Sunday, January 08, 2006

Automatic Billing - Convenience That Will Cost You

Recently the Washington Post reported on some customer support issues at Verizon. It seems people were getting overbilled (Are you surprised yet?) and a customer living in Olney, MD called to complain. The Verizon representative said, yes, they knew some customers were being double billed.
"When I asked if they were taking any steps to remedy this by notifying their customers . . . or refunding money, they simply said 'no,' that most people call when they notice that they're being overcharged."
According to the article, a Director of Verizon later clarified that the representative had misspoke and that affected customers' bills were being credited. However, my experiences don't jive with that. I have had dozens of incorrect bills from the likes of Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, Sprint, etc. and never ever had them come back to me with a correction without my prompting - unless forced by a government order.

Surely, I shouldn't have to go on. But some people still tell me they rarely look at their bills (Who has the time?!) and they love automatic billing (It's so much simpler!) All I can say is: Bend over. Verizon is not looking out for your interest. (Comcast, nope, not them either.) Nor is the FCC. And state regulators and county regulators can't do it on their own. You need to watch out for these companies and take action yourself.

Two Recommendations
  1. Read Your Bill
  2. Do Not Use Automatic Billing
Letting companies such as Verizon, Comcast, and other telecomm companies automatically write checks on your account is convenient and stupid. Not only do they sometimes bill incorrectly but they can end up charging you for things you don't need. I've been charged for extra months of service, for phone calls I didn't make, for extra cable packages, for cable modems that I didn't rent, and for taxes and surchanges that didn't exist.

And during one particularly amazing period of time, I was informed that my account had been turned over to collections for three months of nonpayment - even though I had always paid my bills on time. And bank records showed every one of my checks having been promptly cashed the entire time I was getting dunned for nonpayment. This collections incident was courtesy of Comcast and took place during the period when I was serving on the county's cable advisory committee. If that's the treatment a knowledgeable customer gets, can you imagine the treatment the unknowledgeable customer gets?

No? Well start reading your bills and find out.

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