Verizon billing error may be rampant

Newspaper writer's fight to get hew own data charges reversed uncovers widespread error affecting many customers of the cell phone service

"Verizon is charging many customers a $1.99 data usage charge," writes Bob, "even when they are not using data." Bob read about the excess charges in Teresa Dixon Murray's Money Matters column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I'm sure the problem is pretty widespread," he writes, "but people can wrestle a refund from the company."

Murray discovered the problem in her own Verizon bill. She was certain her kids were not accessing data over the Internet, but she was often billed for one minute of data access on their phone lines anyway. "Verizon has billed two of our three lines," Murray wrote on August 15. "But never the same two -- for a $1.99 'data usage' charge. They say we must be 'accidentally' accessing the Internet -- even though doing that requires hitting several buttons in sequence. It's odd this could accidentally happen just one time each month, and only for one minute."

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She did manage to get the charges refunded, but they showed up again the next month. She would have to call -- again -- to explain the problem and get the charges reversed. This went on for the better part of a year before her patience for the matter ran out, and she stormed her local Verizon store and "told the nice salesman, Jason, that I wasn't leaving until the mysterious, recurring $1.99 'data usage' charge was resolved. Lo and behold, he was able to look up what day and time my son most recently 'accidentally' accessed the Internet for one minute and one minute only."

There was no doubt this time that the kid hadn't done it. Murray had taken his phone away from him, and it was locked in a drawer at the time of the data access. Though Murray had been calling to get charges reversed for this problem for months, only now did anyone admit to knowing what the problem was: a contact backup service. "Some people get charged $1.99 a month for this," writes Murray, "even though it's free."

After Murray wrote about her experience in her Money Matters column, more than 400 Plain Dealer readers wrote to the paper to say that they, too, had been charged for data they were sure they never used. Verizon responded to Murray and told her that the company isn't interested in "zinging" customers and hoping they won't notice. The problem has been skating under their radar, and customer service needs to brought up to speed on the issue. The company told Murray it believes the problem to be nationwide but is looking at each case individually to find a pattern and determine why and when the charges are happening.

So check your bill, Verizon customers. And if you believe you are being charged for data you didn't use, maybe your memory is better than Verizon's data-tracking tools.

Thanks, Bob, for the heads-up.

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