the error, I gathered all the information I had and called in. I was polite and easygoing with the CSRs, but I was also upfront with what I expected the outcome of the call to be. It took several CSRs and other departments, but I eventually got everything straightened out.

    I even left a commendation for the CSR with his supervisor and heard him yell “Kudos to Chris!” before he hung up the phone.

  5. stageright says:

    Want to know why the Customer Service Reps don’t care about the customer? Because no matter WHAT we do, how much effort we put in, we get to come to wonderful websites like this, and have people post “hire morons as customer service reps”

    If this moron had stopped to think about it, he’d have realized that the reps are having to work with the same computer system that’s too stupid to stop taking payments on a closed account.

    My guess, having worked these kinds of jobs, is that when the rep got off the phone, the REP thought it was resolved. Why? Because the computer TOLD the rep it was done.

    But please, keep ranting that it’s the “moron service reps” that are the problem – I PROMISE you it will make us keep right on not giving a crap about you, the customer. At the end of the week, the rep has his paycheck, and you are still out your $160. So you tell me which is the moron – the one that has their money, or the one that still waits for their money?

  6. golfer2004nh says:

    Well he said he paid by credit card, why even deal with AT&T. If they don’t resolve the problem on the first call, call your credit card company. They will credit the account right away and then deal with them for you….

  7. cookmefud says:

    @Archetypal:
    holy crap, this just happened to me. they didn’t charge any card though, they just kept billing me for my old region’s phone number. when I called them up with a big “WTF are you charging me for??”, it took 45 minutes to get it partially resolved.
    partially in that even though my account only went into about a week of the billing period before I switched regions they still are making me pay a full month’s bill. but at least they dropped 2 additional months of charges on the old line that they originally wanted me to pay.

  8. Buran says:

    If the EECB fails, sue for restitution and court costs in small claims court.

  9. iEddie says:

    One word: Chargeback. (You said you used a credit card.) You may not be able to charge all of the charges back, but you should be able to charge at least 2 or 3 back :)

  10. Jeepman says:

    Hmmmm, what is it they say about leopards and spots? I had an ATT account with the OLD ATT, cancelled it, and received bills for a YEAR. At least 50 phone calls did no good what-so-ever. Finally I got a call from a collection agency who said if I didn’t pay they would put it on my credit report BUT told me who to actually write at ATT to get it fixed – Executive Complaints. I did and a week later I got a call that it was fixed. After a full year. No apology, no nothing! Needless to say ATT old or new is not high on my list of companies to do business with.

  11. Leah says:

    I don’t think auto pay is so horrible, but you need to make sure to cancel your auto pay *in advance* of canceling your service. I’ve never had problems being billed after cancellation if I did this first.

  12. Crazytree says:

    this is standard industry practice.

    I canceled a line with Verizon Wireless and another with T-Mobile on 1/21/08 and neither have paid me my credit balance yet. T-Mobile at least agreed to release it if I call those dumb idiots on 4/1 and ask for my money. ostensibly it’s so that weird charges like “overseas roaming” don’t hit my account late and they’re left with a deficit.

  13. Crazytree says:

    @Buran: is there any limit to your dumb advice?

  14. Pink Puppet says:

    @Crazytree: She’s always seemed the sort to kill a fly with a shotgun, not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s no reason to go stirring up trouble with her, Crazytree.

  15. Buran says:

    @Crazytree: What is your problem? The guy is owed money, and court is the perfect answer for when going through channels fails. The OP has tried customer service. Then the advice is to try management. If that fails, then what the hell else is there to do but go through the legal system that exists exactly for this kind of situation?

  16. yikz says:

    @sjg1402: He has a credit balance. Meaning, if AT&T hasn’t issued him a check. If Steaming Pile still has service, he woulnd’t have to worry about the bill because he has $160 on credit. Since he canceled his account, he has no reason to leave this credit in AT&T’s hands. And it’s extremely rare for these companies to debit your CC account. That costs them money. They’d much rather issue a paper check. And they’re going to take 4-6 months to do so. I had to do this with Sprint several years ago. Finally, I just disputed several months’ worth of charges with Amex, and told Sprint to go screw themselves until they gave me an accurate bill. I never do automatic bill pay. These companies have so many bugs in their software. The errors never happen in your favor either.

  17. Buran says:

    @pinkpuppet: No, there is nothing at all wrong with suggesting resorting to legal action — if you’ll notice, I suggested doing this AFTER all else fails. Sometimes, the threat of a judgment (and consequences of not paying it) are required to get big business to stop cheating customers.

    Why am I being blasted for giving the very same advice that is given out by numerous posters in numerous threads in numerous similar situations?

    And the reason I didn’t say “chargeback”? Automatic bill pay likely draws directly from a checking account so chances are it’s not an option.

    If you don’t like someone’s advice, people, then suggest your own instead of smearing the poster. We’re not supposed to blame the victim anymore, but we’re also supposed to respect each other.

    I didn’t slam anyone. I shouldn’t be getting sneering attitude from anyone just for giving some advice on how to deal with a company that has no problem with taking someone’s money.

  18. Crazytree says:

    @Buran: AT&T has not said they WILL NOT pay him the money. they just told him that he has to f’n WAIT.

    99% chance he’ll get a check in the mail before his hearing date.

  19. KittensRCute! says:

    To me this is more a story of how NOT to act and what NOT to do than at&t being evil. Steaming failed on all counts a a result this is mostly his fault.

    1- he did not check his statements for THREE months, not one not two but three months.

    2- he was rude to a number of CSR (and thus insuring that his issue was not fully addressed)

    3- he was lazy again, and waited 2 more months to try to take action.

    he needs to calm down. until then he should give the phone to a grown up and have that person call for him and get the issue resolved.

  20. Buran says:

    @Crazytree: And you do realize that “if all else fails” does allow for the possibility that, hen he contacts their high-ups via EECB, they’ll tell him when he’ll get his money making suing unnecessary?

    You did consider that aspect of my advice?

    Right?

  21. Shevek says:

    @KittensRCute!: With regard to your point 2: even though I understand that, practically speaking, politeness will possibly get a job done faster, I have no tolerance for the idea that angry customers don’t deserve the same level of help just because they are angry.

    On a related note, a local telecommunications company did something similar to me. I cancelled my service with them after paying my most recent bill. I was told over the phone that they would cut my check for my overpaid amount and send it to me. Four weeks later, I hadn’t received it, but did a bill indicating I had a credit on my account. I called them back and was told that their credits were held until four weeks after an account was closed and the account holder called to ask me for the money to be sent. Its been noted on this site before that companies will fillet a customer for not paying on time, but never seem to have any issue holding onto a customer’s money for as long as possible.

  22. richtaur says:

    Angry is fine. Rude is not.

    Honestly this kind of thing just happens. Pointless story.

  23. Bodgy says:

    Here’s how to reach a manager in the Great Lakes region – the manager phone numbers all begin with 217*843*69XX. If you dial a few different numbers, you will get a manager.

  24. 51tiggy says:

    I went thru this with Verizon – erroneously charging me for a returned TV set-top – about 3 months, 10 phone calls and as many hours on hold, I used this site’s executive offices numbers to get it squared away – even then, it took them another 2 months

  25. Scuba Steve says:

    I get charged more when I sign up for non-auto deduction.

    I get to spend 6 hours on a saturday paying all my bills and the CONSTANT worrying that i might have missed something (lost in the mail, etc) if I don’t use auto bill pay.

    Yes, companies screw up auto-pay. I hate it. I will scream about it. But I won’t stop using it. I will embrace it, because I value my time, and I value my sanity.

  26. FilthyHarry says:

    You have to wonder since AT&T was going to charge him regardless, what would have happened had he canceled the autopay through his bank?

    I bet AT&T would have charged him, then sent him a bill for non-payment and eventually his credit rating would have taken a ding.

  27. coan_net says:

    AT&T Billing and AT&T Bill Pay must be 2 seperat departments.

    I have AT&T, and I use the AT&T Bill Pay so it deducts the amount from my account automaticly.

    2 months ago, they decided to deduct the amount a few days late…. AND CHARGE ME A LATE FEE!!!!!!!

    I men the late fee was only $.55 – but still, it shows how those 2 things don’t work together too well. (And I did have a day off work, so I spent almost 1 hour on the phone and got my $.55 back…. not worth the hour on the phone, but was my day off and actually had nothing better to do.)

  28. acknight says:

    Shouldn’t it be the case that if there’s no bill to pay, automated bill pay wouldn’t have anything to pay on?

  29. @Shevek: Actually, I tried nice, and that didn’t work, and it tends to wear off after you’ve been on the phone for an hour listening to one of their ads in a continuous loop. Since they supposedly record everything they do, I thought I might try invective instead.

    I had a similar experience with Time/Warner Cable a year ago, only a couple times worse. I was on the phone for about two hours at a whack trying to explain to these people that my account number won’t work because I canceled their crappy service. That time, I estimated that I made no more than about nine bucks an hour trying to get them to (1) stop auto-billing me and (2) reconcile my credit balance.

    The real moral of the story is, don’t use auto-pay. If you already are using auto-pay, cancel it well in advance of your canceling your service altogether. In my experience, the people who run the computers that do the billing and such tend to be about as tech-savvy as the average person’s grandma. Life was actually much easier when you got a paper bill every month that you filed away until payday rolled around.

  30. Anyway, to update, I got my check from AT&T this past Friday. I don’t know why, but when people owe me money, I always get it in Friday’s or Saturday’s mail. Maybe they’re hoping I forget all about the check over the weekend, but $160 is too big a chunk of change to actually forget about.

  31. blueneon says:

    As one of the “morons” at at&t you speak of, it seems to me that if this is the second time that this has happened to you with a company, maybe it is your responsibility to be more vigilant about your accounts.

    Of course even angry customers should have their issues resolved, but I am more apt to go further and escalate the problem to someone to get it resolved quicker for someone that treats me with respect. Customers forget that we are consumers as well. We also have to deal with billing issues in a variety of companies.

  32. gamin says:

    the best thing you can do is get out of the automatic bill pay before canceling any service.

  33. KittensRCute! says:

    @Shevek:
    No, i didnt say that there was anything wrong with being angry. I was angry at tmobile last night for the bad reception i have been getting for months. but i was polite at all times even when the CSR kept asking me the same question. I got offered a new sim card and a replacement phone, which is to say that i got my issue fixed quickly.

    I was NEVER rude. Had I been I would not have gotten my isue fixed and it would have been my own fault. CSRs are human beings and are not personally responsible for the short comings of their companies and thus should still be treated with politeness. This is a simple rule we all know. This guy failed HIMSELF by being rude. That is the real story if you ask me.

  34. KittensRCute! says:

    @Steaming Pile:

    Nice and polite are two different animals. You can be one and not the other. I was not on the phone with you so i don’t know which you were.

    that said did you ask them to turn off autopay with you canceled and they ignored the direct request? or was it to be assumed that they would cancel that also?

  35. morganlh85 says:

    Whether he had checked his statement or not (which he obviously did, just a few months later) he’s not getting his money back because ATT doesn’t feel like it. So I don’t see how this is his fault in any way.

    Consumerist, are you just trying to avoid the inevitable “blame the consumer” backlash that normally appears in the comments by doing it yourself first?

  36. ColdNorth says:

    @Buran: While I agree that filing a claim in small claims court may, indeed, be the only option in certain extreme circumstances, I am not sure that it is permissible to sue for filing fees and court costs. Certainly one can file the claim with them attached, but unless there is a provision in an existing contract, I don’t think most jurisdictions recognize a plaintiff’s right to collect anything more than actual damages.

  37. AMetamorphosis says:

    No sympathies here.

    1. The guy should pay attention to his monthly bills and statements. If he uses an automatic bill payment service it was his responsibility to insure he stopped the payments when he closed the account.

    2. Automatic bill payment for anything is absurd ! When you allowing ANY entity to “stick their hands in your wallet” @ their whim, this kind of thing happens.

    The Consumerist doesn’t NEED to “prime the pump” for readers to blame the person in question.
    This idiot himself told us he was stupid when he said: ” I guess the moral of the story is, never, EVER sign up for automatic payments on ANYTHING.”

    Some lessons in life are costly.

  38. AMetamorphosis says:

    @Steaming Pile: If 160 dollars is too large a chunk of change to forget, then you need to pay more attention to your finaces up front.

  39. sgtyukon says:

    If it takes them more than a month to send you your money, charge them a $39 fee.

  40. @AMetamorphosis: Well, when you ask somebody to do something for you, you have to give them at least some time to actually do it.

    @AMetamorphosis: At what point does telling someone every step in the process of canceling an account amount to doing the other person’s job? Canceling a service kinda implies that you won’t be asked to pay for said service anymore, dontchathink?

    I had no idea you people were so, uh, “Darwinist” when it comes to personal finance. This is the sort of trash talk I might expect at FARK. I thought “consumerist” meant something closer to “sticking it to the Man,” or at least dropping rolls of quarters on the Man when he fails to live up to his responsibilities. You know, like, uh, “Company X likes to screw its customers in such-and-such way, and since we’re all in this together, I thought I’d let you in on it.” My philosophy is that is ought not require an Act of Congress to get a corporation, who supposedly cares about its own friggin’ brand enough to do right by customers, to not be evil, or at least, not be stupid. That’s why I would usually prefer to do business with Amazon.com rather than “Fred’s Online Bookstore.” In fact, it’s the reason Amazon.com got to be a big giant company to begin with.

    Unfortunately, this sort of basic Econ 101 stuff doesn’t seem to apply to certain industries, wireless telecommunications, cable/satellite TV, and banking occupying the top three slots of that list in no particular order. There, you end up picking the one that sort of sucks the least, or in the case of banking, your friendly neighborhood credit union. On the last of that list, I will say that my credit union is WAY better than and a lot less frustrating to deal with than, say, Bank Of America. but I digress.

  41. tme2nsb says:

    No, this is not industry practice. It’s called getting an inexperienced rep who does not know what the fuck they are doing. I’ve gotten calls from customer’s who have experienced this, and what do I do? I make sure all lines are cancelled, I credit the current charges and also go ahead and cancel all of their PRORATED charges too.

    This “customer” is being too demanding because he was too lazy to make sure everything was cancelled.

  42. AMetamorphosis says:

    @Steaming Pile:

    The fact of the matter is your not paying enough attention to your own finances.

    If they plucked money out of your account ( with your permission because you signed up for the lazy man’s way of taking care of your own finances ) for THREE months, then you either have far too much money to begin with ( which you indicated you don’t ) or your not taking your finances seriously.

    It’s really very simple.
    When you get the bill, pay it yourself.

  43. NotATool says:

    @Leah: My thoughts exactly. Cancel auto-pay 1 billing cycle prior to cancelling your service.

  44. glorpy says:

    I’ve run into similar situations with transferring a credit card balance. By the time the balance transfer went through, a payment had as well, which resulted in a credit on the account.

    It took three full billing cycles AFTER the billing yccle containing the overpayment before I received the check and the final statement indicating a balance of 0.

    The bureaucracy is set up to take your money, but not to give it back, so you have little choice but to be patient.

  45. Buran says:

    @ColdNorth: Perhaps — true, best to check local rules — but even then the filing fee is less than the amount owed, in many places, so it’d be worth it, again if nothing else works.

  46. outtolunch says:

    Not surprised, AT&T has done this to me numerous times. In fact, when they ate SBC in CA and took over my ISP, and failed to give me actual DSL service, they charged me over $500 and I had to make 11 phone calls and send 5 letters before AT&T called me to “fact-check” before they gave me back my money. Because the DSL techie erased my 253 calls for service over a 3 month period!
    Warning: Despite waiting in their online queue hell to talk ro a human, YOU MUST talk to AT&T by phone to cancel any and all service AND you must get a confirmation # for your refund.
    When you get it is up to them.

  47. Ronin_Tetsuro says:

    Unfortunately I have AT&T DSL. I recently moved to a new apartment in the same city and figured it wouldn’t be a big hassle to transfer service. When I originally signed up with AT&T, they told me they required my credit card number in order to get service started, so I reluctantly agreed WITH the explicit request that I not me automatically charged, but billed. Sure enough, it took 2 cycles to get them to comply. Then, when I switched places, they reverted back to billing me automatically, even though in all cases of unauthorized transactions, I had made my monthly payment in full long before.

    Please be careful AND diligent with companies that demand unfettered access to a method of payment.

  48. QuiteSpunky says:

    Automatic Payment methods are problematic and must be monitored carefully. I made the mistake of signing up for t-mobile’s autopay a couple years ago, and surprise surprise, everytime I tried to canctold me to try again later. My workaround was to “update” the autopay with a new credit card number: 0000 0000 0000.

  49. poornotignorant says:

    I don’t have autopay, but Verizon shut off my service on 1/1/8 for nonpayment (I had a dispute they wouldn’t resolve – I don’t pay for that kind of service). However they have continued to bill me, and I just received another shutoff notice. Why is this acceptable?

  50. beth dean says:

    At&t did the same thing to me when I cancelled my account. I suspect it had something to do with the fact the customer service rep I spoke to in Bangalore’s poor grasp of the English language?