Verizon Sucks
June 6, 2005 12:20 PM   Subscribe

I hate big corporations. I really do. They're enormous behemoths that can't be fought. Or when you do try to fight them, it's futile; you get squashed. Help me fight a behemoth.

On January 12th, I received a phone call here at work from somebody representing Verizon SuperPages asking us to advertise in their phone directory. I have little memory of the conversation (because I have several similar conversations a month), but I'm mostly certain that the call ended with me saying something like, "I'm sorry, but I don't want to advertise with you." I have no memory of agreeing to advertise with any new yellow page company; we're pleased with our current level of advertising.

In March, we received a $37.20 bill from Verizon for advertising in their Portland/Vancouver SuperPages. I phoned Customer Service (what a misnomer!) and explained that we had no record of having placed any advertising with them — would they please remove the charges? They would not and could not.

They asserted that we had, in fact, placed the order. "We have third-party verification indicating that the sales representative spoke with you, Mr. Roth, and that you provided your taxpayer identification number. This is all the confirmation we need to verify your order."

The call ended with nothing resolved. A few days later, I received a letter from Verizon re-iterating all of this information. I contacted my attorney. On his advice, I sent a certified letter to Verizon's customer service department stating that the business has "neither requested nor authorized any service from" Verizon, etc. The letter threatened legal action if Verizon continued to bill us.

Verizon continued to bill us. They billed us in April. They billed us in May. They never replied to our certified letter. Today I received a letter from Verizon's collection department. Enough is enough, so I phoned them again.

The woman in the collections department was nice enough, but she couldn't help me. Her department has nothing to do with resolving disputes, only with collecting on outstanding debts. She suggested I call customer service.

I called customer service, and though I was trying to be polite, I was, I admit, a bit confrontational. (No shouting, no cursing, just had my hackles up.) This conversation was frustrating to a degree that I cannot even convey. I went through the whole "we did not authorize this" bit, and the customer service rep went through her whole "we have third party authorization in the form of your name and your business tax identification number" bit.

"Look," I said. "My name is common knowledge, accessible from any database. And I give out our TAX ID number all the time. This is not proof of anything. I want written documentation that we authorized this, or I want an audio-recording."

"I'm sorry, sir," said Makeesha, "but this is authorization."

Repeat ad infinitum.

Eventually, Makeesha gave me the address for Verizon's legal department, though I'm certain any correspondence sent there is destined for the same old dead letter file that my former certified letter reached. (Actually, to be fair, the previous letter has been scanned into Verizon's computer system. They have the letter, they just don't care.)

My attorney verifies what I already suspected: this is verification of nothing. I'll pursue the next logical step with him, of course, but meanwhile I want advice from other people. Have you ever gone through anything like this? How do you cope with the awesome might of transnational corporations? How can the individual hope to have his voice heard when the transnat will not admit error? How can this be resolved to my satisfaction?

Yes, I could just pay for the add — $40/month is peanuts for our business — but I refuse. It's more than a matter of principle. If transnats can collect money because they say you owe it, whhere does that leave us? It's insane!

Somebody somewhere must have some useful advice on this. (And, yes, I know you are not a lawyer.)
posted by jdroth to Grab Bag (30 answers total)
Small Claims court?
posted by de void at 12:39 PM on June 6, 2005

Screw that, get revenge!
posted by Pressed Rat at 12:49 PM on June 6, 2005

You could sue them for harassment, I suppose, but how much would THAT cost? Most probably, you will have to wait for them to take some further action, like sue you or put your company on some kind of black list.
posted by mischief at 12:49 PM on June 6, 2005

This American Life had a story about a similar plight of a girl dealing with MCI. It might make yours seem better in comparison, at least.
posted by abcde at 12:57 PM on June 6, 2005

Are they claiming you're on a contract? Can you at least call and cancel the ad (leaving out the "I never ordered it in the first place" argument for now) to avoid future charges while you're disputing the past charges?

I think the main problem is that all of Verizon's service departments are isolated, outsourced offices that have no contact with each other. But maybe you can at least get the Cancellations people working.
posted by occhiblu at 1:02 PM on June 6, 2005

Unfortunately no constructive advice to add, but based on a similar problem I had with a phone company (detailed here), I really feel for you. I know how frustrating it can be--good luck!
posted by handful of rain at 1:18 PM on June 6, 2005

Your next call should be to your state's Public Utilities Commission.
posted by Kwantsar at 1:21 PM on June 6, 2005

Welcome to the big leagues. Every business of any size is constantly getting false or unverifiable claims of all sorts and sizes from mega-vendors and sketchy guys in SROs alike.

What you ought to do is what all businesses do when they get a claim which doesn't match up with your A/P system: send it back marked "NOT TO BE PAID: NO P/O OR CONTRACT ON FILE." (Best if you do with this a big red stamp.)

Then you wait. If they rebill you, you return the invoice again. You do it every month forever if need be. If they had a REAL claim, they'd cut off your deliveries, or they'd sue you. If they have no claim, eventually they get tired of sending you bills.
posted by MattD at 1:21 PM on June 6, 2005

I had a problem with SBC and filed a online complaint with the Better Business Bureau. They eventually followed up and resolved it to my satisfaction.
posted by goethean at 1:21 PM on June 6, 2005

Best answer: Write a letter detailing everything to the FCC. Copy the FTC. (I am not sure which has jurisdiction, since this isn't actually about phone service.

I had a dispute with MCI that went nowhere until the FCC stepped in. Then MCI became very cooperative. It took a while, though. My recollection is about eight months between my mailing the letter to the FCC and my getting conciliatory phone calls from MCI.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:25 PM on June 6, 2005

You have already wasted more than $37.20 worth of your company's time on this. Let it go.
posted by caddis at 1:44 PM on June 6, 2005

would your local paper be interested in this kind of story? ... especially if they, or you, could find other businesses this had happened to?

it's my opinion that phone companies do things like this all the time to people ... they've tried to do it to me
posted by pyramid termite at 1:55 PM on June 6, 2005

Best answer: I deal with this kind of scam all the time and this is what I recommend:

File a complaint with the BBB and the FTC. Tell Verizon that you have done so and that you are not going to pay them for a product/service that you did not order (and for which they have no evidence that you ordered).

To cover yourself, set them up as a vendor in your A/P system and put their address as DO NOT PAY. That way, if an invoice slips past you and gets paid, you can fix it before it gets to Verizon. Because if you pay them one time, they'll use that as proof that you authorized the order and you'll be screwed.

Most companies will give up when you tell them that you know you're not obligated to pay. Some will wait until they actually receive a complaint from the BBB, so it's a good idea to file the complaint (even if Verizon claims they're crediting the invoice. As it turns out, sometimes they lie about that, too)

Above all, remember that you didn't order it and therefore you don't have to pay. The law is on your side and they know it, although they're VERY good at pretending otherwise.
posted by stefanie at 2:08 PM on June 6, 2005

Your allies are likely to be the BBB, FCC, PUC and your state's Attourney General. There's a long tradition of phone companies pulling this crap. Go get 'em.
posted by theora55 at 5:06 PM on June 6, 2005

Best answer: About 10 years ago I was working from home and ordered a 4th phone line for my house from Verizon. After a while they informed me that it was connected. I plugged in a phone and there was, in fact, no dial tone.

Called them up and they said "hold on, I will test it." They called the number, said "it is ringing, it must be connected," and hung up.

After more calls, got them to send a guy out. He tested and inspected and realized that there was no line coming in to my house for this alleged 4th line, hence no dial tone. He went back and filed a report.

Obviously they needed to run a wire from the underground junction box to my house, with digging required. the last guy out promised to make this happen.

After another wait they told me that it was connected. Sure enough it wasn't, and I went through the whole sequence above again.

Finally, in frustration, I wrote a letter to the CEO of Verizon. I don't remember my exact words, but I told him that I saw him on TV all the time advertising advanced services, but that all I wanted was a pair of #24 copper wires to my house, and that his organization was apparently unable to accomplish even that simple task. I ended the letter with the directive, "You need to send a man with a shovel." I did my research and faxed the letter to the office of the CEO, somewhere in New Jersey (I lived in Maryland at the time).

Two hours later, man shows up at my front door, with a shovel. In his hand is a work order and, hand-written at the bottom, in red ink, the phrase "Customer is irate. Fix this now."

Sure enough, after about 4 hours of diggging, he got dial tone to the house.

So my advice is to bypass the useless customer service stuff and go right to the top.
posted by jeffbarr at 5:26 PM on June 6, 2005

Best answer: Lots of previous threads with similar situations in here. It's clear to me now that companies such as this have purposefully set up their customer service departments to provide as much of a runaround as possible in these cases. The radio program mentioned above has some good tips in it, as well as helping in terms of commiseration. Telecommunications companies get the most consumer complaints by far over any other utility or industry these days.

As others have said, file complaints with:
Better Business Bureau
Federal Communications Commission
Public Utilities Commission
State Attorney General
These are all online complaint forms for Oregon.

Keep copious records of every conversation & correspondence, and get names every time (although they'll try to not give them to you). Good luck.

On preview, jeffbarr's solution was also the only result-getting tactic in the radio segment, but with the power of an international radio program's threat of widespread publicity behind the CEO contact. Again, good luck.

we should have a MeTa thread with bad phone co. updates sometime.
posted by obloquy at 5:49 PM on June 6, 2005

Oh, and I left out:
Federal Trade Commission

File 'em all; let them decide if it's the appropriate agency or not.
The DOJ site for the state of OR shows that telecom complaints exceed those of credit card companies, Real Estate Financing, Internet Auctions, & Nigerian Money Transfer Schemes combined. FYI.
posted by obloquy at 6:04 PM on June 6, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the awesome suggestions.

We're a small family business in great financial shape. I'm an owner, so I can afford to spend my time chasing this wild goose. I'm actually quite amused by the whole thing except when I'm in the thick of it (at which point I become flustered and irate).

I know that $37 x 12 isn't a lot of money, and that, in theory, I should just pay the damn bill, but I don't like admitting those kinds of defeats, especially when I'm right an they're wrong. Goliath can go fuck himself in the ass. David has rights, too.
posted by jdroth at 6:56 PM on June 6, 2005

I've never seen a better reason to immediately hang up on a telemarketer, especially from scumbag megacorps such as this one. If nobody is going to hold them accountable for fraud, then all one can do is avoid the smallest shred of contact with them.
posted by rolypolyman at 7:02 PM on June 6, 2005

Holy crap, $444? I'd immediately be filing a small claims suit in the company's home city, making a small vacation out of it to boot or seeing old friends to recoup the extra costs. There's the off-chance they might settle it and you wouldn't have to show up.
posted by rolypolyman at 7:06 PM on June 6, 2005

$37 x 12 isn't a lot of money, and that, in theory, I should just pay the damn bill

$37 x 12 x thousands of other suckers is, however, a lot of money, and most people eventually break down or give up. In theory & in practice you should not pay the damn bill. Business practices that are specifically designed to border on fraud and drive customers to the brink of insanity make things harder not just for consumers but for honest businesses as well, and simply perpetuate evil in the world. If you have the stamina for it, keep fighting the good fight.

I've got about 500 other reasons for you not to pay the bill, so if you start to think about giving in, come back to AskMe & ask why you shouldn't and I'll continue my tirade then.
posted by obloquy at 7:26 PM on June 6, 2005

I'd hate to be responsible for creating yet another class action case... but this sure sounds like the makings of a good class action case!

Verizon is undoubtedly pulling this on many small businesses. Screw 'em: find a lawyer willing to do it. As one of the defendents, you'll get some pissant bit of coin out of it while the lawyer takes in a few million bucks, but what the hell: at least it'll help put an end to this kind of bull.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:30 PM on June 6, 2005

clarification: I've never been involved in a class action suit of any kind. I loathe the things: they're more a scam to make a lawyer or two filthy rich, than they are to benefit actual consumers. But there are times they make a perfectly good bludgeon by which to stop a company from scamming others, and I think this is one such instance. So while I despise class action suits on the whole, I think this would be a good application for one.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:34 PM on June 6, 2005

>I know that $37 x 12 isn't a lot of money, and that, in
>theory, I should just pay the damn bill, but I don't like
>admitting those kinds of defeats, especially when
>I'm right an they're wrong.

You do realize that it will be $37 a month not for a year, but for as long as your company exists, right?

That little third party company that called actually functions as a cutout between you and them so that when someone goes after them seriously they can play ignorant. It is a scam. All the parties involved know what is going on. I have have seen variations of it run on me and people I know. I believe they deliberately set the dollar amount low enough so that it does not count as a felony.

You could try posting a classified ad in the local paper, see if you can round up a number of fellow victims to help raise a stink.

PS, those new yellow pages are horrible. Do not throw out your existing book when they send you one. They have taken the phone book, a classic clear, acurate, simple reference guide that any ten year old could work with ease and reshaped it into a ghastly logic puzzle. Mine has banks and churches missing.
posted by Ken McE at 7:52 PM on June 6, 2005

Best answer: Find out who their director or VP of customer service is and write a letter directly to them at the corporate address. Once they get it, they'll make sure it's taken care of.

I work in CS and I'll tell you that if you want this taken care of, you're going to have to get to CS management. Escalate and escalate. The first supervisor you speak to will be a regular rep with more experience. Escalate to them and demand their supervisor. Then you might get an actual lead or shift supervisor. Work with them. If they can't help you, ask for a callback or the name and number of their boss or the department director. (Do NOT expect to be transferred to them, because it won't happen.) If they won't give it, call the corporate number and ask to speak to a PR person or just for the name of the director of CS.

(I use words like "demand," but don't be rude. Be very persistent. Mention the BBB and the state Attorney General's office, as well as the FTC. Say you've already spoken with your lawyer [drop his name, so they know you're not lying].)

You can do this without suing or going to court in any way. It'll save you a lot of hassle. Trust me. If you can get to the director of CS or a production manager, they will make sure you are made happy. I don't encourage this for most customers, but your circumstances make it clear that you've been screwed over. Because there is so much ambiguity and a third party, they'll have little choice but to back down.

PS. If you write a letter, keep it brief and to the point. The longer and blabbier it is, the harder it will be for them to solve your problem. Write to "General Council" at their corporate address if you have to. Drop the keywords, but be concise.
posted by BradNelson at 8:43 PM on June 6, 2005

Oops...should be "General Counsel" there. And email me if you have any questions. Email in profile.
posted by BradNelson at 8:44 PM on June 6, 2005

If it's a matter of harassing them until they quit sending you bills, I think you should just completely ignore the bills and let them waste their time and money.

And I still think this is the perfect situation for a class action suit. It would only take a couple dozen small businesses as defendents. Shouldn't be at all difficult to find them.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:29 PM on June 6, 2005

Put a little advert for Verizon on your web page, and bill them $100 a month for the privilege...
posted by salmacis at 3:08 AM on June 7, 2005

Call their purchasing department and ask them to provide their taxpayer identification number. Then send them a monthly invoice for £100 for training their customer service personnel. When they dispute it, tell them that you have the name of an authorised person (their CEO) and their tasxpayer identifiation number. Therefore they have authorised you to bill them £100 per month for the next ten years.

On preview - salmacis got there first.
posted by talitha_kumi at 4:07 AM on June 7, 2005

I've been through this nightmare. What I finally did is akin to what JeffBarr did. I had my attorneys draft a letter to the CEO threatening pretty much the end of the world if they didn't get my problem fixed and an official apology mailed. Then we had the letter couriered to his office. Problem solved in about 4 business hours. I filed a case in small claims to recover costs, and they settled before ink was dry on my declaration.

They know what they're doing is wrong, but just like spammers, they get away with it often enough that it's a profit center. Don't cave in. Fight the Power! Down with Yellow!
posted by dejah420 at 11:43 AM on June 7, 2005

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