Verizon Configures Phones So You Incur Erroenous Data Charges? (To The Tune Of $300 Million)

If you have a Verizon phone, you’ve probably at one point accidentally hit a button that connects you to “Get It Now” or “Mobile Web.” Arg. And it’s double-arg when it turns out that even if you cancel right away, you still get hit with a $1.99 1MB data charge. According to a tipster, this is totally on purpose.

A guy wrote in to Pogue’s blog and said everyone at Verizon knows about these design flaws but no one will do anything about it, because it makes Verizon over $300 million a month. He said:

“The phone is designed in such a way that you can almost never avoid getting $1.99 charge on the bill. Around the OK button on a typical flip phone are the up, down, left, right arrows. If you open the flip and accidentally press the up arrow key, you see that the phone starts to connect to the web. So you hit END right away. Well, too late. You will be charged $1.99 for that 0.02 kilobytes of data. NOT COOL. I’ve had phones for years, and I sometimes do that mistake to this day, as I’m sure you have. Legal, yes; ethical, NO.

“Every month, the 87 million customers will accidentally hit that key a few times a month! That’s over $300 million per month in data revenue off a simple mistake!

“Our marketing, billing, and technical departments are all aware of this. But they have failed to do anything about it-and why? Because if you get 87 million customers to pay $1.99, why stop this revenue? Customer Service might credit you if you call and complain, but this practice is just not right.

“Now, you can ask to have this feature blocked. But even then, if you one of those buttons by accident, your phone transmits data; you get a message that you cannot use the service because it’s blocked�BUT you just used 0.06 kilobytes of data to get that message, so you are now charged $1.99 again!

“They have started training us reps that too many data blocks are being put on accounts now; they’re actually making us take classes called Alternatives to Data Blocks. They do not want all the blocks, because 40% of Verizon’s revenue now comes from data use. I just know there are millions of people out there that don’t even notice this $1.99 on the bill.”


Verizon: How Much Do You Charge Now? [NYT] (Thanks to John!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. willdude says:

    Whenever I try to hit the OK button and miss, I just hear the message, “The fingers you are using to dial are too fat. If you’d like to order a special dialing wand, please mash the keypad with your palm.”

  2. evilrobot says:

    AT&T has the same situation with their GoPhones. It doesn’t take anything to ‘ass-dial’ the center button into browsing the data-sucking graphics and ringtone store.

    Verizon has obviously designed it that way as well, incorporating user error via a poor UI into a ripe profit center.

  3. Tim says:

    Can’t you designate the up arrow as a shortcut for another function?

    • dp05 says:

      @TCama: I was going to say something along these lines. Most phones allow you to re-assign these keys to different functions. My phone is kind enough to remind me that accessing the mobile browser may incur charges and makes me say it’s okay before it loads it. I wonder if others do the same, or if I’m being charged even though it asks me that.

      • bohemian says:

        @dp05: Our LG phones have some unknown hot key that tries to connect to the web. We don’t have a data plan. If that hot key gets bumped you will notice a screen that says player error and when you kill it the screen claims it is disconnecting. Any time this happens Verizon tries to ding us for the $1.99 charge.

        The one I got last month really made me mad. I got the $1.99 data fee and a ringtone download. There is no way to accidentally select and download a ringtone. I have not downloaded a ring tone for over a year (the month I got this phone). I emailed Verizon. They took it off my bill but claimed I really did download it so they basically called me a liar and said they would only reverse the charge that one time.

        This $1.99 hot key scam need some FCC or FTC review.

    • He says:

      @TCama: Yeah you can. Plus, before I had a data plan, my old motorola e815 (bought circa 2006) would prompt me that if I continued to the web browser or used the app store I could be charged for data usage and I never had any $1.99 fees show up on my bills.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @TCama: Not on all Verizon phones. The interface is really awful.

    • takotchi says:

      @TCama: Not with T-Mobile. The last phone I got from them disabled changing the short cut to their lame T-Zones thing. My thought was “you’re going to SELL me a phone and then not like me use all the features?”, but then I realized that crap happens all the time. This is just the latest in the line of obnoxious things phone companies put on their phones.

      Then I got the generic firmware and erased all the T-Mobile garbage off the phone, and didn’t look back.

    • charodon says:

      @TCama: Not on my Razr V3. I can change only one of the 4 buttons, the down-arrow. The other 3 are permanent.

  4. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    Seems that Verizon should institute a very small (10KB perhaps) grace allowance on the data before you get billed. Nobody actually USING data will get in under that limit.

  5. ReverseCarpetbagging says:

    This happened to me when I purchased the new enV phone. First, the store representative added MobileIM to my phone, which ran up a data charge. Once I got the phone home, I was trying to figure out the various keyboard functions and wound up running up a few addition data charges. I called Verizon to see if I could reassign the keys to avoid future charges and was told that it could not be done. Luckily, my old roommate also works for Verizon, so I sent him an email and he told me exactly how to resassign the data charges. Next up, I wrote an email to Verizon telling them I was not happy and would gladly let my contract expire and go to AT&T. A few days later, I received a phone call and they were more than willing to refund the charges.

  6. Blueskylaw says:

    Now if Verizon could tell me why my phone started downloading songs on its own and charging me $1.99 for the priviledge, while at the same time saying sorry, we can’t reverse the charges because you had to agree twice to the download.

    Another conspiracy? You tell me anonymous Verizon employee consumerist reader.

    • Oddfool says:

      @Blueskylaw: Could this be done with a phone app? “When you have this app on your phone, it secretly goes to ‘such and such’ website and downloads ring tones for you, whether you want them or not; don’t worry, just pay the freakin’ bill”.

  7. Zanorfes says:

    I’ve had this very same problem with AT&T. There is no way to make that internet option disappear. When I told them I would be filing a complaint to the FTC because the phones are designed according to the carriers’ instructions, they promised to have a supervisor call me back. Never got a call back. The only way these companies will ever change is by making fines more expensive than the amount of money they make on these unethical charges.

    • seanhcalgary says:

      @Zanorfes: Did you lodge that complaint?

    • theyoungandthebetrayed says:

      @Zanorfes: I came across this trick here on the internets to prevent accidental data usage on AT&T without permanently disabling data transfers. Find your Network Profiles (on my phone it’s in the Connections setting). Make a new profile with no username or password. Now go to MEdia Net’s account settings (my phone: MEdia Net -> Browser Settings -> Accounts) and select that new junk profile as the one MEdia Net uses. Now it can’t connect of course, it’ll just time out. I haven’t had any erroneus data charges since I’ve done this and I could always switch back to the working profile if I absolutely needed to.

    • lmarconi says:

      @Zanorfes: There’s definitely a way to block it. My mom has Verizon and when my brother racked up some random data charges she had them disable data on the phone and hasn’t had any problems since.

  8. searonson says:

    AT&T sends me messages titled “free tips”. They look like normal text messages, but when I open them, it tried to connect me to the web and I get charged a data fee. *hatred*

  9. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    This happened with all of my Verizon phones. Even if you call and ask for them to block internet, it’s a risk for you to try it out because it probably won’t work and then you’re saddled with that $1.99 charge. I called to get my money back and ask them to block internet on my phone, and they said that they would do that – but I doubt it ever got fixed. I was just much more careful about that up button.

    • thehouserules says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: I had them block the internet to avoid this problem, and then I couldn’t send or receive picture messages anymore, even though picture messages would normally be covered under my text plan.

      Apparently they couldn’t allow picture messages but block the internet, so I had them re-enable the internet. They flat out told me to just be careful and not hit the mobile web button. Gee, thanks.

      • justagigilo85 says:

        @thehouserules: Bullshit on their part. I’ve had two separate data charges waived because of accidentally connecting to the web. I called the first time and the rep would block the internet connection.

        It happened again in the next month so I called back. I got a different rep of course, but this one told me that the internet was never block. This CSR did it.

        Above all, I can still text pictures, videos without any issue.

  10. Scuba Steve says:

    2 words: Class Action.

    Take em down, and take em down hard.

    • IndyJaws says:

      @Scuba Steve: You know, I absolutely despise most class action lawsuits, but in this case, I’d have to agree. This is outright fraud, plain and simple.

    • Xerloq says:

      @Scuba Steve: Better yet, everyone sue in small claims court.

      All the class would get is a couple of bucks and the right not to sue.

    • soundreasoning says:

      @Scuba Steve: There is no class action and it’s not fraud. Verizon did not deceive you into purchasing a product it did give you as represented. It’s knowledge of the problem is not deceptive. Its decision not to cure the problem is not deceptive. The buttons are no easier to push than any other button on the phone, it is not mis-labeled, and you can usually change the way the buttons are mapped if you’re worried about it. You will probably lose this suit, hence why they said in the article, it’s not illegal, just unethical.

      • morlo says:

        @soundreasoning: If in Verizon’s knowledge the average user racks up $x from mistaken presses per month, any contract not stipulating these charges is fraudulent.

        • soundreasoning says:

          @morlo: Stipulating what charges? What data are you using to indicate an avg. user does a particular thing? Does this mean that if you fall outside the avg. you still pay the same amount, what if you make the mistake less than avg? or more?

          I’m not sure what you mean at all. I haven’t looked but I’m sure the data charges are stipulated in the contract, and I’m also sure that Verizon stipulates that the “Get it now” counts as data.

          What I think you might be trying to say is that Verizon should somehow be compelled to disclaim that the avg. user makes a particular mistaken button press and particular number of times during the course of a contract period of some sort. Why?

          I’m sorry but you’re just not right from a legal standpoint.

          Now the people who have standing are people who block data. Unless Verizon describes its data plan as mitigating the possible charges instead of erasing them, or if it markets it has an effective way to incur zero charges on data, then they are liable to those people. but if they market it as a way to “control” charges they’re probably okay.

      • Eat A Peach says:

        @soundreasoning: A lot of phones you can not change the mapping/function of the buttons (I had one that had a camera button on the side that I constantly was hitting and you could not change that button’s function). My mom’s current cell from LG has a center “internet browser” button surrounded by directional buttons and it’s function can not be changed either. This design is on purpose to get people to use the internet features on the phone, pure and simple.

  11. justinph says:

    Yet another reason why buying your own unlocked phone and being not on contract is a win.

  12. soundreasoning says:

    Verizon is a giant corporation. Giant corporations are sleazy. I think its time we learn this and just start warning people rather than tautological name calling.

  13. JollyJumjuck says:

    I would love to be able to pickpocket every stranger I meet for $2, and then say, “Hey, it’s only two freaking dollars!”
    Of course, I would go to jail. But Verizon just sails merrily along.

  14. XTC46 says:

    I have verizon phones and have for years (Verizon is hands down the best when it comes to business phones so I have kept them with all businesses who I have any say in cell phone choice)

    They have always allowed us to block this feature and once blocked we incur no charges. At my last job, I managed 150+ cell phones under verizon. About 15 of those were smartphones and had unlimited data, the rest were regular phones, we similay called, and said “block data and all extra services on all accounts except” and it was done. No data, no text, no music downloads, no games, no 3rd party billings. No problem. We then added text to a handful of them, still no problem.

    I think this guy is full of crap.

  15. Red_Eye says:

    This is why the FCC should mandate that the phones are made by a neutral 3rd party. Most phones are CRIPPLED in their feature sets by the phone companies.

  16. larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

    Verizon makes Fry’s look like a model of customer service excellence.

  17. mavkato says:

    i have a verizon phone, if i try to go to mobile web, it says i have a choice of using the mobile web for 24 hours for $1.99 or going to “my verizon” for free. what is described above must be an old way of doing things.

    • Argy says:

      @mavkato: Ditto here. I have a Samsung Gleam. It always shows me the price and an option that has to be clicked to incur the charge.

    • sashazur says:

      @mavkato: Ditto ditto. On my current and past Verizon phones (both Samsungs), I did don’t include data in my plan, and if I do try to access the monthly web (which really isn’t that easy to do by accident), a very clear message pops up telling me that I have to agree to pay $1.99 to get it for 24 hours. So the only way I get charged $199 is if I access the mobile web (which takes several button presses, not just one), AND then agree to the charge.

  18. jecowa says:

    When I signed up with Verizon, I told them to turn off the internet features of our phones because we were not getting the unlimited data plan, and $2 per megabyte is rape. They never did it.

  19. sp00nix says:

    I remember my old Cingular flip phone did that to, BUT there was no charge for browsing the Media Net store even without a data plan.

  20. NeverLetMeDown says:

    This math just doesn’t make sense. Verizon Wireless did $4.1BN in data revenue (most of which is texting revenue) last quarter. If this is right ($300MM/month), then nearly 1/4 of total data revenue, and 1/2 of non-texting data revenue, was driven by accidental button presses. That seems amazingly high.

    Looking at it another way, if we assume about 30% of Verizon customers have some sort of data plan (mobile web, blackberry, etc etc), then that means that there were about 60 million Verizon customers who could in theory be hit by this fee. That’s $5/month for each of them, or 2.5 incidents per month per person. That also seems amazingly high.

    While I don’t doubt this problem exists, it seems like the actual # of incidents (and hence the $ generated for Verizon) is way inflated.

  21. gtsports says:


    I notice that a button gets inadvertantly pressed on my Verizon phone every once in a while, but I’ve never been charged a $1.99 data usage fee for a 1/2 second connection.

    Maybe I’m just lucky.

    • igoooorrrr says:


      I came in here to say the same thing. I’ve been on verizon for about 6 years now and have never had a data charge on my account that I didn’t explicitly agree to (by knowingly using a service that incurred data charges).

  22. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    Question for you cell phone users… me not being one of you… is this a physical button or a touch screen button?

    If it is physical a little epoxy glue carefully applied could prevent if from ever being depressed again.

    If it is a touch screen button then my condolences. Consider looking for a phone that gives you the ability to mitigate this problem… one that is easily hacked / jail breaked…

  23. loudambiance says:

    I pay close attention to my bill, and I have never been charged a 1.99 data charge for accidently hitting the get it now button or any of the other buttons for that matter.

  24. amycoleman2 says:

    The keys around the OK button are directional and shortcut keys. Every phone has the ability to change the shortcuts so that you can open a preferred application instead of the internet or VZ Navigator. It sounds to me that large amounts of data blocks are more of an issue than having the reps learn how to walk a customer through the process of changing the shortcuts on their phone.

    I’ll admit, that sounds half as sinister as the tipster made “Alternatives to Data Blocks” sound.

    I guess I feel it’s fair to disclose the fact that my boyfriend is an engineer for VZW – but I was a Virgin Mobile customer during the first two years of the relationship and my phones with that carrier had the same shortcuts (minus VZ Navigator, of course). Based on comments, it seems VZW and Virgin aren’t alone in this shortcut practice. Perhaps enough people wish to connect to the interwebs for the button to be warranted.

    If data blocks aren’t fully solving the problem because customers might still get charged on accident and it’s eating up precious customer service hours and causing all sorts of fuss – I commend VZW for finding a more reliable way to help their customers solve the issue permanently.

    Now, this is just me, but I can see this problem costing VZW more than it earns them revenue. If people are reporting the incidents, and the money is being returned, you’re not just giving $2 back to a customer. You’re paying a CSR to handle the claim, an accountant to keep the books up to date, auditors to keep an eye on the situation, and a team to research and evaluate the ongoing issue. Millions of incidents probably equals millions of dollars lost from refunds.

  25. JulesNoctambule says:

    I’m so glad I still have my ‘ancient’ Nokia that does nothing but make and receive calls! Too many buttons, too many features I’ll never use on those new phones.

  26. MyTQuinn says:

    Over a year ago I got new Verizon Wireless phones for both my wife and my son – a Motorola W755 and a Smasung Alias. On both phones these shortcut keys are user-programmable. In fact, changing them to something wouldn’t generate any additional charges was one of the first things I did on both phones.

    Did I just get lucky getting the only two phone models that can be reprogrammed?

  27. mmrohm says:

    Not that I do not think that Verizon has on a halo, but to be fair, I have had Verizon for my carrier over four years and they have been great in crediting those sneaky fees that have appeared on my bill. I did immediately have the mobile web blocked and I read my manual to my phone and changed the shortcut key to a useful feature for myself. I do believe that it would be fair if the mobile web was accessible only if the consumer requested the feature, but its Corporate America and they will find anyway they can to make the almighty dollar. So be pro-active, go over your bill before you pay it, take accountability for your actions and if it’s the carrier’s actions that needs to be addressed then do so.

  28. NotYou007 says:

    I use Verizon and I do not get charged each time I hit the up arrow button. I’m on Mobile Web right now. I have two options. My Verizon which is FREE and I can use it to check my balance, usage, etc. but I have never been charged for using it. Now if I go down to Mobile Web I know I will get charged but I’ve never been charged once for accessing the free service.

  29. LostAtoll says:

    verizon has always been scumbags.. A few years ago I called to order dsl, and we were setting the whole thing up over the phone, and then at the very end he told me it would take 3 and a half weeks to get someone out there to install it. I said cancel the order immediately, I’ll go with someone else.

    he never cancelled the order, I had to fight for months to get all of the charges reversed.


  30. zombie_batch says:

    Yep, I had a phone, can’t recall which model, its discontinued anyway, but there was a button I’d hit just like described and get that lame Get it Now service.

    Now I’m lucky enough to be using one of the rare smart phones that doesn’t require a data plan, the old Moto Q, and if I wanted to use the web, I’d have to open a menu and scroll to it. I guess, take that, Verizon…

  31. FixinTo says:

    I’ve had a Palm Treo with Verizon for several years. In the beginning, I asked to them to block data usage and they agreed. However, it’s my understanding that all of the major cell phone companies now require customers with smart phones to pay the monthly data fee — no exceptions. Verizon is bugging me to get a new phone (and thus, a new contract), but I’m resisting. When the Treo dies, I will have to look for a no-frills phone because I have no desire to go online using such a tiny screen. That’s why I have a laptop.

  32. MurKam says:

    I am old. I have a Verizon Voyager. I NEVER have problems pushing the correct buttons or screen icons. I NEVER use my phone while driving the car; I pull off the road instead. Yes, I got a couple of data charges when I was first learning how to use the phone. I went to the Verizon store and politely worked with the rep to have all of the charges removed. I pay attention to what I am doing to prevent user errors. I even read the manual. And, I RARELY believe conspiracy stories like this one.

  33. nuton2wheels says:

    This happened with all 3 of my Verizon phones too. I had to “hack” them so they couldn’t to connect to dialup.

  34. flugennock says:

    The more I hear about this and other crap happening with smartphones, the gladder I am to have a dumb phone. It makes and receives phone calls, and the occasional text message if absolutely necessary. That’s it. I love it.

  35. synimatik says:

    I’ve accidentally hit that button plenty of times. I’ve also logged in to look for games but not bought any. I’ve NEVER been hit with a fee for accidentally hitting then canceling the button. Also, there is no $1.99 minimum. As I said, I’ve logged on before for 30 seconds or so and decided I didn’t want a game and logged off. I was charged a few cents.

    I’m not saying this didn’t happen to the OP, I’m just saying I don’t think it’s standard practice across the board.

  36. epb says:

    I’ve hit up on my phone a billion times and never got charged for it. I don’t know how anyone’s else’s phones are setup, but if I hit up, it does the whole sending/receiving data deal and then gives me the choice of “My Account”, which is free, or “Mobile Web” for $1.99 for 24 hours. Makes it a lot harder to accidentally get charged for something.

  37. gollerpr says:

    I was thinking of switching to Verizon for the Droid… guess I won’t be anymore…

  38. keirre.adams says:

    There is a disable mobile web option on the VZW account management site. I have issues with VZW, alot of them, but this is unfair, because there is a very simple way to prevent this. They should refund it the first time and tell the customer where to go to disable it. After that… ignorance of the available tools is no excuse.

  39. sykl0ps says:

    A quick fix I have found that usually works, is in the cell phone settings you can add another internet connection. Just make a new one, leave all the details blank, no server to connect to, no login etc, then set it as default. It’ll just error out because it has nowhere to connect. I’ve done this to my mother’s phone and my sister’s phone, keeps them from getting those charges.

  40. PrincessOfPower says:

    Verizon also has this crappy ‘visual voice mail’ feature. I absolutely did not sign up for that, but every time I get a vm, I also get a ‘visual voice mail’ notification. If you click on it, you incur extra charges. I’ve asked Verizon to remove it from my phone, and they haven’t done it. These guys are assholes, and they always will be.

  41. aparsons says:

    There was a comment in that NYT post about a man who was starting a class-action for Verizon billing you through your billing cycle when you switch carriers OUT OF CONTRACT. The same thing happened to me! I switched to AT&T, and Verizon SAT ON the number port request until the second day of my new billing cycle.

    No big deal, I thought, until I was charged a FULL month (~$60.00) even though I only used two days of service. I called, and complained, and easily ate up $60 worth of their time bitching and complaining. In threatened to just pay with AMEX and dispute the charge, to which the CSR replied, “please don’t ruin your credit for this $60.” WHAT. THE. F.

    If that class-action is started, I can’t wait to waive my rights, take myself out of the class, and sue on my own. Those people are scumbags.

  42. thereisn0try says:

    Not just Verizon – I’ve had this issue with AT&T as well. I will often pick my phone up, after supposedly having key lock on, to see that the browser (which I never purposefully use) is open, and upon exiting, it tells me the amount of kilobytes that I have just “used”. I’ve sent a brief complaint to them regarding this, but now think that I have more incentive to do more to combat it.

  43. subsider34 says:

    I love my Samsung SGH-A717. If I accidentally click on the MEDIANet button, it displays the AT&T logo for a few seconds before initiating communications.

  44. evilmregg says:

    I have to say… I’ve rubbed up against that Mobile Web button a million times on my shitty slider phone, but I always manage to cancel it right away and I’ve never been charged for it. Hmm.

  45. rtwigg says:

    I have been a VZW Family Plan customer for many years. Good coverage, good customer service. in my future.

  46. rwalford79 says:

    Sprint charges $0.03 per kb, and they will charge this data fee in addition to any song, wallpaper, etc you have to download.


    That will show you how Sprint charges.

  47. MrHacks says:

    As a new Verizon customer, I’ve learned a lot about the wiley methods ofv which they do business lately. However, Verizon seems to forget that the words “with Google” is printed on the backside of the Droid (of which this message is being composed on). Though I am using the WiFi feature on this device, I can’t help but think that even though I am using my network instead of VZW’s 3G, the folks at Verizon are taking advantage of this new opporitunity.

    Hopefully, Google will correct Verizon’s wayward behavior, especially if Verizon wants to attract new customers away from the allure of AT&T and the iPhone.

  48. enine says:

    “Now, you can ask to have this feature blocked. But even then, if you one of those buttons by accident, your phone transmits data; you get a message that you cannot use the service because it’s blocked-BUT you just used 0.06 kilobytes of data to get that message, so you are now charged $1.99 again!”

    I can say for sure that this one is false, I put the data block on my wife’s phone after she got it because of accidental charges and her or the kids have seen the no available message and we have received no charges. It appears that no one verifies what someone says before posting it here.

  49. mattbramanti says:

    Wow, the anonymous commenter uses specific numbers, so he must be right!

    Except that’s he’s not. Data revenue isn’t 40 percent of revenue, it’s more like 25 percent:


    Shame on Pogue for uncritically reprinting easily-disprovable nonsense.

  50. parrotuya says:

    Fortunately, I have an unlimited data plan. But this is still ridiculous. And Verizon is only slightly less evil than the other telecoms. However, I really wish they would unlock the GPS!

    DOWn, baby, DOWn!

  51. liesandslander says:

    Verizon definately has this scam set up, and they even reinforce it, if you want to cancel your internet, it also disables your voice, video and picture texts as well. At least they allow it to disable that idiotic VZ navigator, which is set up in the same easy to accidentally access style.