Diligent customer caught in wireless error
November 20, 2010 8:20PM
Updated: April 19, 2011 5:16AM
Dear Fixer: After more than seven years of making on-time monthly payments to Verizon, I am now receiving debt collection notices for charges I do not owe. This error is affecting my credit score and reducing my limits on major credit cards on which I have earned excellent credit in the past.
For many years, I had Verizon service for the phone in my Mercedes-Benz automobile. However, about three years ago, the car dealership notified its customers that this telephone service was no longer available and would be switched to digital service.
I continued to pay every month on the old Verizon contract, but explained to Verizon that I would not need service in the future, since this model of car was not able to be upgraded to digital.
However, I was still billed $84.11 for new service.
I called, and the Verizon representative reviewed the records and confirmed that I had already been paying for more than a year for service that I was not using. The representative assured me that I would be credited for the amount billed in error. It was explained that it would take a couple of billings to be corrected.
In addition, the company sent me a new cell phone, which is still sealed in its original clear wrap. It has never been opened, activated or used. I did not ask for it nor do I need it. According to the representative, it was sent because the other line was no longer available for use.
I received an offer from a collections agency recently to settle for $75.70.
Please help me clear up this error and remove this small amount, which could impact my credit report. I have never used the service. Will they accept this “gift’’ telephone back? How will I know that they received it?
Cordia Moore, Gary, Ind.
Dear Cordia: It would be a shame to get a rotten mark on your credit report, seeing as you were so diligently paying on a phone contract that you weren’t even using.
Fortunately, the folks that we reached at Verizon agreed.
Their executive relations team examined your records and saw that indeed, you had not used the phone at all during the time in question. They apologized for the hassle and said they’re going to waive all the charges, which will bring your account balance to zero.
They’re also removing any derogatory information about this from your credit reports.
As for that unused phone — since it’s so old, Verizon spokeswoman Carolyn Schamberger said it’s not necessary for you to return it. But if you (or anyone else reading this) would like a good way to recycle it, you could donate it to the Verizon Wireless HopeLine program to benefit domestic violence victims. More info is at verizonwireless.com/hopeline.
Scammers, in the pink
We’ve all become pretty accustomed to opening our wallets every time we see a little pink ribbon on a product or advertisement.
That’s especially so in October, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
And while it’s good to donate money to fight breast cancer through medical research, treatment and education, you want to make sure your money is not going to a questionable organization or a shady pink ribbon marketing campaign.
The Better Business Bureau urges everyone who donates to charities to do some research beforehand, including finding out the full charity name, the amount of the product sale price that goes to the charity and the charity’s own aims and finances. (Charity Navigator, another charity watchdog, recommends that charities limit their fund-raising and administrative expenses to 25 percent or less of their total budget.)
In the case of a business offering to donate a percentage of profits to a charity, find out the minimum and maximum amount they plan to give. You can confirm whether a business is really linked to a charity by looking at the charity’s corporate sponsors and donors online.
You can access the BBB’s charity database at give.org. Another good site is charitynavigator.org.
In general, whenever you make charitable donations — and the big holiday giving season is just around the corner — be sure to:
Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion but short on specifics.
Not give cash. Use a credit card or a check or money order made out to the organization, not to an individual.
Resist high-pressure appeals for immediate donations and never agree to let a “runner” come and pick up your donation.
Keep records of your donations for tax time.
How to fight a denial
More readers than we can count have complained about health insurance claims being denied.
Which made us wonder: How can you increase your chances of winning such a battle?
Consumer Reports Money Advisor, which is published by the nonprofit Consumers Union, has some tips:
Prepare on the front end. Before even seeing the doctor, read your benefit plan documents to see what is and isn’t covered. If any part is unclear, call the insurance company (or Medicare, if that’s what you’re using) and find out. Take copious notes.
Save copies of all your paperwork from the doctor and insurance company in chronological order.
If the claim is denied, act quickly. Review the paperwork and then call the insurance company. Sometimes it’s a simple error that can be fixed with a single phone call.
If, however, the insurance company denies it a second time, it must inform you that you have the right to have the decision reviewed independently and it must give you contact info for your state’s review panel. (That’s part of the new federal health care legislation.)
You’ll need to submit your written request for an external review at the state level within four months. You should clearly explain why the procedure or medication was necessary and why it should be covered. Make copies of all the documents you send, and use certified mail with return receipt requested. For more info, check out insurance.illinois.gov.
Dear Readers: Last week, we heard from Bob Birgel of Chicago Heights, who said his elderly mother had been charged $2,800 for a job that Peter’s Tuckpointing had said would cost $80. He said the crew from Peter’s Tuckpointing had approached her in her yard, claiming they had supplies left over from a previous job and could give her a fabulous deal.
After doing what turned out to be a pretty shoddy job, Bob said, they followed her to the bank to make sure they got their money.
Bob didn’t have any luck trying to get his local police involved because the crew had done some work and his mom had paid them.
Team Fixer didn’t have any success, either: Peter Miller of Peter’s Tuckpointing did not return our calls, and the business address he gave Bob’s mother turned out to be a piece of land just west of a school parking lot off Golf Road in Glenview.
After that column ran, we got another letter about Peter’s Tuckpointing. It was from a homeowner in Crete, who was still pretty shaken up and didn’t want his name used. He is 85, and his wife is 75, and they were also approached by a man who identified himself as Peter Miller, the homeowner said. It was Aug. 23, and Miller said he had leftover materials from another job and could repair their patio.
Oddly, Miller insisted he’d installed their aluminum siding years earlier, which in retrospect didn’t make sense because that job was done in 1965 and Miller “didn’t look any older than 40,’’ the homeowner wrote.
This time, Miller gave a business address of 5523 N. Pulaski, which The Fixer later determined was somewhere in the Bohemian National Cemetery.
The homeowner wrote that Miller said his materials would normally cost $80 but that he’d charge only $40, and he wouldn’t tack on a labor charge. For that price, he would not only fix a couple of cracks in the patio, but would also waterproof the exterior of the home’s foundation.
“If I had thought a little longer, I would have remembered that legit tradesmen don’t even open your door for 40 bucks, so it was a combination of greed, stupidity and thoughtlessness,’’ the homeowner wrote The Fixer.
Miller went inside the house, and a few minutes later came out to see a worker spraying his foundation “with some black stuff which later turned out to be driveway sealer,’’ the homeowner told us.
By the time he was presented a “bill’’ by Miller, the crew had, in the span of less than one hour, somehow gone through 83 gallons of sealer, at a cost of $40 a gallon. After some haggling, Miller agreed to accept “only’’ $3,000.
Even worse: the homeowner later had to buy paint to cover up the black goop, which was also sprayed in places that didn’t need sealing, such as on the patio umbrella.
Team Fixer tried again to reach Peter’s Tuckpointing, but now the main number in Bridgeview is disconnected and messages left at other numbers were not returned.
Getting the runaround about a consumer problem? Tell it to The Fixer by visiting www.heraldnewsonline.com and searching for “Fixer.” You’ll find a simple form to fill out. If you don’t have a computer, you can mail a brief description of your problem, along with your name, address and telephone number, to: The Fixer, 13543 S. Route 30, Plainfield, IL 60544. Don’t send original documents. The Fixer cannot send personal replies. Letters are edited for length and clarity.