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. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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