You might remember how during the summer, Teresa Dixon Murray at the Cleveland Plain Dealer did a great job highlighting a phantom $1.99 fee
Verizon was hitting consumers with -- even if they didn't use any data. The phantom charges were being incurred when phones were off, phone batteries were dead, Internet access was blocked, or the phones didn't have the necessary software to go online. Many of you at the time complained about the fee as well. If you remember, Verizon told the paper
that the charges were "erroneous" and that users would be getting full refunds.
Fast forward several months later, and David Pogue of the New York Times pens an article today
exploring how users are still getting socked by the phantom fee
. Pogue doesn't reference Murray's earlier investigation into the phantom fee, but he does take the story one step further by quoting a Verizon insider who claims Verizon's well aware of the scam, but refuses to do anything about it because of the millions in additional revenue it generates. Says the insider:
"The phone is designed in such a way that you can almost never avoid getting $1.99 charge on the bill. Around the OK button on a typical flip phone are the up, down, left, right arrows. If you open the flip and accidentally press the up arrow key, you see that the phone starts to connect to the web. So you hit END right away. Well, too late. You will be charged $1.99 for that 0.02 kilobytes of data. NOT COOL. I've had phones for years, and I sometimes do that mistake to this day, as I'm sure you have. Legal, yes; ethical, NO.
"Every month, the 87 million customers will accidentally hit that key a few times a month! That's over $300 million per month in data revenue off a simple mistake! Our marketing, billing, and technical departments are all aware of this. But they have failed to do anything about it—and why? Because if you get 87 million customers to pay $1.99, why stop this revenue? Customer Service might credit you if you call and complain, but this practice is just not right."
You can of course have all data blocked. However, hitting one of these buttons by accident results in a message that the service is blocked -- a message that uses 0.06 kilobytes of data resulting in -- wait for it -- a $1.99 fee. The insider, who says he thinks there's millions of people obvlivious to this fee, says Verizon's now training support to try and offer customers blocking alternatives should they call and complain. Billing accuracy has never been Verizon's strong suit
, be it wireless or landline service. With the frequency of the phantom charges imposed by the carrier, you begin to wonder how "erroneous" they really are.
Pogue recently brought a lot of attention to the fact that wireless carriers were using intentionally long voicemail greetings
in order to erode user minutes. Hopefully his latest column can bring the same kind of attention to Verizon's cash cow $1.99 fee.