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Verizon's misplaced decimal creates customer's big headache

It began with a mouse click to pay $40.98 for Verizon Internet service.

The confirmation arrived by e-mail to Leslie Cox's account, thanking her for her payment of "$40.98." So it was off to the grocery store — and the beginning of her troubles.

"I slid my debit card and it declined," Cox said. "I just thought my debit card was worn out."

The problem: Instead of $40.98, her Bank of America account showed a debit for $4,098.

"Holy Cow!" she shouted.

Holy Cow! is right. Electronic transactions might make our lives more convenient, but they are not without problems.

Other dominoes began to fall. The bank rejected Cox's Tampa Electric Co. bill payment and three other debits and then slapped her with four $35 overdraft fees. The electric company charged a $25 returned check fee.

Cox contacted Verizon and left voice mails and exchanged e-mails.

After leaving her six days in the red, Verizon finally credited Cox's account with the $4,000 owed to her account. But Verizon customer service refused to refund the overdraft fees to her Bank of America account.

(Hmm, why can't life work like the Monopoly game: Error in your favor, collect $200 plus the overdraft fees?)

"Michael at Verizon said they will not pay the fees because it was my error by not putting the decimal in $40.98 when I paid my bill on the Verizon Web site," Cox said.

She told Verizon that she received a confirmation, thanking her for the $40.98 payment, emphasizing that the decimal was right where it should be.

"When I asked Michael about that, he said he would research it and call me back," Cox said. "He has not called me back. My bottom line here, if Verizon had adequate customer service this issue would have been resolved when I first made contact."

Verizon did respond, after the Consumer's Edge contacted the company.

And Michael at Verizon was wrong.

"We had an issue with an IT system that affected Ms. (Cox's) bill payment presentation," Bob Elek, a Verizon spokesman said in a statement. "We have acknowledged this with her via a voice mail.

"We will be issuing a refund of $140 (4 x $35 per insufficient fund charge) along with our apology that this occurred," Elek said. "As I indicated, this was caused by an IT glitch that has been rectified."

Over the last couple of years, Verizon has been working on its customer service, expanding its call center and increasing training.

A key for Cox was her perseverance.

"It actually sounds like this customer did all the right things," said Anne Pace, a spokeswoman for Bank of America.

So here's the Edge:

• Keep good records of conversations and e-mails. Good records are the best way to prove your case, even when it seems like something as small as the $40.98 Verizon bill.

• Consider overdraft protection. Times are tight and not everyone has extra money or credit around, and you want to beware any overdraft protection that the bank wants to charge you extra for. A savings account connected to your checking account is one of your best bets. Obviously, debit errors in the thousands could even trip up your overdraft protection, too.

• Regularly review your account. This helps not only for debit errors but also for identity theft and other misuses. It's another tedious thing to add to our ever-growing list of responsibilities. But it could save some undeserved embarrassment at the checkout counter when you swipe your card, and it could more quickly correct an error.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and become a fan of Consumer's Edge on Facebook.

$40.98

Leslie Cox's Verizon

Internet bill

$4,098

Amount debited by Verizon from Cox's account

$2,353.96

Amount in Cox's Bank

of America account

$1,744.04

Total amount overdrawn

4

Number of overdraft fees

$140

Total overdraft penalties

$25

Insufficient funds fee charged by Tampa Electric Co.

5 hours,

53 minutes

Approximate time spent

talking with customer service about the problem

Verizon's misplaced decimal creates customer's big headache 03/13/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 12, 2010 10:36pm]

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