Why won’t these circus clowns refund my early termination fee?

Even though Verizon promises to waive Shawn Marie Schaffer’s early termination fee after she moves off the grid, she’s still stuck with it. Will Verizon ever refund her money?

Question: I’m having a problem with Verizon Wireless. I moved to a new residence in November. However, my home doesn’t receive adequate cell coverage from Verizon, which, as a stay-at-home mother with an infant, is extremely problematic.

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After hours on the phone with Verizon, their network team diagnosed that there was, indeed, inadequate coverage in my area, which effectively made its contract void and null. That meant I could port my number to another provider free of charge, meaning I would not have to pay Verizon’s early termination fee of $250.

A Verizon representative confirmed that I was now free to choose another carrier without incurring fees.

After I ported my number to AT&T, I was unable to access any information tied to my Verizon account, including any bank account information. I had my checking account tied to the account for automatic monthly withdrawals that I was no longer able to access and, most importantly, remove from the account.

Unfortunately, Verizon charged me the $250, essentially stealing the money from an account that should have been closed.
I called Verizon and spent a few more precious hours away from my son on the phone with an incompetent rep who assured me this was a mistake and that I would be reimbursed the $250. I was told the refund would take three to five business days.

A week later, no money. I called again and was told the previous rep filled out the wrong paperwork and that he’s doing all the right things and I will see the refund in another three to five days. He promised this would be taken care of.
That was a week ago. My money has still not been refunded. I am extremely frustrated, the holidays are over, and the money I should have been able to use to buy gifts is still gone. I don’t know what else to do except threaten legal action and hope someone can help me.

I’m usually savvy, money-wise, and can negotiate my way through these situations 99 percent of the time. But for some reason I seem to have come across an entire team of incompetent circus clowns at Verizon. Help!
Shawn Marie Schaffer, Richmond, Mass.

Answer: Verizon should have refunded your early termination fee when it promised to do so. A quick call from you should have resulted in an expedited refund, not another protracted wait.
Circus clowns, indeed.

Verizon’s customer agreement doesn’t specifically address going off the grid, which is what you did when you moved. You had to rely on the word of a representative, which wasn’t the best situation to find yourself in. Verizon had no way of knowing about your financial difficulties, although something tells me it wouldn’t have mattered. The system was just doing what it was designed to do: take money from customers.

Getting a promise of a refund in writing might have helped. I list the names and numbers of Verizon’s executives on my site. My advice? Start a conversation through its live chat feature and save a transcript. That way, you’d have Verizon’s assurances on the record.

In reviewing your case, it looks as if someone just pushed the wrong button. They never recorded their promised waiver of your early termination fee, charged you automatically instead of closing your account, and then failed to refund the charges in a timely manner. Send in the clowns.

A related piece of advice: If your finances are tight, you might consider not signing up for autopay on your next cell phone bill. AT&T will deduct what it believes to be the correct amount at the same time every month, whether the money’s there or not. Then your bank, and the company, could hit you with an additional fee.

I contacted Verizon on your behalf, and it finally processed your $250 refund.

Did Verizon do enought for Shawn Marie Schaffer?

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59 thoughts on “Why won’t these circus clowns refund my early termination fee?

  1. Further to the “no snark” discussions, I found these two quotes interesting (this is not a complaint about the no snark policy!):

    “I called Verizon and spent a few more precious hours away from my son on the phone”

    “But for some reason I seem to have come across an entire team of incompetent circus clowns at Verizon”

    Both pretty snarky (and/or overwrought) comments in the original letter. I have to admit that I did not take the letter as seriously as I otherwise would have if she had not said these two things. It kind of makes me rethink whether I WANT to be snarky here, even if I am perhaps allowed to be. And, I guess, maybe it’s a cautionary note in terms of how you deal with customer service folks.

    1. I think the point is that she spent hours on the phone with Verizon when she could have been doing something else. Doesn’t that make us all crazy? I rather liked the term “incompetent circus clowns” – I’m sure I’ll get to use it one of these days!

      1. That’s totally the main point. I’m just saying that the snark took a little away from the substance of her message in my view.

      2. I’m with you. I had no problem with her pointing out that she should NOT have had to spend hours away from her child to deal with Verizon’s incompetence. It wasn’t suggesting she has any kind of special snowflake status because she has an infant. It was just making the point that she has way better things to do with her time than waste it on bumbling fools who can’t follow their own processes.

        I can totally see myself saying something similar, except for me it wouldn’t be precious time away from my son (my kids are grown and out of the house, YEESSS!!). It would be precious time away from my sailboat. 😉

        And calling them circus clowns was a kindness. Any company that provides such poor service deserves to be called that, and worse.

    2. If the ETF does not apply when the customer moves out of Verizon’s service area, that should be a cut-and-dried situation. But just as in all those airline cases we have seen here, the company reeeeally drags its feet when it’s the one who owes money. I would have just as resentful as LW if I had to spend hours on the phone in such a case.

      1. No argument here. I’m just saying that expressing your point in that resentful way actually takes away from the efficacy of your message. At least it did to me in this case.

    3. Just my two cents. What I find objectionable is not so much “snark” per se, but mean-spirited comments that seek to disparage, and demean an individual and derail possibilities for any thoughtful, balanced discussion.

      IMO, a little playful snark or generic expressions of frustration are not quite in the same category. But you make a valid point that such expressions can still distract from what’s relevant.

      1. “What I find objectionable is not so much “snark” per se, but mean-spirited comments”

        Agreed, and when you read the full policy, I think this is what’s actually banned, not snark more generally.

  2. Good lesson as to why you should never do automatic payments or discontinue them prior to closing an account. And, I wonder if a commenter had used the very snarky phrase “circus clowns” or “incompetent circus clowns” what would have happened to us? I know the OP used it but it was also used twice more–in the headline and in your remarks.

    1. I’ve been clear about the kind of destructive snark we’re trying to avoid — the toxic comments aimed at a consumer who may not know as much about a product as the “experts” who read this site. If enough commenters pile on and try to discredit a claim or claimant then there will be no consumers left to come to us for help. So yes, she can call Verizon “circus clowns.” I’m not worried about the company going out of business.

          1. You must be one of the people who flag everything you don’t agree with.
            Honestly, the analogy used in the title is very appropriate because the consumer was literally going round and round with reps who bumbled her account and dropped the ball when it came to fixing anything.

      1. Of course, if you lay the snark on companies that you need to correct errors, they may be more reluctant to work with you. (Which, incidentally, is the advice always given to people writing a complaint when communicating with the company.)

  3. I do not like automatic drafts. If I have them, I set them up online so I can also shut them down if need be. I had a painful experience with an insurance company when they drafted almost everything I had over a few months.

    The OP’s letter was a bit much with the “precious hours away from my son” line. Still, should have not had the money drafted and should have gotten the money back ASAP as promised. I can see where a little note basically saying “oops, sorry about that” from Verizon would be appreciated. But seeing as she’s no longer a customer, I don’t see that happening.

  4. OK, this is one reason to autopay with a credit card. If the service provider does not honor its agreement, you get the card issuer involved. While your complaint may not mean much to the service provider, having to deal with the card issurer is a different matter.
    Oh, and by the way, if you feel you must use autopay on your checking account, stop the autopay before you cancel the service. It makes it much more difficult for them to take what is not owed them.

    1. That was my first thought too…why autopay with a bank account if you can do it with a credit card? The credit card at least gives you some recourse for false charges and wiggle room to pay during lean months.

      1. Agreed. I can’t imagine a time I’d let a merchant, or for that matter, any third party, get directly into my bank account. Credit card is much better.

      2. I use autopay out of my checking account for everything, BUT the difference is that I set it up from my online banking account so that my bank PUSHES the payment; I don’t allow any companies to PULL the money out. I can cancel or edit payments in minutes and delete an account entirely and the company can’t get any further money. Even companies that promise a discount for setting up autopay for them don’t get access, but I do love knowing that by the 5th of the month all my bills have been sent out and paid and I didn’t write a single check 🙂

    2. Many merchants charge a fee to use a credit card while bank drafts have no fee. That is why I use them on the few accounts I have to. I would prefer to do everything on a credit card.

    1. I liked that comment. Everyone should be able to spend more time with family members than in frustrated moments with uncooperative customer service agents.

      1. The problem with the statement is the absurdity of the thought that while someone is on the phone, they are locked away in some private area, unable to do anything but sit helplessly on the phone.
        When I’m at work and am on hold with someone, the phone goes on speaker and I reply to emails, sort papers, file old items, enter invoices for products that came in, etc. I don’t just sit there staring off in the distance waiting to hear from someone. The same goes on at home. I’ll cook dinner, watch television, get the laundry ready, put away groceries, etc. Besides, as a parent, you learn to multitask as a necessity.

          1. I’m a father of two boys and now a 6 month old daughter. I’d say I have some fairly recent experience. I know that infants do not cry for 18 hours a day from the moment a call center opens until it closes. I know infants take naps, play by themselves and do many other things that would not interfere in any way with making a phone call. (or playing facebook games, surfing the Elliott.org blog, or even sending emails and text messages to people)

    2. I had no problem with her comment. As I mention above, she wasn’t using her mom-hood to request special snowflake status. She was just pointing out that she had way better things to do with her time than spend it on the phone with incompetent clowns.

      She shouldn’t have had to. They should have given her the money they erroneously took from her immediately.

  5. I guess I’m the heartless one today. I voted Yes, which is definitely in the minority. But unlike on Monday, I don’t feel too strongly about my answer and am glad that others have voted the more compassionate way.

  6. I don’t understand how she can not have access to her bank account because of Verizon? It isn’t like Verizon owns her bank. perhaps I am reading her concern wrong.
    I also agree with the sugestion about the automatic bill pay. Sometimes they are nice for low, recurring specific and unchanging amounts, but I would never ever allow someone like the water company or power company do auto bill pay. There are far too many stories about how an error caused a $10,000 bill.
    Also, wheen are people going to learn that including comments about their family life doesn’t have any relevance to what is going on and just distracts from their case? “Spent precious hours away from son.” How does being on the phone in the same room, and being able to hold, feed, or do pretty much anything else with the child equal “hours away”?

    1. I think the account she refers to is the Verizon account. She couldn’t access THAT account because the account had been closed.

      US Cellular gives me 5% off the bill for autopay. To me, that’s a good reason.

      1. US Cellular gives me 5% off the bill for autopay. To me, that’s a good reason.

        A good reason to use a credit card for auto-pay, maybe. Not a good reason to let them draft your bank account for any amount they choose.

        1. Years of doing this, haven’t had a problem. They send me the bill (electronically) weeks ahead of time, with the amount, so if I should see a potential problem, easily prevented.

          1. Which is why, and I’m sure the OP will remember this, before you cancel service, disconnect the autopay. I only use it with my bank account when there’s a distinct advantage to me (% off, lower rate, etct). Otherwise, generally prefer to be in control of the timing and amount of my payments going out of my account.

          2. Didn’t we just see another case in which the customer could not cancel the auto pay and they kept getting billed even after the card had expired? Perhaps it was in the forum area.
            I do agree though that if you can change it on line and get a confirmation of the change then you are far better off.

  7. Glad Chris was able to intervene and help get her refund. An apology from Verizon seems in order as well, but that may be asking too much.

  8. I know pictures of clowns might be difficult to find, but these look like rodeo clowns more than circus clowns. And you know you shouldn’t confuse the two. 🙂

  9. OK. I’m tired of the word “snarky” already. I’ll check things out in a week or so and see if posts and replies are actually about the topic (unless I’m banned)..
    Isn’t the reference to “experts” (Chris’ quotation signs) snarky and mean spirited.
    See ya.

    1. The nice thing about Chris being on BoardingArea is that there are lots of other travel blogs. Don’t like the new rules? With a click of the mouse you can snark all you like at someone else’s party! The difference is that this is a consumer advocacy site and it’s not nice to insult the people who come to Chris for help.

    2. The most snarky and mean spirited people on this blog are the moderators. They run amok insulting anybody they want and deleting the comments of anybody who disagrees with them.

      1. Not a commentary at all on the mods at this blog, but in general? Every blog is that way. I think it comes with the territory.

          1. I’m sorry you feel that way, @Daisiemae:disqus. Your characterization of how we moderate is not accurate. Our moderation team is diverse and we vigorously debate almost every deletion we make. We haven’t deleted an inappropriate comment in days.

            I should also note that no one has been banned since January (we have blacklisted a few spammers, but that’s a separate issue). We have publicly warned only two commenters.

            Several frequent commenters have decided to stop commenting here since we modified our commenting rules. We wish them well.

            You seem to be suggesting that the comments section should be a free-speech exercise. That’s not how our moderators see it.

            Commenting is a privilege, not a right. As I said a few days ago, the comments serve the story, which in turn serves consumers. You can feel free to disagree with the rules, but you will need to follow them if you want to comment here.

            The great thing about the Internet is that there are so many other blogs out there, some of which are likely to meet your desire for unfettered free speech. Although I hate to discourage anyone from reading my site, I would urge you to find the site that best suits your needs and comment there. Thank you.

  10. Verizon didn’t give her the promised refund and are clearly in the wrong here. However, she could have avoided the “no Christmas money” problem altogether by using a credit card or check for her bills. I have an absolute “no way no how” policy on checking account withdrawals- that method is an antiquated over-reach and offers no consumer protection. Further, she might have been able to get resolution more quickly if she had used your contacts page before emailing you. You are a broken record about this contacts thing. Whatever confirmation auto-email that you send out to inquiring consumers should say “Chris is a broken record about the contacts page, so go there and contact someone, see what happens and report back”. That said, hindsight on my part, and I’m glad that you were able to restore her Christmas fund.

  11. After learning so much about companies abusing Auto Pay, I am going to be sure to cancel the auto pays I have already set up BEFORE making a change like a residence move. All my Auto Pay accounts are on a credit card, I’d never let a 3rd party have access to my checking account. It won’t be difficult to pay certain bills by check until everything is set up properly.

    1. Judy,

      If all your Auto Pay accounts are on a credit card, make sure it’s one that pays cash back. My accounts are linked to a Costco Rewards AMEX card, and for my 2014 activity, I just received two checks for a total of $476. 🙂

          1. Can you say top floor major chain hotel overlooking Fort Lauderdale Beach … watching the cruise ships depart … half price. The view is so gorgeous I can hardly catch up on my email.

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