Bill Shock: Verizon, Family Spar over $18,000

Just how much is too much, even if the charges on your phone bill are technically legitimate?

That’s what one New England family has been asking for the past four years after getting a bill from Verizon Wireless for nearly $18,000.

The charges stem from their son logging on to the Internet via his mobile phone, tethering it to his home computer. He thought the family had free data downloads. They didn’t. So one day in the summer of 2006, when the bill came, it was for 100 times the usual amount.

Bob St. Germain refused to pay the bill after his state’s Department of Public Utilities encouraged him to fight it.

After some back and forth, Verizon slashed the charges in half, but that wasn’t enough. St. Germain decided to fight it more, so the telco sent the bill to collections. Company officials say they acted in good faith, reducing the charges, even though they were legitimate.

“We go to great lengths to educate our customers on their products and services so that they avoid any unintended bills,’’ wrote spokespeople for Verizon Communications and Verizon Wireless in an e-mail to the Boston Globe.

But despite that perceived clarity, a nonpartisan research group, the New America Foundation, reports at least one call a month from someone shocked by a huge bill. The group says it’s indicative of how confusing many wireless plans can be.

“If there’s extreme activity on your account, they should let you know,’’ St. Germain told the Globe.

The dispute remains unresolved.

Editor’s Note: After our story was published, Verizon Wireless e-mailed us this response:

On April 30, the Globe published an article about a Verizon customer who disputed a 2006 bill. This story paints an inaccurate picture about the clear disclosure of calling plan information we provide and neglects to include any of the many tools available to our customers to help manage their accounts.

The wireless industry is extraordinarily competitive and customers have choices. We work to win, and keep, customers every day — and we understand our customers don’t like surprises. Neither do we — it’s bad business. Which is why we clearly explain service plan details in brochures, during the purchase process, in our customer agreements and again through confirmation letters. We provide access to tons of account information through the MyVerizon webpage, and by dialing #BAL (balance information), #DATA (data usage), and #MIN (available minutes).

We also provide numerous tools through the Internet to manage your family’s cell phone use, including the ability to: set voice and messaging allowances and receive free text alerts when a family member nears or reaches their limit; designate specific times when a family member can’t call, message or use data on his/her cell phone; create lists of blocked phone numbers to prevent unwanted calls and text messages from being sent/received.

Situations like the one in the article are exceedingly rare. However, when customers share unusual situations, like the one featured from 2006, we work on a case-by-case basis to resolve them. At Verizon, we believe in upholding the highest ethical standards. Anything less would be unacceptable.

Howard Waterman
Executive Director of Public Relations for Verizon Wireless Northeast Area

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