CenturyLink Holds Me To Imaginary Contract, Bills Me Twice For $700 ETF

Rick typed out his tale of Qwest/CenturyLink woe using the Consumerist Mobile Tipster app, and attached one of those pictures that has circulated online seemingly forever–a little boy sticking a butter knife in an electrical socket. That’s how this situation apparently makes him feel, and it’s easy to see why. He used to work for Qwest, and never really had any problems with them in seventeen years of service from them. When he finally canceled service, he was told that he was still under contract and owed an early termination fee. A twenty-year contract?

A year and a half after canceling Qwest service, Century Link (the new owner) turns over a bill I didn’t owe to a collection agency. I had Qwest for 10 years while I worked for them then another 7 after I left. They sent me this bill saying it was because I was in a contract when I cancelled service for over $700 and because I couldn’t prove it when I disconnected I just paid it to make it go away. Then a year and a half later they tried to collect it again via this collection agency.

I spent two hours on the phone with them both and was finally able to download the credit card statement to prove I paid it. I still don’t think I owed it on the first place – how can you be on a contract after having a service for 17 years? And I sure as hell wasn’t going to pay it twice. Qwest was an excellent employer, I will say that, but as a service provider – they suck!!!

When adding new features or locking in a new price with your telecom, always make sure that you’re not committing yourself to a new, shiny, and onerous new contract. Rick most likely knew better and wouldn’t have done this, but the rest of us who have never worked for our telecoms are not so savvy. Clearly this would not have happened if Rick were still working there to keep the company in shape.

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  1. MaxH42 needs an edit button says:

    I’m not saying that Qwest is in the right, but I seem to remember that a long time ago, it wasn’t too unusual for contracts used to auto-renew for the original contract period, and I would have to wait until the contract was a month or so from expiring and ask for it to be cancelled instead of renewed. Does that sound familiar to anyone else? Maybe that’s what they used to use and now think is the case, regardless of what Rick actually signed.

    I think the only contract I had 17 years ago was for my pager. :D

  2. AzCatz07 says:

    I’m surprised he paid it the first time if he didn’t think it was owed.

    Companies love to have you under contract. DirecTV extended mine when I added another HD DVR. It only extended it for two months, but I was irritated I wasn’t told when I got the new receiver. In hindsight, I should have known better, but I’d never had a contract when I had cable, so I had no idea about that sort of thing.

    • Difdi says:

      If you weren’t told, then legally the contract could not be valid. While failing to read what you’re signing or agreeing to can result in a contract, it’s simply not possible to be assigned a contract without any knowledge at all on your part.

      If it were, then why would any company actually sell you anything? They’d just sign your name for you on a contract requiring you to pay them for no particular reason, and you’d only know the company existed when collections called you on the phone. Lucky for everyone, contract law does not work that way.

      • AzCatz07 says:

        I’ve never signed anything with DirecTV. I’m sure they will claim the extension was disclosed via phone when I upgraded my receiver, but I don’t remember being told. It’s not a big deal, but it’s annoying that they extend your contract for things like switching a receiver you already have for another. If I’m not mistaken, they got in trouble for that sort of thing before.

        I’m trying to cut the satellite completely, and I have to wait until the contract is up or pay an ETF.

        • George4478 says:

          You never signed anything? When I went with Dish, they wouldn’t install the dish nor turn on the service until I signed a whole bunch of papers. The installer handed me the new customer packet, I went through the contract, signed everything, and he started working.

          I thought DirectTV would be the same way.

  3. Difdi says:

    It must be nice to be so wealthy that paying $700 on a bill you don’t believe you actually owe is seen as so minor an inconvenience, that it’s easier to pay than to argue even a little.

    The thing about contracts though, is the burden of proof is on the company, not the customer. It’s not the customer’s job to prove no contract exists, it’s the company’s job to show the customer’s signature on the dotted line (or modern equivalent). If they can’t do that, then the contract does not exist.

  4. kevinroyalty says:

    paying it without proof was stupid.

  5. Costner says:

    There is no way I would fork over $700 for a ETF unless the company can provide me with a signed contract with my signature showing I agreed to the “contract” in the first place. He makes it sound like the onus was on him to prove he wasn’t in a contract… as if proving a negative is an easy thing to do.

    Plus… $700 for an ETF? How long was this mythical contract? That seems like it might have been less expensive to ride out the “contract” rather than take such a huge hit on the ETF… unless they claimed he was locked in for another three years or something.

    I hate contracts. I’ve had one with Verizon for around a decade (every two years when I get a new phone) but I’m seriously considering moving to a prepaid or pay as you go plan simply to avoid another contract.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      Sounds like riding out the contract would have been more than a couple years.

      More likely the computer systems were programmed to calculate the end of the contract as being a specified number of months after the current date.

  6. HogwartsProfessor says:

    These stupid contracts and ETFs are one reason I went pre-paid with my cell phone. Well, that and I can’t afford a contract phone (not the phone itself, just the cost). The way those companies do business was a huge turn-off for me, especially when they lock you in and then won’t let you cancel even when THEY break the contract by not providing service. We’ve certainly seen stories like that here a few times.

    • Difdi says:

      If a company cannot provide the service they are being paid to provide, they open themselves up to a lawsuit. Point this out to them, and then ask them to either provide the service, release you from the contract without ETF, or transfer you to the legal department.

      Few CSRs want to be the guy who transfers you to Legal. Looks bad on the performance review.

  7. sparc says:

    That’s the price of letting $700 go the first time.

  8. Chmeeee says:

    If I get a bogus bill for $700, I’m not paying it the first time, nevermind the second time. Seriously??

  9. Lyn Torden says:

    I would not have paid the bogus ETF in the first place. Then I would have slammed the debt collector with a lawsuit.

  10. Kingsley says:

    Consumerist: What is the service? CenturyLink/Quest offers a lot of different stuff in different markets.

  11. faea says:

    Qwest tried to do this to us too. We switched to Comcast because that was all our new building was set up for. We made sure everything was settled with the one company before getting the new one. A year later they claimed we owed them $345, even thought we have proof we paid everything up. Odd that when we asked for documentation of this debt to be mailed to us we didn’t hear from them for another three years. We called them up and once again asked for proof of debt. Another year later without any further contact we hear from a collection agency on their behalf. Once again, wheres the documentation. Once again we hear nothing. And nothing has hit our credit report on the matter.

    • frodolives35 says:

      Your lucky they did not report it to the credit agencies. Then the real problems begin. Unjust reporting screw a lot of people and the credit agencies don’t care they work for the companies that are screwing people.