Verizon Willing To Let 62-Year-Old Man Die Unless Cops Pay $20 Of His Overdue Bill

Ohio police are pissed with Verizon after the company refused to help them find a missing 62-year-old man unless they paid his overdue $20 $20 of his overdue cellphone bill.

The cops got a call that the man was rampaging around his house and breaking windows. When they arrived, the man had fled, taking bottles of pills with him. The sheriff contacted Verizon to ask them to turn the man’s cellphone cellphone service on so they could track his signal, but the operator said the missing man’s bill had to be paid first. After some back and forth, the sheriff started to make arrangements to pay his bill. Just as he was doing so, the search party, which consisted of two K-9 units, several fire departments, and more than 100 people on foot, found the man, unconcious, after 11 hours of searching.

“I was more concerned for the person’s life,” Sherrif Williams said. “It would have been nice if Verizon would have turned on his phone for five or 10 minutes, just long enough to try and find the guy. But they would only turn it on if we agreed to pay $20 of the unpaid bill. Ridiculous.”

See, the essential problem is that in most call centers you don’t get any bonuses for having humanity.

Unconscious Carroll man found after 11-hour search: Sheriff unhappy with Verizon’s ‘line’ on emergency [The Times Reporter] (Thanks to everyone who sent this in!)

(Photo: akshay moon, Maulleigh)

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  1. CumaeanSibyl says:

    IF THEY FIND THE GUY THEN HE CAN PAY HIS BILL.

    Come on. Really?

  2. bender123 says:

    Perhaps this can be part two of the Daily Show’s “Be A F@cking Person” reports…

  3. Daniel Parmelee says:

    Cops should’ve just paid the $20, would’ve been cheaper…ha.

    The state of customer service these days is truly sad. Does anyone even remember when customer service meant “doing what was necessary to make the customer happy”?

    • RvLeshrac says:

      @Daniel Parmelee:

      This isn’t really a “customer service” story, since the Sheriff isn’t a customer.

      Also, “customer service” means doing right by *all* of your customers, not simply the one in front of you. If you’re doing something special for a customer at your business, you should think “What if I did this for *all* of my customers?” – if you give one person something for free, or give them a discount, and you don’t give it to the next customer, you could be setting yourself up for a lawsuit.

      REI has the concept of “customer service” down to a T. They provide the same (good) service to everyone equally, and ask those who abuse their service to leave, on the premise that allowing people to abuse the service just ruins it for everyone.

      • MaxSmart32 says:

        @RvLeshrac: It’s called humanity. It’s called being socially responsible. It’s called, as someone else stated above, being a F@cking Person.

        And, in fact, if I were lost, mentally unstable, I’d want Verizon to do the exact same thing for me, and anyone else out there that needed help in their darkest hour.

      • yesteraeon says:

        @RvLeshrac: I’m not quite sure what your point was. Hopefully you weren’t arguing that Verizon should uniformly refuse to activate phones with outstanding balances even when:
        a)The customers life is in potential danger.
        AND
        b)The POLICE are asking them to do so.

        But regardless of that, while this may not TECHNICALLY be a customer service issue, it’s definitely reflective of one of the major reasons that customer service is generally so horrible. Most companies force their CSRs to implement company policy mindlessly to the exclusion of reason and basic human decency. If the Verizon employee the police spoke to was able to display either of those virtues he would have assisted the police without delay and without concern over a mere 20 dollars.

      • nakedscience says:

        @RvLeshrac:

        if you give one person something for free, or give them a discount, and you don’t give it to the next customer, you could be setting yourself up for a lawsuit.

        OH COME ON, what hyperbolic bullshit. HOW many times do companies refund people money? A LOT. How many times do companies give discounts to some, but not everyone? A LOT. How many times do they offer free shit to people, but not to everyone? A LOT.

        I just got my overdraft fee refunded from BofA (it was my fault, too, and I wasn’t expecting them to refund it, but they did). Do they do that for everyone? NO.

        So tell me, where are all these lawsuits?

      • bairdwallace says:

        @RvLeshrac: Yeah, I’d be comfortable with a company-wide policy that when LAW ENFORCEMENT calls, and we can legally comply, we do it. Remember how helpful some companies were back when Bush wanted some warrantless wire tapping done?

        On the REI point; yes, they absolutely have amazing Customer Service, along with LL Bean. And they have a high threshold for abuse too: I’ve known of people returning used, year old gear for new gear, with REI not even batting an eye. I’d say that’s abuse, I guess REI just files it under “Cost of having amazing customer service”.

        • RvLeshrac says:

          @bairdwallace:

          That’s not abusing REI’s policy. That’s actually their policy, and they follow it. If you’re returning a LOT of old merchandise, they’ll ask you to go away.

          I have no problem with an over-eager customer service policy, it just needs to be clearly stated (as REI does) and clearly enforced (as REI does). If it isn’t enforced, why should you even bother having a policy in the first place?

          See my other comment. If, in this case, the sheriff did call the wrong Verizon contacts (or didn’t provide the proper documentation), and they DID turn on the phone with no proof, they’d possibly be committing a crime.

          If you replace “phone” with “credit card” in the story, does it sound nearly as kosher? How about the headline: “Man calls bank pretending to be LEO, gets stolen credit card reactivated”?

          • dragonfire81 says:

            @RvLeshrac: /It is a customer service issue in that that the Verizon reps who handled this apparently had no common sense whatsoever. I wouldn’t be surprised if the poor saps were directed by their supervisor to tell the cops the bill had to be paid up.

      • Megalomania says:

        @RvLeshrac: So they should have asked, “What if we were willing to eat the cost of 5 minutes of phone service for save someone’s life”, is your point? Man, that’s a tough question.

        • RvLeshrac says:

          @Megalomania:
          (And @the others who obviously didn’t read my post)

          Miss the part where I pointed out that it isn’t a customer service issue?

          This is a legal, and possibly moral and ethical, issue. The customer service bit is an aside. If you want to mesh the two, here you go: Did the sheriff provide the legal proof necessary to have the phone turned on? Obviously a phone company isn’t going to turn the phone on just because someone calls up and claims to be law-enforcement. Even though the government wiretapping program was/is ridiculous, at least the phone companies DO require proof that the agents doing the wiretapping are actually agents.

          There’s not enough information in the story to tell what steps were taken to get Verizon to enable the phone. For all we *really* know, the sheriff MAY have just been incompetent and phoned a call-center instead of the appropriate Verizon contacts. I’m not saying that’s what happened, the story simply doesn’t provide all the facts necessary. Precisely why reporting can be a dangerous thing.

          @nakedscience:

          Banks will typically grant *anyone who asks* a free overdraft refund ONCE, if the account is in good standing (i.e. you haven’t done it before, see: “ONCE”).

          As far as other things go, yes, businesses often give discounts to some customers and not others – there’s a reason lawyers are paid to write up the “terms and conditions” at the bottom of said discounts. That’s why you don’t see lawsuits. Also note that “first time account” discounts can often be gained by demanding them from the company – ever wonder how much THAT costs YOU on YOUR bills?

          @yesteraeon:

          A policy is a policy for a reason. Perhaps if employees were more adept at following their stores’ policies, we wouldn’t see boxes of rocks being sold as New merchandise. In addition to that, if employees more faithfully followed policies, we’d probably all be paying less for merchandise.

          When you buy something off the shelf, you’re not only paying for the item and the margin on that item, you’re also paying for every person that ever returned an item.

          If electronics chains more faithfully followed the “damaged vs working” sections of their return policies, perhaps the electronics industry wouldn’t lose billions of dollars every year dealing with returned, working merchandise that requires testing and a steep “reconditioned” discount.

    • gparlett says:

      @Daniel Parmelee: Sounds to me like the cops were actually trying to pay the bill.

      “After some back and forth, the sherriff started to make arrangements to pay his bill. Just as he was doing so, the search party, which consisted of two K-9 units, several fire departments, and more than 100 people on foot, found the man”

      Sheriff Williams, being a decent human being, was willing to whip out his Amex and pay the man’s bill if it meant saving a human life.

      • dragonfire81 says:

        @gparlett: Social responsibility? Who gives a shit about when there’s money to be made!

        Trust me I worked at a call center, all they gave a crap about was selling as much as they could and getting people off the phone as fast as they could. There’s no common sense in a call center. Believe me.

    • greedychickenlittle says:

      @Daniel Parmelee:whenI worked retail “the customer is always right” rule stood. Many times a customer was wrong/lying/etc. As the customer with a resonable request or ligit problem usually the service dept has no compassion or help to offer… I get pissed at those who advertise, often right on their bills next to the pic of the smiling girl with the headset on, that “if you need help or have any questions, just call. We’re here to help you, our valued customer.” Then you call and get treated like crap. It’s worse is when it’s a monopoly company and you can’t just switch service somewhere else. A few months after my baby was born I got behind on my heating bill and they threatened to disconnect (frigid months over but it was still below 40 degrees.) Their policy specifies ‘an infant or small child in the home’ as one of the reasons they’d be more willing to work with you. I called to make a partial payment and arrangements on the rest, another thing their policy states they will work with you on, and nothing I offered met their satisfaction. I owed several hundred $, but unless I came up with 90% they said there was “nothing they could do.” I quoted policy and was told only babies under 6 wks old qualified, not my 3 month old. They treated me as if I’d told them to f**k off. They wouldn’t even take a payment under 90% – well they would, but said they’d still shut off svc.

  4. Ron00 says:

    They can turn your phone on remotely?

    • Ben Popken says:

      @Ron00: yes.

      • Unsolicited Advice says:

        @Ben Popken:

        I think the more important question is “should they?” $20 notwithstanding.

        Unless our cell phones are also destined to become some sort of national tracking mechanism for the police force and private telecom corporations must now act as essential law enforcement partners.

      • Baccus83 says:

        @Ben Popken: that’s kind of a frightening idea. i had no idea they could do that. but i guess it’s useful for this very purpose.

      • Kevin Darby says:

        @Ben Popken:

        Depends on what the LEO was asking and to who. I’m thinking they were talking with customer care and trying to just un-suspend the phone.

      • Trai_Dep says:

        @Ben Popken: Wait. WHAT?!
        So my phone is turned off. They can turn it on again? Visibly, or will it be stealthy?
        Either way, how is that possible?

        And, I know landlines can be activated on the sly so that each phone becomes (poor quality) area microphone. Can they activate cell phones to do the same thing (same as above: in a way that doesn’t make everything light up on the phone)?

        That illegal NSA spying thing suddenly looks a LOT worse than I previously knew…

        • chris_d says:

          @Trai_Dep:
          I’m pretty sure you’re wrong about “landline” phones being remotely turned into microphones. A POTS “landline” phone would have to have the pair of wires connected to form the loop that carries the voice signal. I can’t think of any way that could be remotely done.

          Now with a cell phone, it’s certainly possible because they have a “soft” power on/off. Power is always available to the circuit board. How many handsets are actually capable of being bugs, I don’t know. That would depend on the hardware/software, but it’s definitely possible in theory to program the phone to shut down the display and act like it’s off, but listen for a signal on the cellular network that will activate the microphone.

          In the case of the story, I think what’s being discussed is reactivating service on the phone and then triangulating the man’s position, or accessing aGPS info to find him. Although as long as the handset is on, it shouldn’t need to be able to dial out to be located — that is, a “suspended” handset still communicates with the cellular network and is capable of being located.

          • Wombatish says:

            @chris_d: While they can turn it on remotely, the story doesn’t really say if they wanted the phone on or the service on, either.

            Point is, they can, and they should have as soon as the police identified themselves, ffs. Just turn it right back off afterwards, and go after the guy for the 20 bucks.

          • RvLeshrac says:

            @Justin Wolford:

            But was the CSR’s reasoning a matter of “I think the guy is scamming me and isn’t really a sheriff”, or did the sheriff provide verification and THEN have the person at Verizon go “OK, we confirmed that you’re the sheriff, now we need 20 bucks”? The story needs more details. If A, then they were doing the appropriate thing. If B, then they were an ass.

      • nataku8_e30 says:

        @Ben Popken: Just like they can recharge your battery remotely too.

        • Trai_Dep says:

          @nataku83: Obviously, if the battery is out, or dead, the phone can’t be activated. But if the phone is switched off, it’s a soft-switch setting, which may operate by different rules. Which may/may not also make said phones active w/o the indicator lights being on. Which is what we’re talking about.
          Try to keep up, huh?

        • dadelus says:

          @nataku83: Now that’s a service I would pay for!!!!

      • GearheadGeek says:

        @Ben Popken: You think? I don’t. If your phone is powered off, it is off unless it’s a crackberry (a crackberry will wake up if you have an alarm set and the battery is in, and there is a very different startup sequence if you take the battery out than just turn it off.)

        I think if your Verizon cell phone is switched off, Verizon can’t turn it on. If it is on and idle, I am sure they can track it at least via tower contacts, and possibly with a court order can turn on GPS location if you have it off (not sure about that) but I don’t think they can power it on, they can just reinstate the account.

        My guess about what happened here is that the police called the phone and got a “not in service” message and wanted his account activated. I wonder if he had been driven to his rampage by Verizon turning off his phone?

      • eXo says:

        @Ben Popken: now your just making shit up. If your phone is physically turned off, it is impossible for it to receive any signals… especially of the mythical kind which would then somehow power the phone back on.

        Come on… absolutely ridiculous.

      • Ben Popken says:

        @Ben Popken: Ok, I may have slightly misremembered, but I do know that some handsets can’t be fully turned off unless you remove the battery. Also, cellphones microphones can be remotely activated, and have been used by the FBI to wiretap mobsters: [news.zdnet.com]

        • dragonfire81 says:

          @Ben Popken: You remembered right. The Palm Centro is an example. The screen will go blank but it will stay in “sleep mode” until the battery dies or you remove it, there’s no OFF switch to speak of.

        • Trai_Dep says:

          @Ben Popken: I’d like to see a Big Brother logo required on such phones, or some-such.
          Glad I have a “dumb” phone, fo’ sure, fo’ sure.
          Sad to see that cell phone mics can be turned on remotely – I was hoping that was something that could be done only for land lines.

          @exo: R.O.A.C.H.: So, a cited source backing your view that no phone can be turned on remotely, or an apology to Ben?

          • GearheadGeek says:

            @Trai_Dep: The phone is still not being “turned on remotely” in cases where its mic is activated, it would have to be powered on to receive commands from the network. With a PalmOS phone (and perhaps with my crackberry) it might be possible to get it to respond when it seems to be asleep, but if you put it in airplane mode, for example, the radio would be off and it would receive no commands from the network.

            Now, with the phone powered up, especially with smartphones like my crackberry or an iPhone, there is all sorts of network interaction going on in the background, and they could possibly teach the thing to hypnotize your cat.

            • silver-bolt says:

              @GearheadGeek: And most phones have this soft-sleep ability. Try setting an alarm, and then turning off any recent (2002+) motorola phone. It will turn on to sound the alarm (Much to my dismay in court). Not even a smart phone. Just a regular clamshell low end phone (V300/V360/Rizr/Razr).

      • synergy says:

        @Ben Popken: Is that true even if you have the GPS option turned off?

        • greyer says:

          @synergy: I believe they can still estimate your location by triangulating with surrounding phone towers. If memory serves me, that’s how the first gen iPhone figured out where (generally) you were so it knew what to show when you searched for nearby businesses.

          • SpruceStreetPhil - in a new Pine flavor says:

            you people are crazy… They meant the service. Phones can only be tracked if they are powered on. BY YOU. Powering it off is the same as taking the battery out. They can track you if the phone was on and the phone’s service is activated. The latter wasn’t in this case so they needed THAT switched on to track him. The ability to control the former is entirely up to you.

    • Shadowman615 says:

      @Ron00: I think they mean connect the service, not actually power up the phone.

      I think.

    • Brad Brown says:

      @Ron00: Not only that, but they can take photos of your naughty bits when you’re not looking (“stealth sexting” is my term for it). Your only hope is to cover the camera lens with Silly Putty.

    • Nate128 says:

      @Ron00: They can re-connect service to it. They cannot physically power the phone on or off remotely. The service has been suspended due to non-payment. “Turning it on” in this case means removing the suspension.

  5. UrIt says:

    That is very wrong. didn’t Verizon do that a year or two ago with someone else? a teenager that had gone missing and they refused to turn on the Cell so the police could track her and find her? i want to say they found her a few days later dead, but that may be my dramatic imagination, but i know something bad happened, kidnapping or some such. what jerks.

    • Froggmann says:

      @UrIt: I believe it was the kid who was restricted from his xbox or something, so he ran away. Yes he ended up dead.

    • Coles_Law says:

      @UrIt: KC metro area. Guy kidnapped Kelsey Smith from a Target. She was found dead a few days later. Her cell phone was on-Verizon just was very slow to release the tracking records. [www.msnbc.msn.com]
      There’s actually a law going through the state that would require better cooperation on the part of cell phone providers in cases like this.

    • outoftheblew says:

      @UrIt: Not sure if it’s the story you’re thinking of, but this is what happened with Kelsey Smith in Kansas City two years ago. She went missing, and soon it was realized her abduction was recorded by surveillance camera in a Target parking lot. There was a search. They tried to get Verizon to help for three days, and after Verizon finally helped (with their triangulating or whatever, I don’t remember the technical details), they found her body within 45 minutes. In this case, Verizon’s delay did not change the outcome, as she was raped and killed not long after she was abducted. But her body could’ve been found that much sooner.

      Her parents are trying to push Kelsey’s Law through the state legislature (I can’t remember if it was on the Missouri or Kansas side) that requires phone companies to comply with law enforcement requests in emergency situations.

      I think I got all the details right … I’m going from memory and not fact-checking.

      • JulesNoctambule says:

        @outoftheblew: I hope the law passes. Maybe it will help prevent other parents from being in such a situation in the first place.

      • mmmsoap says:

        @outoftheblew: Also, I remember discussions at the time about the cell phone company (Verizon?) holding off because they were waiting for a warrant or some such thing.

        On the one hand, I get that time can be of the essence. On the other hand, I would very much prefer that my ex-boyfriend doesn’t have the ability to masquerade as a police officer in order to stalk me. Just sayin’.

        If VZ had been waiting for some kind of law enfoncement procedural stuff, I would be totally on their side. But for a bill? Ridiculous.

  6. Unsolicited Advice says:

    The ethics here seem complicated. What responsibility do companies that just happen to have location information have to assist law enforcement in these cases? Should we even be going down this sort of road to begin with? I’m aware that the man’s potential suicide makes it seem barbaric, but I’m much more comfortable in a more private (I guess?) world where police must rely on observable data instead of conscripting telecom corporations.

    • Anonymously says:

      @Unsolicited Advice: Very true, but ethics wasn’t the sticking point in this story, money was.

      • Unsolicited Advice says:

        @Greg []:

        If you’re concentrating on the CSR demanding $20, I would say you’re missing the forest for the trees.

        • Justin Wolford says:

          @Unsolicited Advice: It seems that the CSR’s reasoning is the important part. If the CSR said “We cant do that because it is an invasion of our customers privacy” that would be an argument suggesting that Verizon cares about privacy.

          As is, there was no ethical question when it came to tracking a person. Verizon was fine with that, as long as someone paid his bill. We are already in the world where there is no privacy due to companies like Verizon. As long as we are in that world (good or bad) Verizon shouldn’t be demanding the police pay someones bill to help save his life.

          So the argument that this is good because it it is protecting privacy is a bit flawed, because if you were actually paying your bill on time you would have LESS privacy in Verizons book.

  7. Jfielder says:

    Wow, that is awful. I’ve always been a fan of Verizon. They generally seem to be the lesser of the evils as far as phone companies go. But dang. This is just terrible.

  8. Skankingmike says:

    Verizon is an evil crap company…. but they have great cell coverage… sigh…….

    • tailstoo says:

      @Skankingmike: All Cell Phone companies are evil, but you are right, Verizon is more so than most.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @Skankingmike: Seriously…they have better cell coverage than AT&T, which I’m now on, but their customer service was terrible. I had to call at least three times to get anything done. The first time to make the request which was never carried out, the second time to confirm the original request and to fix the mistakes, and a third time to confirm that what was supposed to be done during the first call was fixed in the second call.

      I’ve called AT&T twice with questions and have spent a total of 4 minutes on hold. Perhaps they can detect my number and recognize that I’m a new customer, and that’s why.

      • Skankingmike says:

        @pecan 3.14159265: I spend no lie 3 hours in a Verizon store this weekend.

        I wanted to (finally) switch my line off my mothers than have my wife go under mine to get the discount from my company (20% YAY)

        In the end i just ended up going on my wife’s plan cause he kept taking me off and putting me back on my mothers (I wanted to upgrade and get my mother a phone for free)

        What should have been 15 mins tops turned into a Sunday killer

        I remained calm and apologized for having a difficult task for them. :P

    • merekat says:

      @Skankingmike: My work has me driving through the more rural parts of southern and southwest Ohio on a regular basis. My work cell and work broadband cards are Verizon, and I have a personal cell though Cincinnati Bell. More often than not, I cannot get a signal on my work cell, but I have a good one on my personal cell (which switches to AT&T once I am out of town).

  9. Blueskylaw says:

    ::::::::BREAKING NEWS HEADLINE::::::::

    Cops arrive at Verizon headquarters on reports of a shooting. They are negotiating with Verizon to expedite their mail in phone rebates before agreeing to enter the building.

  10. rpm773 says:

    I wouldn’t think a guy who has issues with medication and with suspended cell phone service would have his phone turned on and/or his battery charged. Nevertheless….

  11. Matt Sherlock says:

    Kinda torn on this one. On the one hand, this is really just the flip side of non-plan cell phones being able to dial 911. On the other hand, I can see the authorities abusing this as a means to track people (criminals, deadbeat parents, etc.) at the expense of the cell companies.

    • JGKojak says:

      @Matt Sherlock:
      It costs the cell company NOTHING(!!!) to turn a phone on and triangulate someone’s location.

      And if they’re unwilling to hunt for, say, a lost teenager or elderly person, WTF???

      And I’d assume they would need a warrant to track a criminal in this manner- and anyone running from the law would be stupid to bring their cell phone.

      • Matt Sherlock says:

        @JGKojak:

        It costs in time. And I’m not saying I disagree with the police asking for the help, but what if they actually came to the office and asked the Verizon Wireless folks to join in the search? Should they be required to do so? That being said, the fact that the guy owed money to Verizon Wireless should have made no difference and the VW employee was a jerk.

        Finally if the police would need a warrant to track a criminal via the GPS in their phone, wouldn’t they have needed something similar to find the victim in this case?

        • nakedscience says:

          @Matt Sherlock:

          but what if they actually came to the office and asked the Verizon Wireless folks to join in the search?

          …But they didn’t. And that’s not the same thing as asking them to turn on the service to allow them to track the guy. It’s no where near the same, so why are you comparing the two?

          • Matt Sherlock says:

            @nakedscience:

            You say it’s nowhere near the same and I say it’s just a difference of scale. If VW isn’t legally obligated to do what the deputy asked, then they have the right to say no. Does it make them jerks to say no? Probably. Does it make them wrong? No.

            But again, like I agreed, the past due bill shoudn’t have factored into it. If it’s the comapny policy to respond in a positive manner to police requests, than it should have been done without the bill being brought up. If it’s policy to respond in a negative manner, that also should have been done without trying to get the bill paid.

        • nakedscience says:

          @Matt Sherlock:

          wouldn’t they have needed something similar to find the victim in this case?

          And, no, they wouldn’t, because in an emergency the police have a bit more range in what they can do — especially if the guy is a danger to himself or to someone else. They had “probable cause” if you will.

    • shepd says:

      @Matt Sherlock:

      The police are normally billed for these activities anyways, so they aren’t out any money.

      The fact that they wouldn’t allow the police to do emergency work just because of an overdue bill is ridiculous. Wait until this happens with those cars that stop running if you are late on your lease payments–are they going to refuse to start it if the police commandeer one?

      • Matt Sherlock says:

        @shepd:

        You’re right – the fact that the overdue bill factored into it was ridiculous.

      • Radi0logy says:

        @shepd: “Wait until this happens with those cars that stop running if you are late on your lease payments–are they going to refuse to start it if the police commandeer one?”

        Somebody’s been watching too many police movies!

        Eddie Murphy: “Excuse me Ma’am I need to borrow your car!”
        Lady: “BUT I JUST GOT IT DETAILED!!!! HEYYY!!!!!”

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @Matt Sherlock: Uhh. Err.
      It’s much more than criminals & deadbeats. Most of the major telecoms enabled the Federal government to illegally spy on millions of Americans, with no warrant, in direct violation of the FISA laws.

  12. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    When I was reading the article, I was much more concerned for the citizens around this guy than I was for the guy himself…obviously he’s a danger to himself, but with his violent tendencies of smashing windows and disappearing with a lot of medication which probably shouldn’t be mixed, I was more worried for people he might encounter while out in the world than I was for him.

    • ThinkerTDM says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: Hence the need to find him.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        @ThinkerTDM: I’m sure the article was somewhat reduced to soundbytes, but there was never any mention about the safety of people who might encounter the man who was obviously unstable…the sheriff spoke only of the man himself. I’m working off the article, and have no doubt that the sheriff was concerned for other citizens as well.

    • greedychickenlittle says:

      @pecan 3.14159265:all the more reason to find him quickly. Not to sound cold to anyone he may have hurt while out in the world, but Verizon should’ve seen a lawsuit coming if he did hurt/kill anyone while the police were trying to find him.

  13. unobservant says:

    I have a question: do the cops have a special line to call when they need the cell phone companies to do stuff like this? If not, they should.

    I just wonder if maybe the CSR thought that, based on previous notes that the guy was crazy and liked to make stuff up, maybe he was trying to get his phone turned on.

    The reason why I ask this is that, when I was a CSR/tech at a major computer company, I got a call from a cop who wanted information about a serial number because it was reported stolen. Nothing I told him was, in my opinion, of any incriminating importance (nor was it a life-or-death situation), but you can bet your SA that I asked him a lot of questions (badge number, full name, contact number, etc.).

    • rpm773 says:

      @unobservant: That’s a good question. I’d also think there would be special channels that law enforcement could use to have something like this done immediately. Wading through standard customer service seems a little inefficient, particularly if the CSR has to verify the he’s actually speaking with law enforcement.

      Also, I’m not defending Verizon, but the cop rattling off to the media about Verizon’s behavior afterwards seems kind of pointless and pedantic. I’d think there’d be more efficient ways for the cop to make sure he didn’t have this problem in the future.

    • flamincheney says:

      @unobservant:

      While watching the First 48 one night they had a cop call into a cell provider, and they had part of the audio. It sounded to me that they called the normal customer service number, and the rep from their escalated the matter.

      You do think they would have standard protocol for dealing with such matters though (both the police and the provider).

      • unobservant says:

        @rpm773: After dealing with so many types of customers in so many types of industries, I’m afraid that I would likely waste valuable minutes by pullng the old trick of saying, “Look. I’m going to call you back through the listed number for the Ohio police so I can verify your identity.” They need to ask Horatio Caine for his Rolodex.

        @flamincheney: I saw that one as well, but I couldn’t remember if they had gone through customer service or not.

      • corinthos says:

        @unobservant: I’m at att and ours doesn’t. We are just told that lawyers and warrants all ready have the numbers they should contact and we have no way to give them out or find them.

        If I got this call I’d probably just escalate it to my supervisor and have them deal with it. Would have to lie to my supervisor and say they asked for them but I’m not handling that. Cop probably wouldn’t even be able to verify through to access the account in our ssytems.

  14. newdeepdan says:

    Would Verizon be in trouble in terms of impeding a police investigation?

    • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

      @newdeepdan: Thats what I thought.

      But it’d be one thing if they withheld info, but they were asking to turn on his service. He didn’t pay his bill, so per their contract they could shut the services. I don’t know if refusing to offer a service when the bill isn’t paid would be considered impeding. It may, but I can kinda see the grey area.

    • unobservant says:

      @newdeepdan: Unfortunately, rebuking some random guy who calls into customer service, claims to be a cop, and tries to activate the delinquent account of a man who may or may not have notes about how unstable he is may not be construed as obstruction.

      It sucks, but this is why more direct avenues need to be set up between the police and the services they need to access in criminal investigations.

    • Nighthawke says:

      @newdeepdan: That and FCC regs regarding assisting law enforcement officials.

      Their lame billing excuse is going to get more than a few CSR’s retrained, if not shit-canned.

      I can see the AG, if not the Guv’nor getting involved in this one, going after them for this sham.

      • Adrienne Willis says:

        @Nighthawke: Was the call center based in the US (I dont know if Verizon outsources)? If it was outsourced who then takes the blame on Verizon’s end for this fiasco?

        • Nighthawke says:

          @Adrienne Willis: The quality of the training the outsourced CSRs got.

          You’d think they would have a big binder colored red that has all procedures that they would employ when a law enforcement official calls in with such a request.
          My question is do they have such a binder and is it actually used, or does it sit on a shelf and gather dust while CSR’s bluff their way through one disaster after another?

          Verizon needs to perform an audit of those procedures and check their metrics to see if their CSR’s are actually doing what the book says to do.

  15. ephdel says:

    ::Face-palm::

  16. JGKojak says:

    There is such a thing as civic responsibility.

  17. flamincheney says:

    At what point would this play into obstruction of justice? Or would the police have to have a court order ignored first?

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @flamincheney: I don’t know if it’s obstruction of justice if the case being investigated isn’t a crime. As far as I can determine from the article, the man they were seeking had not committed a crime.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Verizon pulled the same crap a few years ago when an 18 year old girl was abducted, on camera, from a Target Parking lot. Verizon refused to provide triangulation information for 3 days. Kansas recently passed a law requiring better cooperation from wireless companies – legislation pushed by the girls family.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Kelsey_Smith#Search

    I thought these companies were big on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)… I didn’t know complying with the law qualified you for being a good CSR participant…

  19. sam1am says:

    Um. I realize the need for Verizon to help out in this situation, but shouldn’t they need a warrant to get someone’s location information?

    • morlo says:

      @sam1am: Indeed. The next time I have a fit when some idiot wants to look at my receipt or ID at a store I really don’t want the police tracking me so they can tase me.

  20. grapedog says:

    Sorry, I was(and still am) a robot when I was on the phones. I don’t care if people are dying…not my problem. As heartless as it may sound, you have only the bad apples to blame.

    Everyone wants customer service, and hey, I’d love to give great customer service…but when 95% of the people you talk to are lying through their teeth, well…it ruins it for the people who could actually be helped.

    You better hope you never call me when you need genuine customer service…

    • picardia says:

      @grapedog: Speaking of bad apples, it appears to take one to know one.

    • Anonymous says:

      @grapedog: geez…maybe that was you who was refusing to turn my electricity back on when I had 2 letters saying I was approved for energy assistance and an authorized medical note from a doctor saying I needed electricity to run my vaporizers and nebulizers.

      Thanks to GOOD customer serviceI am now enjoying the “luxury” of being able to breathe again

    • shepd says:

      @grapedog:

      It’s my experience that the only way to get good customer service is to lie. My perfect example:

      I was trying to buy a used cable box. The cable co will not allow me to set one up on my account one that comes up stolen, leased equipment, or if the owner has an overdue bill with them. To know the status of the box requires me to phone the cable co with the serial number. So I use kijiji and visit someone to buy one off of.

      I tried calling in the serial number while standing at this person’s door, explaining the situation legitimately. The answer? Nope, can’t help you, it’s against our corporate policy.

      I call back and claim to be running a pawn shop, and I tell them someone just brought me in a receiver, but that I have to check if it is stolen and if it is valid for me to sell to someone before I make the buy. “Give me the serial… …just a moment… yes, that equipment is legitimate and can be transferred.”

      Now I just lie first and ask questions later. I am 95% willing to bet your corporate policies suck and that’s why your customers lie so much.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      @grapedog: I’m sorry that your customer service experiences have been craptastic, but as a rep myself I always try to do the best I can for the people I speak with. I’m not going to tell them AT&T sucks, because that would get me fired, but I’ll try to get their bill to a reasonable amount – just today I saw a billing error and helped a lady save money!

  21. AT203 says:

    In my experiences with Verzion, I don’t think that this was an isolated “bad apple” customer service representative. The stupidity in face of a published policy REEKS of Verizon’s corporate culture.

  22. R3PUBLIC0N says:

    f y’r tryng t b prfssnl tlt fr cnsmr strs, y rlly shld prfrd yr wrtng t lst nc bfr pttng t p.

    Wht th hll s ths, th 6th grd?

  23. usa_gatekeeper says:

    Let’s hope the Verizon installers / service people in sheriff Williams’ area don’t need any help in the near future.

    But, from what I read, he’ll probably still do everything for them that he can, being the good person he is apparently.

  24. JaideepG2002 says:

    Story has some loopholes… So some random guy was rampaging around someone’s house and then the cops came and he was gone. So how did the cops know who he was and what his cell phone # was and that it was w/ Verizon?

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @JaideepG2002: I thought he was rampaging around his own house. And maybe Verizon is the biggest provider in that area and they made an educated leap.

    • greedychickenlittle says:

      @JaideepG2002: the story says “his house” and it was a domestic disturbance call, not a break in by a stranger. Sounds as if a family member was in a rage. They knew he took pill bottles and had to assume he would take the pills. Who knows what he may have already been on or had wrong with him? A family member, or even roommate, would know what cell company a person’s with.

  25. savdavid says:

    See? Corporations care more about profits than their customers. Just another example. If a man has to nearly die so they can make another 20 bucks to pay for Verizon’s CEO afternoon snack, so be it.

    • morlo says:

      @savdavid: Do you spend your days monitoring missing persons cases and searching for them for free? Or do you need to work and carry on your own business?

  26. SW says:

    I don’t see how it would come to this. There are call centers designed to work with law enforcement officials in this type of situations. The call center should have forwarded the sheriff to the proper center.

  27. Sam Brougher says:

    I know everyone wants to vilify the big corporate bad people, but working customer service lines has got to be like working tech support in Hell. Not only are people calling with problems that either A. aren’t really problems, or B. could be easily fixed themselves if they’d just pay attention, but many people are trying to lie and cheat their way to a better deal or free service. I bet these people get several phony calls a day similar to this.

    Caller: “Yes, I’m the Sheriff, and we need you to activate [person's] phone so we can track it.”

    Service Rep: “Oh, why Sheriff, how nice to hear from you again. You did just call an hour ago with a similar request for a different person, but I just KNOW you’re the REAL Sheriff, so I’ll get RIGHT ON activating that account for you. PLEASE HOLD.”

    There’s a reason why cops have badges: identification. You can’t flash a badge over the phone.

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      @Sam Brougher: I have a friend who is a police officer, and she provides her information and the telephone number of her precinct when doing official business over the phone. Sometimes she’s put on hold so the other person can contact the precinct and sometimes not, but I think it would border on the ridiculous to just presume every person identifying themselves as a police officer is a fake and hang up on them.

    • AT203 says:

      @Sam Brougher: :sigh: Do you really think that law enforcement calls the ordinary customer service number to get E911 location tracking from service providers? Or is it more likely that there is a special number and procedure for law enforcement to use?

      My conjecture is that they law enforcement officers went through the established E911 channel, but the account representative could not activate some feature on the phone because the account balance was +60 days overdue, and the system would not let them access the feature they needed.

      The solution would be to issue a sufficient courtesy credit to unlock the feature, and then worrying about billing it later.

  28. Anonymous says:

    That’s outrageous and I want to spread this tale as much as I can after I confirm it. I’ll see Verizon fall. I am tired of letting people take money over life, and relationships and I can;t do it anymore. I have lost too many friends, too many jobs, too much of myself and I am ready to do whatever it takes to show people that there is a better way to live, simply by being a little more selfless and placing value on the important things in life, not your own self image or wallet book.

  29. razremytuxbuddy says:

    In Kansas, the legislature just passed a law that would require the cell phone company to cooperate in a timely manner with the police searching for someone whose life is perceived to be in danger.

    It’s informally known as the Verizon law.

  30. semidazed says:

    I know a woman that this happened to. Her ex-husband was being pursued by the police (for possible abduction, no less) and when they tried to trace him via cellphone, they were told they had to pay a $200 first to get the phone turned on.

    Sadly for my friend, the police decided to make that her responsibility.

  31. Michael Norton says:

    Why would they think Verizon would even be *able* to turn on his phone without having physical access to it?

    • AT203 says:

      @Michael Norton: I think the reporter, or perhaps the police, are just technologically illiterate with their terminology. From context, it seems clear that they mean “turn on” the E911 location tracking feature of the handset. And by “turn on,” they actually mean turn on and supply the law enforcement officers with the location data.

  32. Garbanzo says:

    There was a story from last year in which Verizon dragged its feet helping the police look for an abducted woman:

    [consumerist.com]

  33. Major-General says:

    Par for the course for Verizon.

  34. zentec says:

    Would this be the same Verizon that nicked me $1.99 because I accidentally hit “enter” when the cursor on my phone was over the “Get It Now” icon while I was trying to get into my contacts folder in the bright sunlight?

    Yes, why yes it’s the same Verizon that charges $1.99 per megabyte of data when an accidental key press uses 31 kilobytes of data.

    Thanks guys. While the coverage is second to none in Michigan, this kind of a thirst for money is really getting old. And the selection of phones sucks too.

  35. feckingmorons says:

    There is a LEO liason at all telcos. If they were able to track the signal, that same department can have the phone activated.

    Calling customer service was simply not the appropriate point of contact.

  36. MooseOfReason says:

    This is too much.

    There was no dying involved. Verizon wasn’t “willing to let a man die unless” his overdue bill was paid. The man ran away.

    Too misleading.

  37. Anonymous says:

    The problem here is the csr cannot turn on phone turned off for non payment that would have to go to the financial services department and even if you could get financial services to turn it on….well…you do have to be the customer not just someone claiming to be a LEO. Now cell phone companies will allow anyone to pay a bill if you have the number. The CSR offered a solution and if the sheriff really needed the phone he could of charged the 20.00 to his credit card in few minutes.

  38. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    As someone currently in training to be an AT&T rep, they most likely spoke with someone at the very bottom of the rung who would give the canned responses of “there’s nothing we can do for you until you pay your bill.”

  39. watchout5 says:

    Welcome to capitalism, Verizon doesn’t give a shit about your life unless your bill is current, very few companies are any different.

    • MooseOfReason says:

      @watchout5: “Thank you for calling the Washington, D.C. rescue hotline. Please fill out the following forms and mail them in to our headquarters. We’ll make sure you’re rescued within 12 to 14 business days.”

  40. turkeyspam says:

    Again, it comes down the same core problem: Verizon sucks ass! I laugh at people who use them; it’s only a matter of time until they stick in you. They ripped me off once and I would go without an isp and cell provider if they were the only choice.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Any one can impersonate a police officer on the phone, if the CS agent just waived the bill and it turned out that it wasnt even a police offer then what?

    Did every one forget the case w/ mcdonalds where some random guy impersonated a cop and made the girl strip?

    Seriously people when looking at these things, think of it both ways before slamming verizon or CS.

  42. greedychickenlittle says:

    When I’ve had to deal with customer service reps giving the run-around, the first thing I make clear to them is that I’m not pissed at them, the person, but with the company. And I ask to speak to managers if the rep can’t do anything. So it really wasn’t the Verizon reps fault, except for not getting a manager on the line.
    I’d’ve thought the police would have better access to a telcom than calling customer service anyway.
    That said, if the guy had died, Verizon wouldn’t have gotten any $$. You think they’d’ve at least wanted to help keep him alive so they could get collections after him.