Cancel Crappy AT&T DSL Service, Get Billed For It Anyway

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.


Edit Your Comment

  1. frankrizzo:You're locked up in here with me. says:

    File theft charges.

  2. TrustAvidity says:

    Whenever AT&T reps come to my door all I usually have to say to get them to stop pushing is “bandwidth cap.” I’m sure I’d never hit the 250 cap (especially if I had DSL speeds) but I’d hate knowing it’s there. I’m still riding my Unlimited Data plan on Verizon and will continue to do so even if it takes buying my phones retail.

  3. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    can I reply or am I still ‘awaiting moderation’?

  4. Ed says:

    I just don’t understand why people give other companies direct access to their bank accounts. It is like giving someone the keys to your house and telling them where you keep your wallet, only easier because they can take your money with a button press instead of having to actually drive to your house.

    Hate to say it, but OP’s fault here for allowing themselves to get in this situation. You cannot blame AT&T. It is their nature to be like this.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      Oh, I do blame AT&T for having that nature. Sure, OP should have known AT&T had that nature and avoided them, or at least not let them have access to the. But the bank should also know that customers have 60 days to contest charges, not 14 days.

    • sprybuzzard says:

      Until I found this site I didn’t know this could happen. It never happened to me and if it happened to people I know they didn’t say. I did switch my payments from autopay to my bank bill payer after I read a few stories like this, so yeah, I do understand why people give their account numbers to companies.

  5. tvguyjohn says:

    This was both frustrating and enlightening to read. Why? Because it could have been written word-for-word by me. I am having the EXACT same problem. Switched from DSL to U-Verse. Guess what? Yep – same as author – still getting billed for DSL, even though I’ve told them to stop and they’ve promised me refunds.

    Even the “Dead port” is spot-on. I heard the same thing. Seriously spooky stuff.

    • Difdi says:

      Next time you talk to them, get escalated to someone who can authorize such a refund, and ask them for one of two things, making it clear they get to choose how the matter goes forward: The promised refund, or their corporate agent for service of process.

      Nobody wants to be the guy who got the company sued, it looks bad on performance reviews.

  6. Lyn Torden says:

    I blame the bank. AT&T saying they can’t refund after two weeks is BS. You have 60 days to contest the charge. They don’t get to just say “sorry, we set the limit to 14 days”.

  7. T. Bone says:

    Att sucks there customer service is as bad as Ebay and Pay pal. At&ts dsl is no better than dial up. The last time Att was at my house was 11/18/11 they said they would be back with a new modem today 6/25/12 still no new modem not a word from Att.

  8. JonBoy470 says:

    I use Bank of Scamerica, and pay all my bills through their on-line bill pay system, so I have control over payments going out. If the OP is having trouble with these charges going through, just report the card lost to the bank. They’ll issue a new card with a new number. AT&T will get the hint when the charges get declined a couple of months in a row…

    • DAS37 says:

      Yes, always set up online payments thru your bank so you have the control. Even if they don’t charge you on purpose, there’s always the chance of a mistake or they take too much. Then it’s on you to try and get your money back. I don’t even do automatic payments, everything is manual.

    • Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

      Not necessarily. The bank will probably let the charges through “as a courtesy” and then charge him something for doing it.

  9. RayanneGraff says:

    Precisely why no company has access to my bank account. I’m not blaming the OP because he SHOULD have been able to do auto-pay without being screwed over, but still. Never, ever do auto-pay.

  10. MeowMaximus says:

    AT&T used to be good, now they suck rocks. Sue them in small claims court.

    • GrayMatter says:

      Aww…doesn’t anybody remember Lily Tomlin and her takeoff on AT&T.

      Or, to really dredge up some oldies, remember Our Man Flint? And who was the villian in that show? I recall the phone booth that would not open, the truck that came and lifted trapped victim up and placed another booth in its place.

      So, old Ma Bell was just as bad. Only you had some sort of control in the state’s regulatory commission.

  11. Noir says:

    so f’ing glad consumerist finally switched over to wordpress!

    • MauraAcastus says:

      Somehow during the “upgrade” my username got switched to MauraAcastus

      • Mimbla says:

        I think they switched it to the default username you registered with. You can still change your display name, but you can’t log in with your display name.

  12. Rob says:

    Don’t just call. Follow up every conversation with ATT and the bank in writing. If you don’t put these things in writing, especially with banks, you don’t get the protections that regulations provide.

  13. svyerkh says:

    NEVER EVER EVER give any company permission to auto-bill you from your checking account. There are all kinds of potential for nightmare when they can arbitrarily take money from you at the most inopportune time. They might offer all kinds of discounts and rewards if you let them, but the idea that they can take your money and then you have to chase them down to get it back is just ludicrous.

    I’ll pay you every month when it’s convenient for me, not let you take money from me when it’s convenient for you, thank you very much.

  14. Velifer says:

    AT$T hasn’t been good since Reagan broke up Ma Bell.
    Ahhh, the sweet, sweet comfort of a giant monopoly, where you don’t even know it could be better.

    • StarKillerX says:

      Reagan didn’t break up Ma Bell, the break up was the result of an anti trust lawsuit by the Justice Department against them that was started in 1974 and a settlement was finalized in 1982.

      • Ed says:

        Maybe, but it is still Reagan’s fault. And Bush’s fault.

        • Velifer says:

          Yeah, but the Carter-era settlement that was negotiated was harsh, Reagan modified it to be quite friendly to the deathstar.

  15. Dave B. says:

    Bill paying rule number one, never, ever, give anyone your bank account info for automatic monthly billing. If there’s a service you absolutely must have, use some type of e-checking account. I have one, it always has only a dollar or 2 in it. If I make an online purchase I transfer the required amount of cash to it and use the card number associated with it. You can do the same for monthly billing.

  16. beckydavis2008 says:

    Anyone else want to add “never let a company have direct access to your bank account” to this thread? There may be someone who missed it.

    • The Colonel says:

      You know, you should never let a company have direct access to your bank account. You should use your bank’s electronic bill pay instead.

  17. Extreme Couponers are Extreme Losers! says:

    AT&T messed up my home phone. I use a filter, yet I can call no one! And nobody cares at Customer Service. Welcome to the worst ever.