Verizon Says I Owe Overages For iPhone I Returned 8 Months Ago

This past spring, Steve bought a shiny new iPhone 4S. It seemed like a good choice because his son was about to be born, and the 4S has a pretty nice camera for photographing adorable babies. When he got home, he discovered that Verizon’s coverage wasn’t so great there, so he brought the phone back within the initial 14-day return period. They took it back, charged him a restocking fee, no problem. Then, more than six months later, the collection calls began. Wha?

Turns out that he racked up a lot of minutes calling people to talk about his wonderful new baby. Verizon assumed that he would keep up that rate of usage for the rest of his first month if he had stayed a subscriber, and wanted him to pay $180 in overage minutes accordingly. Steve thinks this isn’t fair, and doesn’t want to pay the overages. He could have held on to the phone longer and paid $39 for the whole month of normal, non-baby-in-hospital usage, but that would mean paying a huge early termination fee, even though he doesn’t want the phone anymore.

Back in March I purchased a brand new iPhone 4S from a Verizon kiosk. My 3rd son was about to be born, and I wanted that killer camera for all of his first pics.

My son was born the next day, and I spent plenty of time using my new phone in the hospital – calling family, friends, and sharing the good news.

Once we returned to life at home, I quickly learned that Verizon service in my own apartment was pretty crummy. I loved the phone, and loved all other aspects of the service – but came to the annoying conclusion that I’d have to return it and cancel my contract.

Fortunately I was well within the 14-day return period. I brought back the phone, and everyone at the kiosk was all smiles. They took it back, gave me a free refund (minus a stocking fee… no prob!) and I walked away.

Lately I have been getting hourly calls from a number in Nevada. I never answer, and they never leave a message. So when I finally answered yesterday to hear that Verizon was trying to collect 180 bucks, I was a little surprised. I had assumed they dinged me with a cancellation fee, and that a quick call to Verizon would clear everything up.

This morning I called their customer care line and got a human on the line pretty quickly. Turns out that since I cancelled my account, they pro-rated the minutes I was allowed – then charged me overage fees for the minutes I used on the account to the tune of $180.

Here’s the catch-22 they had me in – if I sat on the account for another 20 days, I would have only owed $39 for the month of usage. But then I would be past the 14-day cancellation grace period and would have been stuck with a hefty cancellation fee.

By turning the phone in within the grace period, I was suddenly on the hook for big penalties based on the assumption that my rate of minute usage would continue for that whole month. I think that’s a completely unfair assumption to make.

I offered to pay them for the whole month – $39 – which would have left my minute usage way within my limits. But they won’t have it. They want (of course) the full $180.

I think this is Verizon’s way of passive-aggressively penalizing me for returning my phone within the grace period. Yes, my minute usage was heavy during those first 10 days. I had just welcomed my 3rd kid into the world, and wanted to use my phone to share that happiness with everyone I knew. But I’m a responsible phone user, and I would have curtailed my talk time for the rest of the month to finish off within my minute limit. That’s meaningless to Verizon.

Thanks for listening. I feel better already. Sadly, I’m being stubborn – I refuse to pay $180. So this will languish on my credit report and ding me every time I try to make a purchase for the next 7 years. And I will be subject to constant calls from an aggressive collection agency in Nevada. If Verizon will settle for the $39 I actually owe, I will deliver it with a big fat smile. Instead, I’m going to cringe and grunt every time I hear their name.

If we at Consumerist understand anything, it’s standing your ground just on principle. Here’s the problem, though: depending on what kind of purchases Steve and his partner plan to make in the next seven years, having a ding on their credit report and paying higher interest rates could cost them more than $180 over that period. Is this policy unfair? Yes, though it exists to prevent people from buying and returning a phone when they know that they’ll be using up an unusual number of minutes. Steve should escalate his complaint within the company, but if higher powers can’t get him out of paying this bill, he should probably just pay it.