Verizon Blames Improper Billing Of Non-Verizon Customers On Human Error

Yesterday, we reported on the Attorney General of Wisconsin filing a lawsuit against Verizon for sending bills to people who had never subscribed to any Verizon services. Today, a rep for Big V contacted Consumerist to give the telecom titan’s side of the story.

While the rep said he wouldn’t comment on specifics of the lawsuit, he did give the following statement to Consumerist:

Due to a human error in July 2008, fewer than 210 Verizon customers in Wisconsin were incorrectly billed by Verizon for communications service. Verizon self reported this error to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection when we discovered it. All these customers have been identified, and all have been credited for the amount they were billed, which totaled less than $7,200 for all affected customers.

The lawsuit seeks penalties of up to $15,000 per violation, along with unspecified restitution to affected customers.

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  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Somehow I doubt there would be a lawsuit if all money had been properly and timely returned.

  2. Tim says:

    and all have been credited for the amount they were billed

    Uhh. I hope they don’t mean Verizon credit that you can only use for Verizon services. Aren’t all these people non-Verizon customers? Why would they want Verizon credit?

    • Difdi says:

      If they were given Verizon credit rather than refunds, that would definitely explain the lawsuit…

    • ablestmage says:

      I’m presuming it meant that the error was recognized and, instead of accepting actual payment, the accounts were credited with paid balances as if they had actually been paid — although, I’d have preferred they removed the account altogether, had it been me. I can’t imagine anyone had actually paid money for a Verizon bill for services they never took out.

  3. Gramin says:

    Really Wisconsin? Less than $7,200 in incorrect billing and you’re suing for $15,000 per violation. Seems a bit ridiculous, especially since Verizon reported this to the appropriate departments.

    Additionally, their response seems to indicate that all those incorrectly billed were actually Verizon customers, not non-customers as was stated by the AG.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      So you automatically believe what Verizon’s PR says?

      • Gramin says:

        No… but I also don’t automatically believe what an attorney says.

        • aka_mich says:

          The Wisconsin Department of Justice, at the request of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, has filed an enforcement action against Verizon Long Distance LLC and Verizon North Inc. (collectively, “Verizon”).

          Taken straight from the original article. It’s not coming from an attorney.

    • Polish Engineer says:

      According to the stories, this happened in 2008 and Verizon was continuing to harass these people to the point of sending them to collections. Two years of failing to correct an issue, and hurting someone’s credit, tends to lead to stiff fines.

      Further, they weren’t even billing Verizon customers, they were receiving services from Powercom. So someone is lying.

    • Damocles57 says:

      Really, Gramin?

      You are making a broad assumption about the specifics of the lawsuit which were not discussed nor do you know.

      What if Verizon had repeatedly tried to collect on these “false” charges dispite being told they were false? What if Verizon had imposed late fees on top of the “false” charges? What if Verizon had sold these “false” charges and late fees to debt collectors who continued to harrass these 210 or so people for a debt not owed? What if the debt collectors transferred the accounts to even more debt collectors? What about the false reporting of unpaid debts reported to the credit unions? What about the domino effect felt by the 210 or so people if they had credit denied, CC’s cancelled, interest on loans increased, etc.?

      Give the AG from Wisconsin some credit for knowing if this type of lawsuit is justified and kudos to the state for looking out for and defending the rights of the consumer against aggressive, large, mindless, bureautcratic – and often predatory – companies.

    • Putaro says:

      It’s so they don’t do it again.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      As pointed out, repeatedly, this error happened to non-Verizon customers.

      The question is: What in the hell were non-Verizon customers doing in Verizon’s billing system?

      • Damocles57 says:

        Here is the link to the original complaint filed by the AG in Wisconsin. The specific charges are spelled out (albeit in lawyer speak).

        http://consumerist.com/Summons-Complaint-Filed.pdf

        It sounds like a case of slamming a group of customers from Powercom in Wisconsin by Verizon. The customers did not “affirmatively” order certain services from Verizon. It does not appear that Powercom is named as a defendent.

    • Pax says:

      You’re absolutely right, $15,000 is a ridiculous fine to seek.

      … it’s ridiculous, because there aren’t enough zero’s on the left-hand side of the decimal point. Seriously, a company like Verizon isn’t going to feel that sort of fee – even if it’s awarded for all 210 cases (totalling $3,150,000 in fees). Verizon does, what, a quarter-billion dollars in business, anually? Add a zero to those fines, and THEN we’re talking “appropriate”.

      • Damocles57 says:

        If you read the complaint filed by the AG, the penalty applies to each violation: each separate billing sent to a customer counts as an infraction.

        Assuming each person received a year’s worth of bills, that would be 12 x $15,000 x 210 = $37,800,000. Additionally, each ignored request to cancel the improper billing is an infraction. I don’t know how many of the 210 called or wrote to contest the charges, but I could imagine each person trying at least once with a few trying multiple times. My guess is that each of the 210 people would have at least 12 instances that could constitute a violation. The complaint also asks for awarding the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Department of Justice payments for all (reasonable) expenses for preparation, investigation and prosecution of the case plus statutory costs.

    • DFManno says:

      And how long have you worked for Verizon?

  4. HogwartsProfessor says:

    If their billing is still so trashed that this could even happen, maybe part of the judgment should be that they clean that mess up.

  5. dg says:

    Human error, computer error – regardless of how it happened, it DID happen to enough people for the WI AG to file a lawsuit. This never would have happened if Verizon:

    a) Had their ducks in a row to begin with
    b) Had fixed the issue without delay or the usual Ma Bell BS for whomever it happened to
    c) Apologized to the victims for the error.

    They only self-reported it because they knew the AG would find out sooner or later and then they’d be deeper in the tank than they already are.

    I say fine them the full $15K per violation + whatever other punitive damages the State can get. Send a message to these jerks that there is no excuse for not doing what they’re supposed to in the first place.

    • dblevins says:

      There is NO SUCH THING AS A COMPUTER ERROR. That would mean the computer adds, say, 2 and 2 and does not get 4. Chance of happening is vanishing small.

      Most “computer errors” are programming errors and that is, yet again, a human error.

      • dg says:

        Actually, that’s not entirely true. There’s a theorem in computer science which states that once you start a program running, you can’t tell with 100% certainty what it will do, or that it will run as it is supposed to.

        This is due to the simple reason that computers are subject to mechanical failure – it can be a chip or a hard drive or some other component that failed, or was adversely affected by outside forces such as EMI or Cosmic Rays. So yes, it is possible that it was a “computer error”, or it could have been a programming error (Ob. OfficeSpace Ref: “I keep messing up those mundane details!”).

  6. windycity says:

    “Due to a human error in July 2008, fewer than 210 Verizon customers in Wisconsin were incorrectly billed by Verizon

    I thought the people who were billed had never subscribed to any Verizon services? How did they go from non-subscribers to “Verizon customers”? Is Verizon trying to make the issue less egregious by implying that these individual’s information was already in the system and some CSR accidently pushed the wrong key on the computer and billed them? Because otherwise, I’m curious about how Verizon has enough information on people who have never subscribed to their services to “accidentally” bill them for services they never signed up for.

  7. oldtaku says:

    Somewhere a computer is weeping in happiness at not being blamed for the error for once.

  8. Schmeeky says:

    Did the “human error” get a commission? Having some knowledge of telecom service add-ons, I’ve seen something similar to this where services are added by a 3rd party sales company similar to slamming.

  9. headhot says:

    So did the fix the credit reports in inform the credit agencies of the mistake?

  10. DowneMixedBoi says:

    Good, They need to pay up.

    What do they do when you make a mistake and go over your minute/data usage??
    Charge you a hell of a lot more then it cost them to render the service.

    This lawsuit is only fair.

    This is a win for WINCONSIN Verizon users..ooooopsy. I mean Wisconsin.

  11. Draygonia says:

    Notice how they say fewer and never say “more” or “as much as”? Apparently, its no big deal.

    • Nytmare says:

      Haha I noticed that. “Fewer than 210″ = more than 200. Or even “just over 200″ for a nice neutral statement. But this corporation prefers weaselly PR fluff which reduces my trust of them.

  12. vastrightwing says:

    OH! This was HUMAN error, so that makes it OK everyone. I’m glad they’ve gone past blaming computers. After all, who programmed the darn thing? Another computer? LOL.

    I have an image of all those Verizon people in the TV ads running away real fast now. “Hey wait! Where are you going?”

  13. Bob says:

    Yep, Human error. This makes everything OK, right? Chernobyl’s Nuclear Reactor blows up, but that is OK because it was caused by human error. Another fly-by-night telecom company starts billing you for services you don’t have and you aren’t even a customer with them, Oopsie, Human Error! That’s OK, right?

    This “human error” is about as valid a excuse as “my dog ate the homework” argument.

    I don’t think their excuse will go far with the State of Wisconsin.

    • Daniellethm says:

      Wisconsin is my home state, I freaking love that place, and new advertising for them should now read : “Come to Wisconsin, we have great beer, cheese curds, and effective consumer rights practices.”

  14. zimmi88 says:

    Ahh, human error that resulted in people that were never Verizon subscribers getting billed. Wait, what? Some CSR deciding to get back at some neighbors or something? Because that’s the only way I can picture non-customer information getting into their billing system.

    Actually, could work as the next big Hollywood flick. Add some thunder and maniacal laughter and you’re halfway there.

  15. oldwiz65 says:

    They admitted it since they got caught. If you don’t have an account with Verizon in the first place why in the world would you want credit from Verizon? And what about the damage to the misbilled consumers credit ratings? Just imagine trying to get credit after that. Verizon is trying to keep the government from spanking them.

  16. dush says:

    Well they just admitted they made an error. That should make it easier for the prosecution.

    • Damocles57 says:

      The act is not in question. The state needs to prove that Verizon knew – or should have known – that their billings were in error. Did Verizon have mens rea? The final amount of the financial penalties will be determined by the extent of the “errors”, the actual costs to those people who were harmed, the type of harm, and the type of message the state wants to send to Verizon and any other offending business who might use similar tactics and business practices or who might “confess” to similar “errors” when confronted in an attempt to minimize the penalty portion of their assessment.

  17. areaman says:

    …fewer than 210 Verizon customers in Wisconsin were incorrectly billed by Verizon for communications service

    This is just Verizon spin. They only come out and say how many of their customers were screwed. They won’t come out and say how many people over all the screwed.

    But good for them own up at least part of the way and say people are the problem and not the equipment/computers their people decided to use.

  18. xcharliemx says:

    1 day to issue a statement, 1 year to get your credit report fixed and 50,000 calls between verizon and the credit bureau.

  19. Shonky McShonk says:

    Was that blame letter computer generated???

    Think about it.