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Phone customer slammed

I need your help with AT&T. Under no circumstances did I in any manner, shape or form authorize anyone to change my phone service to AT&T. I've had GTE since I moved to Florida in 1953 and have always been completely satisfied. No evidence has been provided that I authorized a switch in long-distance carriers and yet I received a statement from AT&T for the time period Nov. 14 through Jan. 13 for $20.06.

I am 85 years old and my only income is Social Security. I cannot afford to pay for something I didn't approve. I need to put that money toward my medication. I tried to sort this out and was given the impression that my phone service would be terminated if I did not pay. I cannot be without a phone as I depend on it very much. Because of the threat of losing my phone service, I paid the sum of $72.43, which was the amount of my next bill.

I do call a son in Australia. AT&T charged me $38.60 for 20 minutes. GTE charges me $3.40 for the same amount of time, at 17 cents per minute). AT&T has done the same thing to my daughter. I sure hope you can help me. Glen Scipioni

Response: Jennifer Boyer, AT&T spokeswoman in Basking Ridge, N.J., said you did authorize the switch in phone companies, and AT&T has a check you signed and cashed on March 30, 1998, to prove it.

Given the length of time that had elapsed between your cashing the alleged check and receiving your first AT&T bill, nearly two years, we asked the Public Service Commission whether you had been legitimately switched.

No, said PSC spokesman Kevin Bloom, you appear to have been "slammed." In other words, your carrier was switched without your authorization. AT&T cannot use a check cashed in March 1998, to switch your service in November 1999, he said. Furthermore, switching telephone carriers now requires independent third party verification. In other words, an independent third party must call and verify that a customer has authorized a switch.

Bloom urges you to call the PSC hotline at (800) 342-3552 to file a complaint. If you were indeed slammed, AT&T will have to rerate your calls according to the plan you were on with GTE. It will also have to pay any switchover costs.

We also suggest you contact GTE to tell it you believe you have been slammed and that you would like your GTE service reinstated. In the meantime, we will continue to try to get you the appropriate refund from AT&T.

A story on May 16 in USA Today said that complaints against AT&T and WorldCom, the two largest phone companies with 80 percent of the market between them, have been rising. The chief complaint is slamming. Figures cited from Florida show that complaints against AT&T rose by 21 percent from 1998 to 1999.

Jury duty request denied

I recently was summoned for jury duty. I sent back a request to be excused as I am being treated for high blood pressure. I sent in proof of medication, one being a diuretic. However, my main problem is severe claustrophobia. I cannot or will not go on an elevator and I could not stand being in a closed windowless jury room. I explained this in a letter and was sent back a denial. Please tell me what alternatives I have or what consequences I may face if I refuse to participate? Marilyn McMahon

Response: As you have already discovered, all you needed was a note from a doctor asking that you be excused from jury duty. The note does not even need to give the reason, said Jacque Avise, jury manager for the 6th judicial circuit. Bear in mind that this is not permanent. You have been excused for this summons only.

As for the consequences you would face if you simply ignored the summons, you would be held in contempt of court and could face a fine and/or jail term. It would be up to the judge.

Company goes bankrupt

We purchased two motorized wheelchairs from Source 1 Mobility in Largo, one in 1993 and one in 1996 for a total of approximately $8,000. Upon the death of my husband, who used the chairs, I went to Source 1 Mobility on Dec. 16, 1997, to inquire about selling the chairs on consignment. The chairs were picked up the following day and the receipt was signed by the manager.

The contract stated that Source 1 would sell the chairs on consignment and keep 35 percent of the proceeds as commission. The chairs were both well-maintained and include all equipment as well as cushions with custom-made washable covers. I have tried repeatedly to contact the owner of Source 1 Mobility regarding payment inasmuch as the chairs were sold sometime ago. I have had no success. Please help me collect. Mrs. Delbert Palmer

Response: We wish we could help you, but Source 1 Medical Equipment has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and there is nothing further we can do. You can, of course, file a claim with the bankruptcy court in Tampa, but there is no guarantee that you will be able to collect anything.

Thank you

Reaction: Last year I wrote you, advising of a suspected sinkhole on my property and asking for help. Your advice to me was to contact an engineer. However, before doing anything, you said to contact my insurance company.

This was the best advice you could have given me and since we live in an area where there are so many sinkholes and so many people unfamiliar with handling then, I would like to pass on my experience.

Being alone, without someone to guide me, I was at my wit's end to know how to proceed. My insurance company stepped in and handled everything.

Thank you for helping me. Margaret McCall

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, (800) 333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

Requests will be accepted only by mail or voice mail; calls cannot be returned. We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check. We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited.