Verizon Wants $500 For 35MB Of Phantom Data Use

Chris is taking on Verizon over what he says are fraudulent cell phone data plan charges. He says his dad uses an old plan that charges 1.5 cents per kilobyte as opposed to Verizon’s current rate of $2 per megabyte. There are 1,024 kilobytes in a megabyte.

On top of all that, Chris swears there’s no way his dad could have even accidentally used the data.

He writes:

*Phone is not used for data, and the web browser has never been opened.

*Phone user uses the phone as an offline PDA with the ability to make phone calls, and therefore, there is no reason for data to have been used.

*Verizon was unable to provide a list of IP addresses for the data use incurred.

*Verizon thought it acceptable to charge $500 for 35 MB of data consumed (that nobody
in my family can think of how it could have been consumed, even accidentally).

*Verizon was unwilling to help with a credit of any sort unless I stated that I would remain with the company as my wireless provider.

*Never was I connected directly to a supervisor, even when I requested it (twice, with different representatives).

This is absolutely outrageous. Never have I felt so violated by a company. If you wish to publish this on the Consumerist blog, please do so. Any suggestions as to how we could resolve this issue and get a proper apology and credit from Verizon would be appreciated.

Verizon is balking at Chris’s complaint. Has anything like this happened to you your technophobic parents?

Comments

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  1. dgm says:

    Isn’t Verizon the one where you can easily accidentally use lots of data?

    I’m not trying to blame the guy’s dad, and I think Verizon should be able to provide evidence of the data usage, if they want to collect the money. But I do think this kind of user “error” might be to blame.

  2. a354174 says:

    “Never have I felt so violated by a company”

    Someone hasn’t used Paypal.

    • zegron says:

      Personally I’ve never had a problem with Paypal, they’ve even defended me successfully against a fraudulent Chargeback.

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    FTC complaint? Also your state’s AG and all that jazz. That, and just hanker down with them. demand proof of the usage and continue seeking higher-ups.

    Try and EECB using Consumerist’s Verizon contact information (See Company Directory)

  4. Chmeeee says:

    At that rate, my iPhone would be costing me $113,000 per year. Good thing it costs 0.8% of that.

    • DariusC says:

      At that rate, I would be paying over half a million for my phone per year… going off of 3 gigs per month (my usage). Extortion? Yes

      • domcolosi says:

        Well, in fairness to Verizon, the data plan is very old. OP’s dad could have changed plans, but he hasn’t because he doesn’t want to sign a new contract.

        I don’t think the issue here is the rate, it’s that the OP’s dad couldn’t have used so much data.

        Had the data use been legit, the pricing is fair and already agreed upon. In this case, though, I don’t think there was this much actual data use.

  5. Maebe says:

    With Verizon, you can’t even upgrade to a smart phone on your “New Every Two” program without adding a $29.99 data package to your plan. They’re doing plenty of siphoning already. Sad.

  6. Hi_Hello says:

    even if his had somehow used 35mb of data, how is that 500 bucks?? maybe my math is off… 15 bucks per MB??

  7. CuriousGeorge113 says:

    You need to have a data block placed on this line. I believe the feature is “Block National Access.”

    I am a former VZW rep, and I have seen this before. I suspect your dad is using a Treo or another older Windows Mobile device. It is really easy to accidentally turn on data services on the phone, and unless you have it blocked in the billing system, this can happen.

    Most likely scenario: He left his device sit somewhere for 10 minutes, and someone else picks it up and starts browsing espn.com. If you’re on the non-mobile site, you can hit 35 MB of data transfer really quickly.

    Best angle of attack for getting anything is ask for courtesy credits, because if you push on this issue, they will push back. If you want to battle this, do so, but just remember they have more resources then you (and they may be right, there may have been 35mb of data transfer on the device). Maybe you’ll win, but count up your costs in getting there, if they send you to a collection agency of this, its going to be a long, hard fight.

  8. APCO25guy says:

    Solution: call CS and ask for the 29.99 unlimited Smartphone data package (while you can still get it) and ASK POLITELY if they will back date it: 29.99 is much cheaper than $500. The problem is Smartphones (and we aren’t even clear from the OP which model is in question) can use data even if used for “voice only” IF certain applications and features are left enabled, such as auto updates, etc. This is why the cellphone companies want to force you to pick some type of data plan other than PPU. And Verizon has never been able to explain how they bill their PPU data anyway.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I was able to do something similar with Cingular. On a vacation several years ago, my family had about 500 text messages. I did the math in my head prior to the end of the billing date and realized how insanely expensive it would be. I called them and they retroactively gave me a text message plan.

      • zandar says:

        and the juggernaut that ate Cingular, AT&T, did the exact same thing for me. No requirement to extend the contract, just backdated a data plan for a month. Surely there is an option like this buried somewhere in the Verizon customer service protocol.

        • justjoe says:

          There was no “juggernaut eating” of Cingular. Cingular was a joint venture between SBC (which actually was the juggernaut that ate AT&T) and BellSouth (eaten by the “new AT&T”). Cingular was simply dropped as a brand name since AT&T wanted to market all of its products under one name. Granted, a lot of things have changed in the 3 years since this change, but they were going to happen anyway.

  9. JKxZ says:

    This happened to me a few years back. VZW decided to be clever and block access to eBay.com from the web browser on my Samsung SCH-910. So I had to buy an app for eBay for like $7.99

    At the time you had the option of having a $50 data plan, or you could access the web by the minute and that was deducted from your call minutes. I did not have a data plan, and I monitored my minutes so I knew if I was going to go over.

    What I didn’t know is that VZW would not report the data minutes usage as a real time value.

    One month after the close of my billing cycle I saw that I was thousands of minutes over for the previous month. After talking with a CSR I found out that all the overage was due to data minutes. The data usage was timestamped between 2AM and 7AM. There was a “bug” in the eBay application that would cause it to open in the middle of the night and start consuming data.

    VZW’s solution was for me to pay the bill for the month which was +$600, and sign up for a data plan.

    I fought back telling them I should not be responsible for charges caused by a software bug they essentially forced me into using.

    I filed a complaint with the BBB, and they responded, but did it in such a way that I did not have time to reject their proposal of me paying the bill and getting a data plan.

    In the end I ended up paying the bill and canceling when the lied to me about the material contract changes as a result of increasing text messaging fees. They never notified me of the changes, wanted me to buy a texting package, and I had 3 levels of CSR tell me I need to leave AFTER the contract lock date, which would have resulted in ETF… Which they attempted to charge me anyway.

    I had a device issue early on when they sold me a phone that could play MP3’s but only if I subscribed to VCAST, paid for the monthly fees, and converted all my music to a DRM’d version of WMA.

    After dealing with their non-stop bullshit I vowed then to never deal with Verizon in any way shape or form again. Which is why I have shunned Google in light of their “Net Neutrality” deal.

  10. keith4298 says:

    Most States have laws regarding explanations for charges. Check them out in your state and tell Verizon they must comply. If not, there’s a lawsuit for that. Be simple yet firm and then sue em.

  11. JayPhat says:

    YES! Sprint did this to me in 2007/2008. My phone bll would slowly creep up with “data” charges even though I never used a browser on the phone(it was a RAZR). So imagine my surprise when I go to make a phone call one day and the phone is shut off with a $450 “data” charge on the phone. I was told it was for data usage even though the month before I signed up for an unlimited data plan for $15/month to cut this crap out (I figure $15 is alot better than 75). I asked what I accessed that charged it. “Data usage”. WHere I ask. “it’s data usage.” “I’ll tell you what. You tell me what I POSSIBLY could have accessed that would warrant this charge, and I will POSSIBLY consider paying the bill. Otherwise, I’m not paying this damn phone bill as I consider it invalid.” To this day they have never pursued it.

  12. maraa01 says:

    Dont be surprised by not getting a supervisor when you call Verizon, unless you call a store. We have a company that answers for Verizon in our town. The company, Sitel, has told its operators that they may only pass on a certain number of calls to supervisors (some ridiculously low number like 4 a month). If they go over that number they can be written up or fired. A friend recently stopped working for them because of this. On one hand, they would get in trouble for passing on too many calls, on the other hand, they got in trouble if a customer made a complaint about not being able to talk to a supervisor. After asking her boss how she could get in trouble for passing on calls and for having customers complain if they didnt pass on calls, and being told that it was ‘her problem to figure it out’ she quit the next day.

  13. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    There is an easy way to check:
    Goto Recent Calls: View Timers

    There is a lifetime call timer and a lifetime data counter that can not be reset. Check for usage. This is also good for checking on people you think may be cheating. They can delete their history, but never that counter.

    As for Verizon not being able to provide IP addresses, isn’t that a good thing?

  14. mbd says:

    If you were the FBI asking without the, required by law, court order they would happily provide you with those pesky IP addresses…

    • XTC46 says:

      I dont believe thats true. The company is required by law to hand over the data if ordered to do so by a court, but I dont think there is anything preventing them from giving up that data vouluntarily if they want to. Ive seen clauses for stuff like this in privacy statements previously, and it is generally covered.

  15. perfectly_cromulent says:

    Call back and talk to someone, like a supervisor, who actually knows what they are talking about. This is bogus.

  16. Eat The Rich -They are fat and succulent says:

    I had the same problem with Verizon earlier this spring. $200.00 worth of phantom internet data on a phone that wasn’t enabled for it and an account that didn’t even have internet access as an option!

    My calls to Customer Service were fruitless. They said that a corporate directive went out this spring that CSR’s were not to waive “phantom connection claims” or refund $1.99 “connection charges” which in the past were waived due to phantom connections.

    I voted with my feet and am now a Sprint customer. After 7 years with Verizon, they said “fuck you” and I replied…. “No…fuck YOU.”

  17. alexmmr says:

    Happened to me. Not to this extent though.

    But yes, I spent hours on the phone with Verizon trying to get them to tell me what my phone had been doing in my sleep. Why were there 2k used at 5am? What IP address did that go to? No really, you have records of the usage enough to charge me for those random little 2k and 8k uses and yet you don’t have records enough to tell me what actually happened between my phone and the cloud to incur those little bits of data? If you have a record of it enough to charge me for it, you should have record enough to tell me what data was used!

    For me, it came out to about a buck in charges. But if they can’t explain that dollar in charges, who’s to say that next month they won’t have $35 in charges that I can’t refute and they can’t explain? No one seemed to understand why I was upset about such small amounts. But ya know, a dollar from me every month, and I would assume a dollar from everyone else on Verizon, that’s a big chunk of ill gotten gain every month!

    If someone starts a class action lawsuit, please contact me. I want in on it.

  18. EllenRose says:

    This is why my camera takes pictures, my MP3 player plays music, and my phone does voice — ONLY. None of them can run up charges that way. (And when I take my phone out of the USA, I turn it off until I’m back in the States.)

    If I want Web access, I have a netbook for travel and a notebook for home and heavy-duty travel.

    • XTC46 says:

      Im just a responsible consumer and make sure I know how to use my device. I have an iPhone with a data plan, I also have a netbook, notebook, iPod classic, 4g wireless hotspot from sprint, and numerous other devices.

      When I want to travel light, I grab my phone and head off, I can access the web if I need to, snap a quick picture of something cool I see, and listen to music or watch a movie.

      There is nothing wrong with muti-use devices.

  19. acknight says:

    The $2/mb plan wasn’t offered for smartphones (the 1.5 cents/kb was, until they made the data plans mandatory, the per kb rate for smartphones). I ran into this with my old phone, a HTC (Verizon branded) 5800, a craptacular smartphone. Which they couldn’t actually figure out a way to put a data block *on*, either.

    • acknight says:

      Addendum: it’s worth noting that on Verizon smartphones, even if you have a SMS plan, multimedia messages (such as pix/flix messages) count against data, or at least they did.

  20. cvstrat says:

    As a long-time sales rep for AT&T, I have seen these complaints regularly. When faced with a 600 dollar phone bill most customers will lie like hell to avoid the charges. I can’t blame them. However after so many years of seeing these complaints, I can’t honestly say there was every a situation where the charges weren’t legit.

    The most common culprit was kids/grandkids. They pick up grandpas phone and facebook/youtube/myspace all day long. Of course grandpa swears he doesn’t even know what data is, and the grandkids realizing they’ve racked up $500 in data charges and are in huge trouble lie about it too. Eventually grandpa realizes the list of data charges I printed for him are on the exact dates his grandkid visited. A quick history check in the browser reveals facebook/youtube/myspace and kid eventually cracks saying “I didn’t know those used data”.

    Of course I’ve busted adults lying too, either they knew they did it, or their kids did it. Honestly even if you hit the browser button it’s not going to sit there and continually rack up charges, it will only bill for the data to load the startup page.

    I would personally have the charges reversed if the customer either blocks data altogether, or adds unlimited data. Either way we don’t want it to happen again. AT&T and Verizon now require unlimited data if you get a new smartphone, it’s no longer an option so this won’t happen as often.

  21. ShruggingGalt says:

    So someone wants Verizon to use the current billing rate, not the one under the old contract, which Verizon will honor until someone changes their contract.

    So, if it’s in the consumer’s advantage the company should pay, and if it’s in the company’s advantage, the consumer SHOULDN’T pay?

    How does this make sense? There is probably a reason why the old plan still exists and is still being used……

    If they are able to back date a plan, then he should sign a new 12 month min. contract with the *new* rates. Would that be a deal?

  22. tz says:

    They can break down the data usage on a daily basis – they have this data.

    However one thing to be careful with is plugging it into your computer (even to charge it, or to sync it for PDA functions if a correct driver is loaded). I have a MiFi and a non-smart phone, but if I plug in the phone into one of my laptops it is recognized as a cell modem and the laptop will make an internet connection – I noticed this when the phone’s display switched to a TX/RX speed screen. I pulled it but got a few K of usage. This should be blocked now, but they change things.

    The data and web connection can start without “the web browser” being opened – VCast or other hidden applications may do this (you could state the model of the phone – perhaps it is impossible, but more likely it might just be hidden.

  23. GregGates says:

    Definitely can be a bill shocker, though VZW’s existence is based around tracking millions of voice/data transactions every day. The data transfer is verified numerous times before the actual bill print and billed report.

    Honestly I stopped caring after this type of statement: “*Verizon thought it acceptable to charge $500 for 35 MB of data consumed.”

    Likely user error, take responsibility for the account, not enough details on the article, monitor your plan/features/rates more closely. Not using data will mean you don’t get charged for data. Sue them if you have proof you didn’t use it. Alleging fraudulent charges seemingly because it’s very expensive and “but my dad JUST DIDN’T DO IT” when they have verified proof on the transmission equipment that HE DID is too weak.

    • Anonymously says:

      And I’m tired of the any argument that “bill shock” is acceptable under any circumstances. It can only mean that a company hates its customers and wants to screw them. If the company liked its customers, it wouldn’t create such a punitive fee structure in the first place.

  24. GregGates says:

    Definitely can be a bill shocker, though VZW’s existence is based around tracking millions of voice/data transactions every day. The data transfer is verified numerous times before the actual bill print and billed report.

    Honestly I stopped caring after this type of statement: “*Verizon thought it acceptable to charge $500 for 35 MB of data consumed.”

    Likely user error, take responsibility for the account, not enough details on the article, monitor your plan/features/rates more closely. Not using data will mean you don’t get charged for data. Sue them if you have proof you didn’t use it. Alleging fraudulent charges seemingly because it’s very expensive and “but my dad JUST DIDN’T DO IT” when they have verified proof on the transmission equipment that HE DID is too weak.

    • djudd says:

      “Honestly I stopped caring after this type of statement: “*Verizon thought it acceptable to charge $500 for 35 MB of data consumed.””

      So did I but for different reasons. That is the very definition of egregious. I don’t care if he did do it or not that price is insane. Telling him to suck it up and pay it is ignoring the larger issue at hand that they are attempting highway robbery.

    • dg says:

      How can they PROVE that he did it? Were they standing next to him, watching over his shoulder?

      Likely no. The simple fact is that phones get cloned, computers make mistakes, databases get corrupted. They can’t PROVE that he did anything.

      What I can present as evidence is that there are many documented cases of entry mistakes, database errors, and hacks that were caused by or perpetrated against the phone company and THOSE could be the reason for the alleged data usage.

      Where was the phone when the data usage allegedly occurred? What was accessed? And what dates and times?

      Provide the info – prove it was me. If you can’t – then I’m not paying.

      Same deal with a landline – they can be tapped into anywhere between the person’s phone jack and the central office at the frames. The phone co can NEVER prove that you actually made ANY call based on “dialing records” alone – anyone with a buttset can prove that…

  25. twophrasebark says:

    Phone is not used for data, and the web browser has never been opened.

    Phone user uses the phone as an offline PDA with the ability to make phone calls, and therefore, there is no reason for data to have been used.

    These arguments are not that compelling. They are testimonial, not evidence. The OP says the web browser has never been opened. How does he know that? This sounds like he is saying: “My father saysweb browser has never been opened.” That’s not the same thing as knowing the web browser was never opened. The same goes for his argument that “there is no reason for data to have been used.” That’s not the same as saying data wasn’t used.

    The only compelling thing the OP says is that “Verizon was unable to provide a list of IP addresses for the data use incurred.” But whether that’s just their policy or whether that proves his case is unclear.

  26. JonBoy470 says:

    My wife ran up a spectacularly high texting bill one month. She didn’t realize you pay for incoming texts too. I know, a real facepalm moment. I called Sprint up and asked “What can I do about this? I can’t keep getting dinged $169/month for texts!” The Sprint web agreed to waive the entire texting fee if I signed my wife up for an unlimited texting plan ($15/month at the time). As no contract extension was involved it was a done deal. Perhaps the OP can work out a similar arrangement.

    As a general comment though, a data-capable phone and a metered, per KB data plan is just not a good combo. Granted, Sprint is cool in that it’s phones can be configured to actually prevent data usage BEFORE any data usage has actually occurred. As opposed to Verizon, where you have to remember to not push the magic button, and if you do it’s $1.99 no matter how quickly you cancel out.

  27. peinto says:

    Maybe the OP’s father sent MMS (aka picture messages). I don’t know if Verizon Wireless still does this today, but years ago my sister had a Motorola Q, and she had no data plan. I set up her phone so it couldn’t possibly go on the web (configured an invalid access point) but she still got charged. Verizon’s explanation was that they treat MMS as uploaded data.

  28. Bemusedjohnny says:

    Sounds like someone tethered the phone to a computer and used it to access the internet. Maybe Chris…. He seems techie enough to try something like that. My parents and I had the same situation. I, being a total geek, found out (online ofcourse) how to tether a phone as a modem using a usb cord. All you do is hook a usb cable up to it… the computer recognizes the phone as a modem…. you make a new dial-up connection with it… find the username and password credentials online (they different per provider) … and WHAM!! It’s faster than a dial-up modem. I’d say 2-3 times faster on the non-3G network used by older phones (ones our parents use). Then a few hours later … …. …. OH SNAP! You’ve gone through … say 35MB of data just casually surfing.

    But anyway, Yeah, Verizon should cut some slack. 35MB is NOT worth $500 any way you spin it.