San Jose

South Bay Woman Pays $16,000 For TV Service She Never Received

Reliance on Auto-pay Billing Can Hit Unwary Consumers With Huge Losses

For many of us, auto-pay for monthly bills an easy and convenient way to keep the lights on without the worry of a late or missed payment.

For Angela Lau, it came with a costly lesson: keep an eye on those recurring charges.

Lau uses a landline phone in her San Jose home. It's a relic to many of us; a piece of the telecommunications past. But for Lau, the home phone is part of her present.

"I'm old school," Lau said. "I like to keep a landline!"

The phone line recently dialed up a $16,000 mystery.

Lau was moving across town, and asked her phone provider AT&T to transfer the landline from the old address to her new home. That request prompted an unexpected follow-up.

"They said, 'Besides the home phone, you also have Dish Network,'" she said. "I'm like, 'What Dish Network?'"

Lau says she never subscribed to Dish Network. But it turns out her monthly AT&T bill, which includes her home and mobile phone services, had also included monthly Dish Network TV service since 2008. She'd rung up and paid more than 10 years of charges, totaling about $16,000 -- all for a service she says she didn't use.

How did she not spot the problem? Lau says her monthly bill was on auto-pay.

"All of our utilities and everything are auto-paid," she said.

Lau concedes she never scrutinized her monthly statements.

"We trust big companies like AT&T to do the right thing and charge us the right amount," she said.

Lau disputed the $16,000 error with AT&T, but she says she got static. So, she reached out to NBC Bay Area. We then connected with AT&T.

"That kind of started the ball rolling," Lau said.

After about three months of back-and-forth, AT&T offered Lau half -- $8,000. She said her settlement agreement limited what she could share with NBC Bay Area.

In a statement to NBC Bay Area, AT&T said: "We've been in touch with the customer and resolved this issue. We're not in position to disclose additional details."

Still, that left $8,000 in limbo for Lau. So, we called Dish Network. Its team researched the issue, then refunded the rest of her money.

Dish Network told NBC Bay Area: "While this consumer was never a DISH customer and should not have been billed by AT&T for DISH services, we have worked with this consumer to resolve their concerns."

Between the two payments, it looks like Lau got the full $16,000 back.

Lau talked with us before she signed her settlement agreement. She said she learned an important lesson about auto-pay. She recommends reviewing your bills, line-by-line.

"We just assumed it's right," she said. "We shouldn't be so trusting. If not every month, we should occasionally, at least, go through our bills and make sure we're being charged the right amount."

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