Avoid the Phone Bill Run-around Game

May 5, 2004
This year as tax time hit, I was forced to take a good look at my phone bills. Since I pay by bank draft and worked three jobs most of the past year, I simply filed my phone bills away when they arrived. That proved to be a mistake. Not only did I have to call Bell South to get my totals for the 2003 year year, but when I started itemizing my phone charges, I discovered I was paying quite a bit more than I expected.
On April 9, I called Bell South since all my bills are consolidated in one rather cumbersome Bell South statement. The Bell South rep informed me they were charging me only a small percentage of my total charges and said the rest were coming from AT&T. She told me I needed to call AT&T if I had further questions.
When I called AT&T, the rep I spoke to denied this, said the Bell South bill must be so complex it was confusing (which is partially true) and said they were only charging me about 1/2 of what the statement showed. The woman I spoke to was patronizing and condescending. She was short and abrupt, she referred me back to Bell South, and she said the rest of the fees must be Bell South charges. I called Bell South again, spoke to a supervisor this time and she assured me that Bell South was only charging me the basic costs for my two lines. I explained the problem seemed to be long-distance charges on my computer line, and she referred me back to AT&T.
I called AT&T again and asked for a supervisor. The operator I spoke to said she was as high as it went and that there were no supervisors or managers handy. I went over the bill with her point by point and discovered much to my shock I was being billed different fees for long distance service on my computer line – a line never used for any long distance calls! I expressed my surprise and asked what could be done to remove those rather expensive charges and was told that Bell South had requested long distance service for that line and that there was no way AT&T could adjust the charges. I asked for a manager and was told that there was no manager or supervisor available. I pressed the point and was told my concern would be passed on for a “call back,” but there was no one higher up with whom I could speak.
A week or so later I received a letter, not a phone call, from an AT&T representative that said he had looked into my account and all the charges were correct.
On May 5, I spoke to a Mr. Rochelle at Bell South and explained my predicament. He began by explaining that since the two companies are two separate entities, they have to be independent. “Therefore we don’t advocate AT&T,” Mr. Rochelle told me. When I explained that AT&T had told me Bell South requested the long distance service for that line, Mr. Rochelle informed me, “We would not do that. That is incorrect information,” adding, “We can have that service removed right now, today, and change it to ‘no selection.'” He also said Bell South had to remove AT&T from my line, AT&T could not remove themselves. I asked Mr. Rochelle why the Bell South rep I spoke to in April had not offered to take the ATT&T service off my computer line a month ago, and he said he could not answer that. I asked him what the computer record said and he said it said “customer called about long distance charges and was referred to AT&T.” Although he could not tell me why I was not advised that AT&T could be removed one month ago, he did have some advice for me now. “Advise them they have been on your line for quite some time for a service you never requested and never received. Have them check to see that no calls have been routed through them. They can verify this and have those charges removed.” He concluded with, “Don’t take no for an answer.”
I called the AT&T company at 1 800 222-0300 and spoke to Melissa. As was the case with my past calls, she would not transfer me to a supervisor, but she did start off being more helpful than any other AT&T rep I had encountered thus far. “I see all these charges and that you have never used the service and I will remove the charges and the credit will show up in one to two billing cycles,” she told me. I had the good sense to inquire, “How far back will those charges be removed?” January of 2004 was the response.
I explained to Melissa the problem went back at least to January of 2003 as I had discovered when I did my 2003 taxes and that her records would show I had the service and had not used it at least as far back as January of 2003. She informed me she could only request my records back as far as May.
I asked her to look at her computer records and verify I had called over a month ago about the same thing, and that they needed to provide records for as far back as January. I asked Melissa to tell me what the computer record showed about my call. She said it showed on April 9, I requested credit for all bills from 2003 and that the AT&T rep explained that it showed I had signed up for AT&T and she could not remove the charges, and that at that point I requested a call back.
After reading the notes Melissa said, “In order to remove your charges you will need to send us every bill for 2003. I’m gonna request a copy of all those bills from 2003, and I am going to adjust your bill from Jan – April 2004 right now and request last years bills for you. You will need to include a note that you never requested the service and you have been charged all these months and you didn’t realize it because you pay your bills by automated billing.”
Melissa said my credit amount for Jan – April totaled a noteworthy $41.82 and she gave me the the confirmation number of W69Q0505. She said to send my old bills to:
AT&T 0300 Small ICO Correspondence
PO Box 25691
Miami Lakes, FL 33102
Melissa went a long way towards smoothing things over. She was helpful and responsive. However, I asked her to please make a formal complaint in her notes about that fact that I was never granted access to a supervisor in any of my calls to AT&T. She ended the conversation politely asking if I would like to let her change my AT&T service on my main line to a new service, and I told her that after this situation was resolved I would probably be switching to a new long distance carrier and no longer using AT&T at all.
Some questions remain unanswered:
• When and how did my computer line get signed up for long distance service?
• Why did Bell South not remove AT&T from my phone line when I first called them in April?
• Why did the AT&T rep not remove the long distance charges from my computer line when I first called in April?
• Why did the AT&T reps never switch me to a supervisor when I requested one on several occasions?
• Since I requested a call back from AT&T and it was noted in their computer, why was I never called back?
I would say both carriers dropped the ball and handled my concerns callously, but worse, I have to admit I dropped the ball. It is not up to AT&T or Bell South to look after my best interests, and obviously, they are not going to. It is my responsibility to examine each and every one of my bills carefully each month to see for myself if some new service I did not request has been added to my bill as well as to examine them for other problems or charges. Learn from my mistakes so that you never have to play the Phone Bill Run-around Game.
June 5 Update:
I received my phone bills to send to AT&T today. However, I only received April through December which means I am still being charged for January through April of 2003 and however many months I was on this plan prior to this — this plan which I never signed up for.
November 11 Update:
I have continued to get the run around from AT&T before today and have still received no refund. I have called several times since I mailed my 2003 AT&T bills in for a refund. As I called over the summer and fall, I was first told it takes a while to process a refund, then told my complaint had been logged, given a confirmation number (S85U0909), and told to wait at least two more weeks. Today I called AT&T and was, as usual, not able to speak to a supervisor. I was transferred to the billing department. The woman there was, not surprisingly, unwilling to help. She simply said too much time had passed and that AT&T would not be able to refund me any more than for the 2004 months which I had already been credited for.
Unwilling to take no for an answer after trying to work this out since April and having been promised a refund, I immediately called AT&T back, asked for a supervisor, and was again denied a supervisor. I told the operator in that case she should direct me to whomever she sent customers who were angry enough to bite off someone’s head. I was transferred to Long Distance Billing. The woman I spoke to there spoke with an Indian accent and declined to give me her name. She at first started to make me jump through the same all-too-familiar hoops, but this time, instead of just trying to answer her questions, I began to read her this article for the answers, rattling off dates, quotes and promises with lightening speed. . She became much more attentive and soon I was promised a refund of $57 for May 2003 – Nov. 2003 and given a new confirmation number of S8PX1111. Now I am once again waiting to see if my refund arrives. I have been assured it will within two billing cycles…

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