I told AT&T to cancel my service, so why is its collection department calling me?

When Bright Eastman’s contractors disconnected her AT&T U-verse cables that provided her with telephone and cable service, Eastman was under the impression that AT&T wouldn’t charge her for the period during which she was not receiving its services. But she was wrong — to the tune of $989.

Eastman repeatedly claims that she “did her due diligence” in arguing with AT&T that verbal agreements she made with the company in which AT&T agreed not to charge her are legally valid and that she doesn’t owe them for that time.

Unfortunately for Eastman, trying to fight a utility or telecommunications company can be like trying to fight City Hall. Winning is possible only if you get all your ducks in a row, including documentation of all your interactions — as well as having a valid case against the company. Eastman is stuck with the bill because she didn’t take these steps. And our advocates can’t help her get the charges reversed.

Eastman’s battle with AT&T began last November, when she arranged to have builders do construction work at her home. The builders cut her U-verse cables while working on her house (Eastman herself was away while the work was being done).

Two weeks later, when the construction work was complete, Eastman discovered that she did not have U-verse service because her cables were disconnected. She then called AT&T’s customer service and asked that she not be charged for the period that she did not have a U-verse connection.

According to Eastman:

Shortly thereafter, I … phoned customer service and reported the service disconnection. …. I told the customer service representative that I was not willing to pay for service I was not receiving! The customer service representative … told me that I would not be billed for the period that I had no U-verse connection and instructed me to inform AT&T when the service could be reestablished. This verbal transaction was lawfully made and is lawfully valid. In addition, the customer service representative arranged for me to pay for my service up to the date the connection was disrupted. I paid accordingly.

Unfortunately for Eastman, she didn’t document this discussion with AT&T’s representative. Her contractors stopped working on her house between December and May. At that time, claims Eastman, she called AT&T and asked that her account be canceled. But AT&T’s customer service department refused to cancel her account, claiming that another department would have to perform the account cancellation. And the agent to whom Eastman spoke told her that she was unable to transfer Eastman to that department. Eastman asked if this meant that her account would not be canceled, and the agent replied “Yes.”

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In May, Eastman received a bill from AT&T for $1,158. She contacted AT&T’s customer service and was transferred to a supervisor, who verbally assured her that her cancellation would be backdated by two months and she would not be charged for March through May. Charges for January and February would remain on Eastman’s account until her final bill arrived, at which time she was to call AT&T’s customer service and arrange to return her U-verse equipment. At that time, promised the supervisor, all the remaining charges would be reversed and Eastman’s account balance would be $0. Although Eastman claims that she “did her due diligence,” she did not document these conversations either.

After Eastman returned her U-verse equipment to AT&T, she received a final bill with a charge of $989 (AT&T gave her a credit of $65 for November). She called AT&T and asked it to honor its promise that upon receiving her final bill and returning her equipment, the remaining charges would be reversed. Instead, AT&T “made a mistake” and sent her account to Sunrise Credit Services, a New York collections company. Throughout July, this company subjected Eastman to “a daily barrage of calls.”

Eastman then phoned AT&T to ask the company to honor the supervisor’s promise, and AT&T’s agent initiated an investigation, assigning Eastman’s account a case number. She instructed Eastman to call back one week later. At that time, she spoke to an agent who told her that “they were still working” on her account and to call AT&T if she continued to be contacted by Sunrise Credit Services.

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One week later, Eastman received a call from an AT&T agent who claimed to work in the “office of the president.” This agent told her that AT&T was not going to honor the promises made by the customer service representatives, who had “failed to adhere to AT&T’s promises regarding billing.”

Eastman then filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). AT&T responded to this complaint by reiterating that it had no documentation of any promises made to Eastman by its customer service representatives to not charge her for the period when she was not receiving U-verse service and that she owed AT&T $989.

Unfortunately, Eastman didn’t do her case any favors with her response, a long, snark-filled letter in which she repeatedly accused the company of “lying” and claimed that:

I find your conduct and that of the president’s staff to be brazenly unscrupulous, despicably dishonest, unethical, and shamelessly corrupt. I don’t know how you and the presidential staff can sleep at night. … AT&T malfeasance alone is responsible for their appearance in my record and I insist that AT&T be held accountable for its mistakes. … I possess a verbatim transcript I made on August 17, 2017. In it, the level of illiteracy, ineptitude, omission, and malfeasance is rife throughout to an appalling degree. AT&T has engaged in fraud by citing the failure of its employees to competently perform their duties as an excuse for falsely accuse [sic] me of wrongdoing.

Eastman closed the letter with a threat of legal action against AT&T. Then she asked our advocates for assistance in getting AT&T to reverse the $989 charge. (Contact information for AT&T can be found on our website.)

AT&T’s U-verse Terms of Service makes clear that

Agreement to Pay.
You agree to pay all fees and charges for the Services associated with your AT&T Account, including recurring and nonrecurring charges, taxes, fees, surcharges, and assessments applicable to the Services, associated equipment, installation and maintenance, and including all usage and other charges associated with your account.
Unpaid Past Due Charges and Consent to Contact.
In the event you fail to pay AT&T or AT&T is unable to bill charges to your credit card, AT&T may assign unpaid late balances to a collections agency. You expressly authorize, and specifically consent to allowing, AT&T and/or its outside collection agencies, outside counsel, or any other agents acting by or on behalf of AT&T to contact you with informational messages regarding your account, including but not limited to contact in connection with any and all matters relating to unpaid past due charges billed by AT&T to you.

So Eastman is obligated by the terms of service to pay the charges. The service disruption caused by the disconnection of the U-verse cables doesn’t relieve Eastman of that obligation. Without documentation of the agreements AT&T’s customer service representatives made with Eastman, she has no leverage to fight the office of the president’s position. And the aggressive tone, sarcasm, accusations and threats in Eastman’s letter were inappropriate and would not have moved AT&T to assist her further.

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Our advocates asked our contacts at AT&T whether they could shed any light on Eastman’s situation. We were told that in November, Eastman had contacted AT&T to notify them of the service outage and made an appointment for repairs, but later canceled the appointment and didn’t reschedule it. In May, when she called AT&T to cancel her account, she was advised that she owed a final amount of $989.

We advised Eastman that there is nothing further we can do for her. She responded that she plans to take legal action against AT&T.

Eastman’s story closes with a warning: When issuing a complaint, always document all your contacts with the company, be polite and make sure you have a case. Otherwise, both the company and our advocates will treat your situation as a Case Dismissed.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org.

  • finance_tony

    “The service disruption caused by the disconnection of the U-verse cables doesn’t relieve Eastman of that obligation.”

    And to be double clear again – the cables that her own contractor (not AT&T) broke.

    Usually when you get to the Office of the President (and indeed, especially using elliott advocates), if you have even an infinitesimal grain of merit to your case, you will get some sort of satisfactory resolution. That she did not seems to imply that something is rotten.

    I imagine that she doesn’t dispute AT&Ts evidence that she called for a repair and then canceled it?

    The snark-filled letter reinforces my suspicion. When was the last time a case on this site exhibited a mean, libelous, condescending and/or sarcastic communication with the company in which the OP actually had evidence on their side?

  • Alan Gore

    Definitely: being mean, libelous and sarcastic is a privilege reserved for the company, not the consumer.

  • SirWIred

    I’m not sure why a billing rep would ever agree to a months-long service credit for a situation that wasn’t even their fault to begin with, and she was tardy in reporting. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, just that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

  • BubbaJoe123

    The irony is strong in this post.

  • finance_tony

    I don’t recall a company on this site ever being libelous or sarcastic to a customer. That’s a pretty quick way to be sued or go out of business. “Mean” is in the eye of the beholder, but sticking to a contract is often referred to as “mean” (or variant) here, so I’m not sure what you’re referring to.

  • Alan Gore

    We have seen quite a few cases where a representative will hang up on an inquiring customer, or throw one off a flight because the gate agent is having a bad day, or accuse a quibbling customer of acting in bad faith.

  • Kevin Nash

    OP is lucky that AT&T didn’t come after her for the costs of repairing the Uverse cables that HER contractors cut.

  • Kerr

    Suing over an issue worth less than $1,000? Not sure that’s the best move for either side.

  • Kerr

    Before I had my sprinklers installed, I call the 811(?) service to mark the utilities on the ground. Of course, the installers still cut the fiber optic cable. I called AT&T and they repaired it the next day for no charge (if there was a charge, I would have deducted it from my payment to the sprinkler company).

  • Chris_In_NC

    Good luck finding a lawyer to take your case, without putting down a retainer that will exceed $1000.

  • RightNow9435

    under $1000=small claims court

  • Kevin Nash

    OP would likely represent herself in small claims court but that would entail paying the appropriate filing fees, filling out the forms and having the claims served on AT&T.

    Assuming the paperwork is done properly, OP would then take a day off from work (assuming she still works) and win the case. Based on the facts presented, I am not sure if she even has a winnable cause considering it was the contractors that she hired who cut the Uverse cables.

  • finance_tony

    OK, so no examples of being libelous or sarcastic.

  • Michael__K
  • finance_tony

    Great examples of bad behavior (though I would probably not classify a threat of physical violence as sarcasm).

    Now, do you know what those are even better examples of? Situations where the facts wind up NOT being on the side of the libelous, sarcastic, and nasty. Just like this case, and just like I pointed out in my very first post:

    When was the last time a case on this site exhibited a mean, libelous,
    condescending and/or sarcastic communication with the company in which
    the OP actually had evidence on their side?

    It will be interesting to apply this heuristic to future cases where the customers – and indeed, some companies – exhibit this behavior.

  • Michael__K

    “do you know what those are even better examples of? Situations where the facts wind up NOT being on the side of the libelous, sarcastic, and nasty. “

    How so? One could argue, and you’ll generally find comments arguing, even in these examples, that “rules” and “authority” support the company which was libelous, sarcastic or nasty…

  • Alan Gore

    Perhaps the ultimate way a company has of just flipping off a customer it no longer feel like dealing with is by selling off a disputed balance to a third-party collection agency, as happened in this case (the headline is inaccurate about the collection being handled in-house). Companies with monopoly powers do this out of sheer vindictiveness when a customer digs in and won’t fold; AT&T has to take a 90% haircut on the debt by selling it off that way, so they are not doing it for the money, but they have the satisfaction of knowing that this woman will be hounded by the collector forever.

  • finance_tony

    And yet in this case, there is a very valid resolution process in the executive complaints department of AT&T. I’ve found it one of the easiest of major companies to use when solving a dispute. And yet the OP in this case belittles, lies, and shoots herself in the proverbial foot by going off the rails after HER contractor cuts a wire, she inexplicably cancels her own repair call, and then she lies about canceling the service.

    I agree with you that the relationships between customers and companies are corroding – but this is clearly a a two-way street. And we see examples of bad behavior by both actors on this very blog almost daily.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Read the website “Notalwaysright.com/working” if you want situations of snarky company employees (though much more often it is annoying customers).

  • RightNow9435

    For almost $1000, it’s worth it….especially with a low filing fee. Depends on how wronged she feels, and from the info presented, she does sound like she feels wronged.

  • C Schwartz

    The account seemed to be pretty far past due. The billing was for November to May, but there was a credit for November, so December to May — so December bill was 4 months past due (billed in Jan), Jan 3 months past due.

    Isn’t there a reason why companies do not want to keep bad debts on the books as accounts receivable for too long? I know nothing about generally accepted accounting principles but remember the accountant for an organization mentioning something about long outstanding invoices ……

  • C Schwartz

    But how likely is she to win? I do not know what state she is in, but some have limits as to verbal contracts and such.

  • C Schwartz

    Certainly there are issues with many companies billing practices, but …… there are some problems with the story as presented.
    1. The service failure was not caused by the company but by the customer’s own contractors.
    2. After the alleged first call in November to say that the service was not working the customer set up and then canceled the repair.
    3. Customer does not formally cancel service until May

    1. Was service ever restored?
    2. Did the customer never receive any invoices for December, January, February etc?
    3. Why would a customer service person offer to credit part of the past due fees?

    Is there a possibility that ATT representatives may have initially thought that ATT caused the outage but later realized that the service failure was the result of the customer’s contractors.

    If a person’s cat or dog chews the cable wires and does allow for a repairman to enter and does not properly cancel the service for 5+ would they be off the hook for paying for bill for the service?

  • Bob Curtis

    Just to point out: Ms. Finger repeatedly suggests “documenting” encounters with phone reps. To me, that would mean writing down date and time, and (if possible) an identifier for the rep. None of which would have been of any help in this situation!

  • finance_tony

    May I offer another alternative? I have a free app on my phone that records all conversations automatically. You can set it up to only record on demand, but because I tend to text and email more often than I call, I just let it record everything. This has proved invaluable in securing an airline refund when I canceled a reservation within 24 hours (but the carrier claimed I didn’t) and also to document a telemarketer knowingly violating the no-call list, whom I later sued.

  • Bob Curtis

    I think I will get that app! Note that some states are “one-party” states, meaning that you (as one of the parties to the conversation) can record it without notifying the other party; some states are
    “two-party”, meaning that you need to notify the other party. It would be amusing to hear a rep’s reaction to my saying, “This call may be recorded for quality assurance”!

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