How can I defend against a phony bill from Comcast?
April 9, 2012 8:04 AM   Subscribe

After a last-straw rate hike I cancelled my Comcast cable and switched to DSL. As part of a package of severance bills Comcast is trying to charge me for cable modems that I purchased through 3rd parties. Apart from calling billing and yelling for hours on end, what's my recourse here?

I have never interacted with a company as nakedly corrupt as Comcast. They have pulled a lot of shit in my four years with them, but the audacity of this one is amazing. They don't even know the serial numbers of these modems. In the serial number field they've printed the MAC addresses: the only identifiers they could possibly have. How do they know what the modems cost? They picked two multiples of 10 that add up to 100.

I purchased both modems from people on Craigslist and don't have a receipt for either. Does that even matter? If they can gin up a fake bill I suppose I can always gin up fake receipts. If you've successfully gotten them to back down on fraudulent charges I'd love to know what strategy you used.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I just either call them, or use the online chat. They tend to back down very quickly on questionable fees, in my experience; yelling not necessary. (Though it is a giant annoyance to have to deal with them for this sort of thing so often.)
posted by inigo2 at 8:18 AM on April 9, 2012

I can tell you from personal experience, Verizon is no saint by comparison and is usually much much WORSE. But the one thing going for you with Comcast is that they have service locations where you can physically visit and talk with someone...just be sure to go at an odd hour to avoid long lines and explain your case calmly and rationally. Bring the modems you purchased, and if you can get printouts of the original craigslist ads even better. Comcast generally only uses a particular brand and model for all their customers. It changes from time to time as technology improves, but they're not putting random consumer level modems out there (atleast around where I live it's fairly consistent per household).

Now if you purchased the exact models that Comcast uses off of Craigslist, I'd be highly suspicious of the person you bought them from...especially if Comcast can somehow prove that they were the company's devices at one point.
posted by samsara at 8:19 AM on April 9, 2012

This is a general suggestion for a company that you are unhappy with (also assuming that you are in the states as is the company).

File a complaint online through the better business bureau (I would have put a direct link but it is location specific).

A friend of mine got very upset with a company for sending him on wild loops; he finally lost his temper and filed a complaint.BBB actually assigned someone for resolution between both him and the company. BBB called back after it was resolved, too, to make sure that the issue was " resolved." I know that my friend was happy with the ruling and it was probably the only way that he would have been able to have the problem fixed without strangling someone. Just in case you are reaching that point....
posted by Wolfster at 8:23 AM on April 9, 2012

If you can't get this resolved by talking to Comcast, see if your city/town/county has a cable or utilities office that can help you. Whether such a thing exists and whether the people there will be helpful for you varies from place to place, but I got great results from Comcast (well, great for Comcast) after I contacted my town's Cable Ombudsman. (It's a real thing! Ron Swanson would be horrified.)
posted by mskyle at 8:24 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it sounds entirely possible that you may have bought... unreturned modems, in which case, it may be easier to just pay them off and be done.
posted by Oktober at 8:26 AM on April 9, 2012

I've found when dealing with Charter, who are my local analogy to Comcast and are similarly corrupt, horrible and generally as evil as any corporation whose headquarters are located on the Death Star, that Twitter is my friend. If you have a twitter account, start tweeting about this immediately. Say comcast sucks! several times and hashtag it - #comcastsucks. Charter has apparently got minions out there monitoring Twitter for that and I bet Comcast does too. Both times I've done it I've been immediately contacted by Charter reps who fixed things for me right away. Before Twitter the only thing that worked was getting my boss to corner the local Charter overlord at a Rotary meeting, a complex and feudal procedure that works but is more of a pain than anyone should have to go through.

Don't pay for the damn modems. Don't do that. It doesn't matter if they were "unreturned modems" - you are not liable for them if they were not supplied by the company, period, full stop. Charter has tried this exact trick on me and on several of my friends in hopes that we would just back down and pay. They have also tried adding some unspecified equipment - "oh yes don't you remember we gave you a cable box in 2001 you never returned that will be $250", a flat, complete and total lie - onto many people's final bill, including mine.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:06 AM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you bought what are in effect, stolen goods, you could have some liability here. I guess the first thing you need to do is figure out whether or not the cable modems were actually the property of Comcast. Manufacturers often use special serial numbers for custom orders versus stuff they sell retail. So some investigation into the serial numbers may give you some insight into where they modems originated.
posted by COD at 9:12 AM on April 9, 2012

Try calling them out on Twitter; something like:
If @ComcastCares then why are they trying to bill me for equipment I purchased from a third party?
I resorted to Twitter after a kafkaesque Comcast customer service episode (call one number, phone tree, talk to a human, spend 10 minutes describing the problem, get a new number/department to call. Lather, rinse, repeat until the 5th person gave me the number I called in the first place) and within 24 hours I got a call from someone with the authority to cut through all of the usual bullshit. It was pleasantly surprising.
posted by usonian at 9:29 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are indeed Comcast minions on Twitter reaching out to irate customers - I've seen them in action, and they will help you bypass the first line of customer service support. But in my unfortunately extensive experience with Comcast customer service, a call is sufficient; people there will take off fake charges without a fuss. (Comcast tried for about 6 months to bill me for a cable service I never ordered - I had to call in every month to get the $10 charge taken off my account).

Also, I would not worry that you accidentally bought an unreturned Comcast modem. In my area, Comcast charges $8 a month to "rent" a modem, while basic models go new on Amazon for as little as $20, and my high-end option was $80. I cannot imagine that rental option is popular among anyone tech-savvy enough to do a Google search.

It honestly would not surprise me if, somewhere deep in the bowels of Comcasts' billing system, were a small, home-brewed plugin that randomly added a fake charge to every third Comcast bill, because they've confirmed that the extra revenue from the people who blindly autopay is greater than the additional customer service costs from the people who kick up a fuss.
posted by psycheslamp at 9:32 AM on April 9, 2012

If you've successfully gotten them to back down on fraudulent charges I'd love to know what strategy you used.

I've been with Comcast for several years, and whenever I have a serious billing problem of this nature, I've found that it's much more effective to drive down to the local office and speak to someone in person, instead of trying to deal with powerless flunkies on the phone or online. I'm not sure why this is -- maybe the fact that there is always, always, always a line of other customers in the office who will overhear the whole interaction and they are more likely to want to pacify you in that instance? At any rate, that's what works for me.
posted by Gator at 9:58 AM on April 9, 2012

I had this exact problem with Comcast for a DECADE. It has followed me for ten years. I tried calling them. Spoke to supervisors, had receipts, went in person to local offices, everything I could think of. Finally I got a friend to draft a legal letter. The charges stopped a while, but now they have started to bother me again. This has been going on for a decade. I concede defeat. Comcast is just too evil. There's nothing you can do.
posted by vincele at 11:05 AM on April 9, 2012

Cable companies are e-ville.

I've moved a lot and had something similar happen to me when I moved out of a cable company's territory...

Way back in 2001 I signed up with what was then MediaOne, the local cable company. They required that I purchase my own cable modem, which I did.

2002: Went to grad school; Moved in with a roommate who already had cable/broadband. No issues canceling with MediaOne and my modem went into my own storage.

2003: Moved to Comcrap territory. They let me use my own modem.

2004: Moved to Charter territory. No issue with Comcrap when I cancelled.

In 2007, that cable modem finally died. The cable tech from Charter came and replaced it, saying I was not liable to return the modem if I ever cancelled since I'd originally had my own cable modem. I should have tape recorded that and taken the guy's name.

2008: Moved to Cox territory. Started using the Charter modem on Cox. When I cancelled with Charter, I returned their equipment, which is to say, not the modem. They sent several nastygrams, which I argued with customer service several times (though since Charter was in Massachusetts and I was now in Virginia, I couldn't really go pay Charter a visit). Eventually Charter decided to bill me $120 for the modem and I fought it for a while, refusing to pay the bill. When I decided I wasn't going to win this one, I called Cox and explained the situation. Cox came out and gave me a modem and I sent the Charter one back and the $120 bill disappeared. I didn't know there was such a thing as a cable ombudsman, or I might have contacted that person.

2009: Back to Comcrap territory. Cox let me keep the modem and I was able to use it on Comcrap.

Last year: Moved to a place where I can't get cable service, so Cox's modem is sitting in storage. Cox will likely never bill me, and I doubt Comcrap or Verizon will put in cable service in my (rural) area any time soon.
posted by tckma at 11:14 AM on April 9, 2012

A couple of years ago we switched from DirectTV to Comcast when we moved. We returned out cable boxes to DirectTV and thought everything was fine. Imagine our surprise when we got a bill from a collection (!!) agency for unpaid cable bills.
It turns out that they found 'unpaid' movies on the cable box. Long story short, the movies were porn and they were downloaded at 9 and 10 am -- when the only people home were me and an 8 year old. The woman on the phone at Direct TV tried to convince me that my 8 year old must have gone into my bedroom and ordered porn. Repeatedly. I spent HOURS on the phone with them.

Here is what I did
- I wrote a letter to the BBB.
- I filed a complaint with my state's attorney general.
- I send a copy of both of these letters, return-receipt, to their headquarters.
- I complained on Facebook.

Within hours of complaining on their Facebook page, a representative called me and sorted the whole mess out for me.
posted by LittleMy at 11:39 AM on April 9, 2012

I had trouble with Comcast a few years ago as well. A separate problem other than that not described in my AskMe post was the fact that they billed me $8 per month, each month, for a cable modem despite the fact that I owned my cable modem. Getting rid of that charge took persistence--for three months in a row, they kept trying to bill me for a cable modem that they claimed they were renting me even though they were doing no such thing. After three complaints in a row, I finally got a supervisor's attention to actually fix my account. Given that you have cancelled your service, you probably don't want to wait three months (not that I did either, but no doubt you want this settled as soon as possible). I would ask to speak to a supervisor immediately if you take care of this by phone. The front-line representatives do not appear to have the authority to resolve cable modem ownership issues, in my experience.

If phone support or the above-mentioned Twitter account can't help you, and you don't feel like waiting in line for an hour at the office (yep, at my local major-city office on a random weekday in the middle of the afternoon, the customer service line was literally an hour long), I would write a letter to the president's office. That's how I eventually solved the problem in my previous AskMe post--I sent a detailed letter describing my problem and all my attempts to resolve the problem using conventional means. Within a day or two of my message to the president's office, I was contacted by Comcast's "Executive Support" who were extremely helpful and professional. It's unfortunate that my problem wasn't resolved by lower-level support because it really should have been, but just so you know, people who can solve your problem do exist.
posted by wondercow at 7:12 PM on April 9, 2012

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