Beware, Michael warns Consumerist readers. Beware of handing over access to your bank account–that is, your debit card number–to companies that might auto-bill you. For services that you’re no longer receiving, and never really in the first place because the connection never worked properly. Michael had been an AT&T customer for DSL, but never had very good connection speeds. So the Death Star offered him great incentives to upgrade to U-Verse. He did, but the promised rebates never came. He offers this cautionary tale about putting your debit card information in the hands of a mercurial public utility.
I was a subscriber of AT&T’s DSL service and directly linked the bill to my checking account with PNC. After constantly battling with the company over awful connection speeds and network consistency, I was offered an opportunity to switch to U-Verse. I was told I’d receive a rebate for the modem and be charged no more than $25 for the first year of service.
I agreed to switch and the arrangements were made – the modem was sent and the date was set. On the day of activation, the service technician came and hooked us into the line, and failed to actually ensure we were receiving a signal. The DSL signal was shut down and we were without a connection for a day while I called and ran around in circles with a customer service representative, who insisted on running through basic diagnostics (“try unplugging your router and plugging it back in,” “reset your computer,” and so forth).
Another technician was sent out and I was informed that the previous employee hooked us into a “dead” port. I’ve since called the company on several other occasions to dispute my monthly bill. During those calls, I also inquired about the status of my rebate. Each and every time I was told that the rebate wasn’t processed yet (much to the surprise of the customer service representative) and promised that it would be addressed as soon as possible.
I late called the rebate office directly and was told that no such mention of a rebate was made to them. They filed the appropriate things and I later received the “reward card,” but months after when I was told it would be sent. I was perturbed the rebate money was only on debit cards prepaid by AT&T, but I figured it was better than nothing.
On April 13, 2012 $45.00 was directly removed from my checking account with PNC. This is what was in the description of my bank statement “RECURRING CHECK CARD XXXXX[redacted] ATTCONS PHONE PMT XXXXX[redacted] TX.” My U-Verse account is paid with auto-pay through a credit card with the same bank. My DSL service was directly linked to my checking, but the service had been canceled for a few months when this transaction occurred.
I reluctantly phoned AT&T’s customer service and explained my problem. The representative apologized, then transferred me to AT&T’s phone service. “Why are you transferring me?,” I asked with confusion. “Just to make sure this wasn’t for your AT&T phone.” “But I don’t have a phone with AT&T. Just U-Verse,” I quickly replied. “Let’s just make sure. Before I transfer you is there anything else I can do to help you today?” I sat in silence. “No.” I then hung up and called again, hoping to speak to someone who understood the problem.
Without going into too much detail, the same thing happened, except this service representative cut me off and transferred me before I could contest any further. Frustrated, I called my bank and contested the charge. Per the urging of the bank representative, I phoned AT&T once more. This time, I demanded to speak to a supervisor. After just a couple minutes of explaining the situation, the supervisor apologized and made the appropriate arrangements.
Several days later, I received a notice that the bank was not going to refund the money a couple days later. When I inquired further over the phone, this is the explanation I received (paraphrased, mind you). “AT&T said that they can’t refund money for a phone bill after two weeks of the charge going through.” I called AT&T once more and spoke to a supervisor. I was then asked to contact my bank and ask that they fax AT&T proof that the charge occurred. I phoned my bank and complied with AT&T’s request.
It’s been more than a month and a half and I’ve yet to receive any sort of response from either company. I warn fellow consumerists to stay away from AT&T. If they must have service with the company, don’t directly link your bank account, or else you may very well be shorted a considerable amount of money with no explanation.
We’ve seen a lot of horror stories like these, and the best solution–not giving out your debit card or bank account numbers–keeps customers away from the modern wonder that is online bill pay. If speaking to a supervisor won’t work, try ever-higher levels of customer service. Calling the office of the CEO can put you in the warm, competent hands of the executive customer service team, who have powers that regular CSRs do not. The executive e-mail carpet bomb is also a great option for when all else fails.