Verizon's Unexplained Charges

Customers notice mysterious charges on their wireless phone bill, and getting them removed can be really difficult.

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    When you buy a phone from Verizon these days, there's a good chance you might be getting some features you don't really want. When Dr. Kim Vogt bought her Verizon phone, she noticed it had two games on it, "Pac-Man" and "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?"

    "These games were on my phone, because I never remember them not being on my phone," says Vogt.

    Unexplained Charges

    [LA] Unexplained Charges
    Customers notice mysterious charges on their wireless phone bill, and getting them removed can be really difficult. (Published Thursday, Aug 26, 2010)

    She assumed the games were free. Until last month, when she was looking over two years of Verizon bills, and noticed a $6.98 per month charge.

    "I wasn't sure what that was," says Vogt.

    In fact, Verizon was charging her for those games. But the charges were listed on her bill simply as data.

    "It must have come with my phone because I have never downloaded it," says Vogt.

    "If you didn't authorize those charges, you shouldn't be paying for them," says Sally Greenberg, head of the National Consumers League.

    Greenberg also sits on Verizon's consumer advisory board, and she thinks the company needs to give customers more details on their monthly bills.

    "One of the things that's so frustrating for consumers is when you get some of these charges, they're not explained," Greenberg said.

    So how did those games get on Vogt's phone and why was she getting charged for them?

    Verizon couldn't explain it to Vogt or to NBCLA, but the company did admit that many Verizon phones come with games already on them, on a free trial basis, but customers aren't necessarily told about it.

    "These things are getting put on my phone, without my permission and I'm paying for them," says Vogt.

    She's not the only consumer whose had a run-in with Verizon over data charges. Just a year ago, a columnist with the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper wrote about monthly data charges showing up on her Verizon bills, which she says Verizon couldn't clearly explain. More than 1,000 readers e-mailed back saying they too were getting hit with similar unexplained charges.

    "Take a look at your bill as soon as it comes in. If you see charges that you didn't authorize there, call up your cell phone company," says Greeneberg.

    But getting Verizon to remove those mysterious data charges from your bill can be tough.

    "Initially, the clear answer was, there was nothing they could do," says Vogt.

    But she says she wouldn't take no for answer, and Verizon finally credited her for the data charges.

    Verizon would not speak with NBCLA on-camera. But a spokesperson said that if any customer spots unauthorized charges on their bills, they should call Verizon, and the company will remove the charges.

    Verizon provided NBCLA with the following statement regarding this report:
    Only someone in physical possession of your phone can download an application onto that phone like a Get It Now game.  Thats how our systems are designed. Once a user pulls an application down to the phone, we reflect the charge on the next bill.
    The best safeguard against unauthorized use of your phone? Virtually all modern cell phones can be password protected and can only be unlocked and used when the right password is entered. Make sure you set up your password and control access to your phone.
    Since we first reported this story Verizon contacted NBCLA stating that they believe some of the points in our report are misleading.  NBCLA stands by our report, but in an effort to clarify Verizon's position we would like to provide these additional statements given to us by the company:
    • Verizon Wireless’ policy prohibits placing unwanted services on any customer’s phone. We believe in full disclosure and work to educate customers about our services in our stores, by phone, and on our comprehensive website.
    • Only someone in physical possession of your phone can download an application like a Get It Now game onto a phone like the LG Chocolate-3. That’s how Verizon’s systems are designed. Once a user pulls an application down to the phone, we reflect the charge on the next bill.
    • Verizon does not sell devices with optional Get It Now/Media Center games or applications pre-loaded “on a free trial basis.”  Any game offered as a free trial must first be selected and downloaded by someone in possession of the phone. The game will cease to function once the trial period ends.  Moreover, the customer is not billed for the game. Finally, the games addressed in this story were not pre-loaded on the make and model of phone in question.
    • Verizon Wireless customers can view all the details of their bill on line, including the names and costs of apps, ringtones and other media, by selecting the “My Bill” tab in their “My Verizon” account.  Registration and use of My Verizon is free.  Customers can see this same level of detail using the free “My Verizon” app on their cell phones.  Customers who receive a detailed monthly bill by mail will see the same information.  Customers who opt to save trees by receiving a streamlined monthly bill by mail will see “Get It Now downloads” as a line item for apps they’ve downloaded from the Get It Now/Media Center app store.  They can use their My Verizon online accounts to view all their bill details, including the names and costs of apps, ringtones, songs and any other media they’ve download.  In addition, even the streamlined bill distinguishes Get It Now downloads from data charges in a portion of the bill that the reporter did not share with us and may not have seen.

       

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