Verizon won’t correct a billing error – now what?


Alan Grinnell is having phone trouble with Verizon. Why can’t he get the credit he deserves?

Question: We recently took a trip to Italy and signed up for Verizon’s Global Value Voice rates, because we intended to use our cell phones while traveling.

Keeping in mind the rate of $0.99 per minute, we kept our calls to a minute or two each. My wife did make two rather long calls of 11 and 13 minutes. However, we were shocked when we received the bill, which said that she had received a call lasting 63 minutes from an Italian phone number.

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Verizon told us that there was no way to verify the phone number but that they could verify that the call was received on my wife’s phone. There is no way that she would have talked to anyone for over an hour, knowing the costs. In fact, she is not in the habit of talking that long while in the US.

A friend in Italy dialed the phone number that Verizon said had called us. Our friend said that it did not appear to be a valid phone number, giving a fast busy signal.

We were on the phone with Verizon customer support for over two hours recently, including being cut off two times. Finally, Verizon said that there was nothing they could do but offered to “split the cost” with us. What could we do? They would not accept our word that this was an erroneous billing, and there is no way for the consumer to prove it. So, being at the mercy of Verizon — where there was not much — we paid the bill. Do we have any other recourse? — Alan Grinnell, Portland

Answer: Verizon shouldn’t charge you for something you didn’t do. But how do you disprove you received these calls?

Bear in mind that While Verizon is charging you 99 cents per minute for your calls, it has to reimburse the Italian carrier whose network you’re using. So even though you don’t know anything about the calls, Verizon may still have to pay for them.

By the way, don’t get me started on roaming, which often unfairly targets travelers with high fees. It got so bad that European lawmakers had to tell wireless carriers to knock it off. Last year, the European Commission voted to end mobile roaming charges and the law went into effect last month. By the end of next year, the European Union will have no mobile roaming charges between member states.

There are ways around roaming if you’re visiting Italy from the United States, including a SIM card with a European number on an unlocked phone or a conventional phone card. But none of those solutions would have fixed the disputed number problem. It is, as you say, the carrier’s word against yours.

I don’t know what happened, but a few scenarios come to mind. You or your wife could have accidentally dialed the number (“butt dialing,” as it’s called), or someone could have called your phone and you answered but failed to disconnect. Both of these are fairly unlikely, leaving us with a third possibility: that this was simply a billing error.

I tend to agree that this was probably a simple mistake — perhaps a miscommunication between Verizon and the Italian carrier. I’m unaware of any mechanism you can use to successfully dispute an international phone call. Verizon offers some non-specific instructions on its website, but it appears you already went through this process and succeeded in getting half the $62 charge removed.

I don’t like calling a company, even if it’s a phone company, because, like your problem, there’s no way to prove you made the call. I thought a paper trail might be helpful, so one of our resolutions specialists helped you with some names and email addresses for Verizon Wireless execs.

You sent a message directly to one of the executives and the charges were promptly dropped.

Does Verizon make it too difficult to fix phone bill errors?

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55 thoughts on “Verizon won’t correct a billing error – now what?

  1. Phone companies can be downright obnoxious when they think a call was made and it was not. It happened to me in 1981. The call was definitely not made and they wouldn’t budge on it. A mobile phone should have logs, something that was not available back then. Good that this got reversed.

    1. Good point Bill. Though phone logs can be altered by the customer, Verizon should have more records than they disclosed.

      1. I suppose I meant the logs would be more useful for the caller to determine if there was some sort of funny business with the phone. In any case, they most certainly do make errors and it seems difficult to them to acknowledge it.

    2. We frequently travel overseas and just avoid the problem with an unlocked phone, a local SIM card, and a PennyTalk account. Never spend more than 20 euro, even on a three week trip.

      In many countries you can even ‘pre-order’ a FREE Lebara SIM card to be delivered to your hotel prior to your arrival. Then just pop it in the phone, top it up with 10 euro, and away you go!

      1. That works great. Except in Italy, they are a bit anal about giving out SIM cards.
        I am looking forward to the end of roaming charges in Europe so I can use my UK prepaid card all over there.

        1. @flutiefan:disqus They don’t advertise it but it is removable. On an iPhone 5 … look to the right hand side about 1/2 way up. You’ll see a small hole that you can stick a paperclip in. It allows you to pop out the mini sim.

          1. On the 4/4 S, its basically in the same spot… Now if it will work once you replace it… I can’t attest to since my phones are locked.

          2. The only way I have gotten it to work on a locked iPhoen is to jail break it, then there are unauthorized apps on the jail break app store that will allow it to work on specific carriers while locked. I always back up my phoen first, and restore it to its un-jail-broken state when I am done.

  2. That happened to me way back in 1992. Still cheesed. I found a $50
    charge on my AT&T bill. They claimed I called South Korea. South
    *bleeping* Korea!!! Of all places in the world to call. It’s not like I
    speak Korean or even know anyone there. I spoke to the rep who stated
    that AT&T doesn’t make billing errors and I must have called South
    Korea. What BS. $50 was a small fortune for a student in 1992. Since
    At&T refused to drop the charge, I dropped AT&T. Simple

    1. Did you have a cordless phone? My parents experienced similar issues around the same time period — bills for long expensive calls to random places in Asia they had absolutely no connection to.

      They were eventually advised by someone at the phone company (probably AT&T!) that most likely someone had hacked their cordless transmitter/receiver. Apparently there was a widespread scam at the time where people would walk or drive through neighborhoods and carry popular cordless handsets and connect to the receivers of unsuspecting residents.

      As I recall, they got the charges up to that point dropped, but they couldn’t keep the cordless phone on anymore or subsequent charges would be sustained.

      1. I remember reading about this, so it must have been pretty wide-spread. Gotta love a company who states that they don’t make any errors … how do you suppose they got the CS rep to actually say that?

    2. I had that happen as well in the late 80s. We were able to prove that we were not in the country and that no one had access to our phone while we were gone. None of our family lived near us so we always had a lot of long distance calls—-always to the same 3 phone numbers. There was never any variation in our calls for 6 years. We were gone for nearly 2 months and only one long distance call was showing on our statement and that to a number in Asia. We could prove we were out of the country and could prove that no one had easy access to our phone. (They were unplugged and stored in a locked trunk that was used as a bedside table. ) Phone company relented rather quickly and offered a goodwill credit as well but would never say how the charge ended up on our bill.

      1. With land line phones (and I mean copper line, not cable, or VoIP), it was rather simple, carry a corded phone, or lineman’s phone, one screw opens the box on the outside of the structure, and there you will find a phone jack called a “test jack.” It was put there so one could verify that a problem was with the internal wiring, or the actual network. Plug in, place a call, hang up, close the cover.

        The unfortunate part is that most phone companies install their “network interface box” on the rear or the structure in an alley or service area so they were not ugly from the street.

    3. I had the same issue in the 90’s with a $20 1-900 number charge for a number I never called. It wasn’t a dirty 900 number, it was one you call to re-load a phone card and have it billed to your phone account. This was with US West, and they refused to remove the charge. I heard about a scam similar to the one Michael_K mentioned, where people would take a corded phone and hook it directly to the phone box on the outside of peoples houses to place calls. That’s probably what happened.

      1. I had once the same problem too with the Female Dirty Phone Sex number charge around 20$ too. In Canada is 976 prefixe. I call Bell to complaint as is “I live alone in my apartment and that’s 200% not me. I am gay! Knock, knock, knock” they remove the charge on the spot. And Bell phone company suspect the Dirty Phone provider scam Bell customers because I am not the sole to complain. Not long after they remove this provider.

        1. That’s good that they removed it on the spot. When I lived in NY they were 976 number too, it wasn’t until Colorado that they seemed to be 900. I had forgot, we used to joke about 976 numbers.

  3. I’m curious as to why Verizon, or the Italian carrier, couldn’t do the same thing the OP’s friend did and verify that the calling number was not in service. Of course, neither carrier has any incentive to do this, so I guess I answered my own question. There is even the possibility this could be a scam perpetrated by the Italian carrier looking to extort some money from the Americans.

  4. This is something that should have been handled between the husband and the wife. Chris, you missed a couple of scenarios.

  5. This is the third or fourth time in the past few weeks that I’ve tried to vote here and get, “You Had Already Voted For This Poll. Poll ID #603” ???

  6. Back in 1981-2 I had a dispute with GTE over local phone service. (I was in an area where GTE was the local carrier, not AT&T.) I had sent the check on time. I took a week off over Thanksgiving. On the Wednesday, I had apparently received notice that the bill wasn’t paid, and on the Friday, the service was disconnected. I came back on the Sunday to no phone service.

    On the Monday, I tracked this down at the GTE office, and gave them a second check, and went to the bank to stop payment on the first. They demanded a huge deposit to restore service and I refused. So, they demanded the phone back. I brought it back and got a receipt.

    Both the original check and the new check were presented to the bank on the same day.

    In January, I received a demand letter for the cost of the phone, claiming it had not been returned.

    Over the previous summer, I had testified in front of the public utilities commission against a proposed rate increase by GTE, pointing out that their local service was already the most expensive in the nation, based on the number of phones reachable for their local range. As a result, I had a couple good contacts at the PUC — and instead of going to the GTE office with the receipt, I wrote a long letter, included all the copies of letters from GTE, copies of receipts, checks, etc. I CC’ed a few politicians, and a couple executives at GTE’s corporate headquarters.

    Within a week, I had phone service restored, no deposit, and a letter of apology from GTE’s Vice President of public relations — and had no problems again.

  7. I bet it’s the Italian side scam. I had once being scammed of 50$ by International Call at Amsterdam Airport phone booth for 2 minutes call contrary to .50cents/minutes announced on the price list. And I know some friends being scam too.

      1. On most of the public phone in Amsterdam Centraal Station there is an official list of rate we can call by using our credit card. So I called to Antwerp (not very far from Amsterdam) and follow the instructions by punching the number and credit card number, etc…. but an operator answer instead of my friend, and she ask the credit card number again for no reason and the call go on without any problem. I am not aware until I received my Credit Card bill 2 month later with a rate 10 times more expensive. And I inquire, they say it’s a operator assisted rate call. So the scam is to lure us by a list of very low rate by credit card but they arrange to charge it as operator assisted rate call. I am a regular traveller to Europe and use credit card call without problem in UK, France, Switzerland, Germany…. And I tell the story to my FB friends on a FB group, some answer they have the same problem at Amsterdam Centraal Train Station. The provider billing address is in Israel, It’s surely a scam. It make almost impossible to fight the charge.

  8. That’s interesting! When I signed up for the same Verizon Global Value Voice on our recent trip to Europe, I had exactly the opposite problem on my iPhone 4S: five weeks of solid No Service everywhere I went (UK, Germany, Switzerland). When I was near WiFi, I could make calls using Skype, but Verizon missed out on a ton of revenue it could have made on calls.

  9. They were fighting this hard for a 35.00 dispute is wild, but fighting against a company like Verison “is” fun. They are the best cell company in our area, so I do have them and I do use the phone internationally. I have had lots of little issues like dropped calls in Spain and being billed for data, but they have easily been removed. There are many phones that you cannot change the sim card like the IPHONE although the newer versions have the proper chip already.. THe best way for people to comunicate via cell in Europe is to by a local track fone in the airport and buy minutes. The incoming calls are free and the outgoing calls are .99/minute If you are going to be called, then it is far cheaper than fighting with Verizon. All of my clients by track phones once they have landed.

        1. I’ve had the 3G, the 3GS, the 4, and now the 5 and all of them have had SIM access. They have all had a tiny hole and there is a tool that came with each phone that can be inserted into the hole to pop out the SIM caddy. Getting the carrier to unlock it is another story, but every time I’ve needed to switch sims I backed up my phone, used a jail breaking utility that allowed me to change carriers without unlocking the phone, and then restored the phone later.

          ETA: I actually prefer to use Talk-A-Tone, which I posted about below (or above).

          1. The HTC One line of phones has a similar tool for both inserting a micro SD and the SIM card. I’ve been figuring this out as I just got a new one. From Verizon. 😛

  10. I used to work for AT&T as the manager of a team that sold long distance services to businesses. About 14 years ago while on vacation, I used my personal AT&T calling card to place a direct dial call from London, England to Boston, MA. Other than the local connection, my call went completely over the AT&T network since I used a local access number provided by AT&T to place the call. I reached an answering machine and quickly hung up. AT&T billed me $28 for that one minute call. My plea that the rate was wrong and the charges were unfair fell on deaf ears at customer service. If a management level employee can’t get a billing problem resolved at a communications behemoth, what chance does the average person have?

  11. It took me three years to get Verizon to admit they had billed me incorrectly! They even had me in collections, but I finally got through to someone in the executive office and they corrected it.

  12. Having worked as a trainer for the retention side of Care for another carrier, one of the big issues is that first line Customer care (with most carriers) often cannot offer ANY credit, if there is not a “clear” billing error (rate plan should have been changed as stated in the notes, but wasn’t, feature was removed in error, wrong rate plan etc,.) When I say cannot, I mean that they literally can’t apply the credit… the system won’t let them. Too long to explain … let’s just say, carriers finally learned that throwing money at customers doesn’t always fix the root cause. So, typically (as in a case like this), the first line can do little, if anything. The next step is to escalate, (and a “case” is created), and, as in this situation, the supervisor or manager will approve some type of credit (while still being limited by the amount of the credit they can give). What usually ends up happening, if it becomes a retention issue, (per the escalation process),it will go to retention, and a business case will to be made to a manager or even a director as to why a customer should get 100% back, if it cannot clearly be shown to be a system/ billing issue. I will say that I always advocated for customers in situations like this one… a one time issue, with a customer in good standing, who was also not disputing any of the other charges. But it still had to go through a process to get it done. As a customer, I know how frustrating it can be, but having worked on the carrier side, I also understand the process, and why it is in place. Unfortunately, a lot of reps do a poor job of setting an expectation with customers about what will need to happen to resolve their issue… or they just don’t care. But part of the reason carriers rarely give “discretionary” credits, and now have layers of approvals, is unfortunately a result of years of customers who have demanded credits for anything and everything (and believe me, they do), reps taking the easy way out, and giving it them, and the enormous costs to the carriers that result. (such as “I refuse to pay for my overages… but also refuse to change my rate plan to one that accommodates my usage). Sooo… here is my attempt at best advise… 1.) If you think you legitimately have a case for the credit, NICELY ask to escalate, and as much as I hate to say it, ask to speak with retention/ account services, if needed. If the first line rep can’t apply a discretionary credit, you will generally know within the first 5 minutes. Don’t waste your time going in circles with a rep who can’t resolve your issue. 2.) Only ask for what you are truly disputing 3.) Be patient. Usually, it will get done, but expect 3-5 days for it to go through the approval process. If you are willing to let a rep/ sup/ mgr TRY to help you, they generally will. Just understand, that they can’t always point and click, and magically make the charge disappear at that moment. Last… look at buying a prepaid SIM when overseas. They are EVERYWHERE now.

  13. What I have done lately is I use an app called Talk-A-Tone, which links with an app called GVConnet, which then uses my Google Voice account to make VOIP calls from my iPad or iPhone without using a carrier. I think it was $1.99 total for the apps required, and I’ve used ti for several years now. I do have to be on WiFi to use it, but it works flawlessly.

      1. Oh No! The last time I used them was this March. I just tried and it said that Google no longer allows Talk-A-Tone to connect to their service. That stinks.

      2. Problem solved, I just downloaded the “free” Google Hangouts App. No fees for an app now, and I was able to place VOIP calls from my phone via WiFi.

        1. Sounds good. A word of caution: if you have limited internal memory (like me – 150 MB), Hangouts requires Google Play Services to be installed, which takes another 15-20 MB of memory and by default will auto-update your other apps and could consume so much memory that you’re unable to update and/or install any more apps.

          This actually happened to me when I first got the phone …

          1. Do you have android? I was able to install it on my iPhone without Google Play. Though I do have limited storage, so thanks for the heads up just in case it also happens on the iPhone.

          2. I do have an android phone, yes. I can install it, but as soon as I launch, it states I have to install/enable Google Play services. Also, Hangouts installs as a system app, so it steals another 15 MB from internal memory.

  14. Download Magic Jack on your phone. As long as you have a wi-fi connection, calls are free. That’s what we use all the time and it works ok. Sometimes the call quality is not great but I am not making an international call to have a long chat, just to check up at home and make sure everything is okay.

  15. I carried a UK cell for years to combat roaming. My carrier eliminated data roaming charges last year and reduced call cost to rock bottom rates. Spent three weeks traveling internationally in April and May and my phone bill was exactly $5.00 higher than usual. I know it won’t last but I am a happy traveler while it does.

  16. Yay, Chris! This looked like a goner when I first started reading it. A positive story about Verizon: several years ago, Verizon had my long distance account at the office, and for nearly a year they were billing me for my own plus someone else’s account. Not large amounts of money, but I paid so many different entities for phone service, it took me months to notice it. Verizon told me it might take 3 to 6 months to investigate and figure it all out; I remember rolling my eyes and mentally walking away … but they came through and fixed the problem.

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