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Verizon customer shocked by mistaken $13,000 phone bill

A two-month battle shows how to solve a big problem with a major company

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Photo (c) Wachira Khurimon EyeEm - Getty Images
Each month Charles, of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, got a text from Verizon notifying him that his wireless bill was scheduled for autopay. Each month the bill was just under $124. But on April 15, Charles’ text from Verizon said he owed quite a bit more -- $13,325 to be exact.

“The charge simply seemed absurd to me, almost funny,” Charles told ConsumerAffairs.

But the humor quickly disappeared. Five days later, Charles contacted Verizon customer service and explained the situation. He told the agent there was no way he could have accumulated such a large charge and hoped the issue would be resolved quickly. It wasn’t.

“The agent I spoke with admitted my bill seemed highly irregular, but then began asking me about what calls I might have made, as if the absurd charge might somehow be explained by our phone behavior,” Charles said. “I could tell he had been trained not to commit to anything implying that Verizon had made a mistake.”

Charles said he got a sympathetic hearing from the agent, who put him on hold several times to speak to a supervisor but was told there was nothing that could be done. The agent said customer service was not authorized to make adjustments to a bill over $10,000.

However, the agent told Charles he would submit a request for a credit to the April bill. The agent said Charles should hear something within seven business days.

“In the days after that call, I checked MyVerizon fairly often, expecting the charge to disappear,” Charles told us. “It didn’t. As my regular payment due date approached, I began to become agitated.”

Growing concern

Charles made what he expected his regular payment to be on the May 4 due date and received a response from Verizon, thanking him for his “partial payment” and telling him he still owed $13,200.

In early May, Charles began contacting Verizon daily, still getting nowhere after explaining that it had to be a billing mistake. In one instance, he said the agent on the other end of a chat simply disappeared. In another instance, the agent said she would submit a request for a credit -- an exercise he had just been through without success.

Increasingly concerned that the matter might never be resolved, Charles moved the numbers on his family’s account to AT&T to prevent Verizon from turning off his service. Days later, he posted a report about his experience on ConsumerAffairs and called his sister, a retired attorney, for advice.

“She told me that when she worked on in-house legal staff for a couple of very large corporate banks in New York one of the duties of the legal team was to read the complaint letters written to the CEO,” Charles said.  

Going straight to the top

Charles’ sister told him that complaints like his would be read in the C-suite. It was worth a shot, so Charles began looking for email addresses for top executives at Verizon. 

“Actually, I found the addresses very quickly,” Charles said. “A consumer advocacy group called Elliot Advocacy displays these addresses and others like them for other companies.”

Charles sent emails to Verizon’s CEO and two other senior executives, telling them about his experience. Within 12 hours, he heard back from Verizon’s senior vice president and head of sales and service. Charles said she apologized for his trouble and placed a senior analyst named Brandon on the case.

Brandon got in touch with Charles within a day and said he was investigating the matter. A few days later, Brandon emailed Charles to say the investigation had identified a billing glitch related to international data. It took a few more days, but on June 2, Charles’ Verizon bill showed a $0 balance.

Lessons learned

Charles said his experience taught him many things about trying to resolve problems with large companies. For one thing, he said “big problems can’t be solved by little people,” meaning someone very high up in the company would have to erase a mistaken $13,000 charge.

“The relatively quick personal response I got from the Verizon VP, plus my sister’s experience working as a lawyer in big corporate banks, tells me that emailing top management may be just about the best strategy there is,” Charles told us. “When you do this, though, it is important to write the right sort of email. It needs to lay out the facts in an easily comprehended narrative, show frustration without busting a gasket, not ramble into minutia, or perhaps add one or two key bits of evidence that support the claims made in the email.”

Charles attached one bit of evidence from his paper trail that may have bolstered his case. He provided a screenshot from his account showing 12 months of his Verizon bills.

“My bills were displayed as bar graphs,” he said. “Eleven were tiny, all at $124. Then, the twelfth, April’s charges, rose up like a genie out of a bottle, all the way to $13,325.”

As he looks back, Charles believes he should have acted immediately and not waited five days before disputing the bill. He learned that something so obvious to him wouldn’t be so obvious to Verizon. He also gained insight into how huge companies operate.

“I’m sure that a computer, not a person, suddenly saw fit to bill me $13,325 rather than $124,” he said. “But in 2021, and especially at a behemoth like Verizon, once a computer does something like this it is very difficult to get people to undo it. This is partly because the people you can actually talk to have very little power.”

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