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This is the story of the Wesley Chapel woman whose Verizon cellphone bill shot from $118 to $9,153

Valarie Gerbus' Verizon bill is seen in this image from The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Photo by The Plain Dealer
Valarie Gerbus' Verizon bill is seen in this image from The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Photo by The Plain Dealer
Published Sep. 15, 2016

TAMPA — Valarie Gerbus dutifully went online to pay her Verizon cellphone bill last month, expecting the typical $118 charge.

Her July bill? $8,535.

That would later climb to $9,153, with the cellular provider tacking on a $594 charge and other fees when Gerbus canceled her contract.

"It made me sick to my stomach," the Wesley Chapel mother of two said. "I went to pay what I thought would by my normal bill."

After a month of fretting, including visions of bankruptcy and ruined credit, and what she considered unsatisfactory responses from Verizon support staffers, Gerbus learned Wednesday night that the company would erase the bill.

The development came after reporters from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Tampa Bay Times sought explanations from Verizon officials.

''We've talked with the customer who reported a $9,000 monthly wireless bill, and resolved it to her satisfaction," Verizon said in an email to the Times.

"I feel so much better right now," Gerbus said Wednesday night. "So much better."

The Cleveland newspaper reported Wednesday that thousands of cellphone users across the country, among them Gerbus, have reported soaring data usages and hefty over-limit fees. The newspaper said many of them said they have done nothing different as far as their usage.

The Plain Dealer said Verizon officials insisted they weren't aware of widespread problem.

Gerbus, 46, noticed some unusual activity on her phone late in July. She said she received a text from Verizon on July 21 notifying her that she had used nearly all of her 4 gigabits of data. She had never exceeded 4 gigs, but the text indicated she could obtain 4 additional gigabits of data, totaling 8 gigs, for $25. She bought it.

As an assistant property manager in a Pasco real estate office, she needed her phone for work and to keep up with her children.

Within an hour, she received another text stating she had used nearly all of the additional data she had just bought. When the texts from Verizon continued to stream in — Gerbus said she got about 50 notices that she was running out of data — she turned the notification off.

She realizes now that was probably the wrong move.

"I don't totally blame Verizon. I did shut off the notification," Gerbus said. "It's on me because I didn't call. But I didn't call because I didn't have time. I have to pick and choose how I use my time, and being on hold isn't necessarily where I want to be."

Instead, on Aug. 2, Verizon cut off her service and billed her for the 570 gigs her phone used.

A Verizon tech told Gerbus her phone had searched more than 400 times in a couple of days. The Amazon app was preloaded into her Samsung Note 5 by Verizon.

She did not visit the online retailer, Gerbus said. "I have no life," she said. "I come to work. I go to the gym. I go home."

She told Verizon representatives there was no way her data usage could have soared like that, but a representative contradicted her.

Gerbus will still have to pay the $594 cancellation fee, but she also negotiated the dismissal of the $25 extra-gigs fee. She wouldn't have bought the extra data if Verizon hadn't told her she was roaring through her allotment, she said.

Gerbus said she's sticking with T-Mobile, her new cellular provider. "Had this all been taken care of, I would have stayed with Verizon and I never would have canceled," she said. "Now it's the principle of the thing."

She had been terrified of the potential consequences. "I can't afford to pay this bill," Gerbus said earlier in the day. "It's going to mess up my credit. If it comes down to it, I'm just going to have to determine if I should let it go to collection or declare bankruptcy over it. I don't want to do either one of those."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.