An early termination fee — and now, a collection agency

Cellular tower, waiting to be disconnected. / Photo by Gary Lerude – Flickr

Question: I am having problems with Verizon Wireless and I hope you can help me. A few months ago, I heard about a way to get out of my contract without paying an early termination fee. Verizon was changing the terms of its contract by increasing a regulatory fee, and we had 60 days to opt out.

I contacted Verizon and told them I wanted to end my service. The representative was very friendly, said she understood. I confirmed on her recorded line that I would not be charged an early termination fee, and the day my service would be discontinued. On that same day, I ported my number to another wireless carrier.

A few weeks later, I received a bill for the early termination fee. When I called, I explained everything to a representative, who just kept repeating over and over again that I had broken my contract and I had to pay the fee. I called multiple times and got the same response.

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Then, about a month later, I received another bill from Verizon — this time for over $500. In addition to the early termination fee, they had billed me for a full month after I terminated my service with them. I called and got a representative who explained that when a customer terminates service, their standard procedure is to keep the account open for a full month because that’s how long it takes to port a number.

That’s nonsense. The port completed the same day I requested it. They said it didn’t matter that I was told on the recorded line my account would be discontinued or that I wouldn’t be charged an early termination fee, that their procedures and my contract dictated I would be charged both the fee and for the extra month of service.

I refused to pay.

Now, a collection agency is calling my home and my work seven to ten times a day, demanding I pay in full. I feel like I’ve reached a dead end with Verizon. When I call, they won’t even let me talk to a supervisor anymore.

Please help me. I do not have the funds to pay this bill, nor do I feel like I should have to – Verizon needs to keep their word and stop harassing me. When I asked Verizon reps to track my original call and listen to the recording, they have refused. — Christopher Clauson, Chisago City, Minn.

Answer: Verizon should have canceled your service immediately and without penalty. Why? Under the terms of your contract, Verizon specifically says if it changes its contract, you can get out without paying an early termination fee. It’s one of the most popular ways to escape from an onerous cell phone contract (only to sign yet another onerous cell phone contract).

The representative you spoke with about the balance due gave you inaccurate information. According to your contract, cancellations become effective on the last day of that month’s billing cycle, and you are responsible for all charges incurred until then. So it appears the rest of your bill is in order and needs to be paid.

When any company agrees to waive a fee — and especially a cell phone company — get it in writing. Having a friendly representative promise you won’t be charged a fee isn’t the same thing as having written proof. I understand you had no choice but to take her word for it, but you could have asked her for a written confirmation, and that might have prevented this ridiculous problem from ever happening.

When you contacted Verizon to clear up the misunderstanding, the company should have agreed to go back to its call records instead of throwing the book in your face. But what you didn’t know is that Verizon only keeps 30 days worth of customer call records, so the employees you spoke with weren’t refusing to review your calls. They couldn’t.

Again, sending it a copy of your agreement, and showing the contract change, should have been sufficient. Also, had you kept your complaints in writing as opposed to calling, you would have had a much-needed record. Those can always be forwarded to John Bianchi, Verizon’s top customer service executive, if you’re getting the runaround. (By the way email addresses at Verizon are [email protected] or, so you can easily figure out Bianchi’s address.)

I contacted Verizon on your behalf. A representative contacted you by phone and was, in your words, “a bit condescending,” but the bottom line is that the company agreed to call off the collection agency. Verizon also agreed to erase the $350 early termination fee, but it billed you for the rest of the month, per your contract, which you agreed to pay.