83-Year-Old Racks Up $24,289 In AT&T Charges By Still Using AOL Dial-Up

Believe it or not, AOL still has more than 2 million paying customers who dial into the service to get Internet access. And for people whose online use is minimal, this may be the cheaper option — unless some glitch causes your modem to start dialing an international line, leaving you to rack up thousands of dollars in charges while your phone company pleads ignorance.

That’s the lesson learned by a California octogenarian who took his $24,289 AT&T problem to the L.A. Times’ David Lazarus.

The man said he’d long been paying $51/month to AT&T for landline service and that he’s one of the few remaining AOL dial-up users out there.

Then suddenly, his AT&T bill jumps up to more than $8,000 in a single month. A call to the phone company resulted in nothing but head-scratching. A tech was supposedly dispatched, but the 83-year-old said he heard nothing further and that no one ever came into his house.

Until the next month, when that bill was almost double the previous one — nearly $16,000. Again, AT&T could offer no real explanation other than to send out another tech. This time, a tech did show up, but only to tell the man there was something wrong with his modem.

When the customer, who subsists on $1,500/month in Social Security benefits, called AT&T about lowering the bill, the company was not exactly willing to listen.

“The woman said they couldn’t make an adjustment,” he explained to Lazarus. “I told her I couldn’t possibly afford what they wanted. She just insisted that I had to pay it. She was very blunt about it.”

Then Lazarus and the Times got involved and suddenly AT&T was much more flexible.

A rep for the company explained that the customer’s modem had somehow started dialing an international number and he was getting charged by the minute. Those minutes add up quickly and the next thing you know, you owe $8,000 just because you’re using a service most of us abandoned more than a decade ago.

AT&T claims that it was actually in the process of addressing the issue when Lazarus contacted the company, but that doesn’t explain why the first two customer service calls were not sufficient to identify the issue, or why someone whose bill jumps up by more than 100x in a single month didn’t set off alarm bells.

If AT&T can alert “unlimited” data plan holders when it thinks they are using too much data in a month, certainly the company has the ability to tell a landline customer when he might be on the hook for a phone bill that is larger than his annual income.