Bamboozled: Billing error takes on new life


AtBB branding 87 years old, Charles Hoffman isn’t a scofflaw. Or a deadbeat. Or a mooch or delinquent of any kind.

But one look at his credit report shows he skipped out on a $112 Verizon bill.

Hoffman, of Union, said he never had reason to look at his credit report.

“I never had a reason to care about it. I figured if all my bills are paid then it would be fine,” he said.

But one day in June, Hoffman said he decided to take a look at his report and his credit score after a conversation with his daughter, and he was shocked by what he saw.

“The score was only a 720, and I didn’t understand why,” he said, and that’s when he saw the overdue Verizon bill.

Hoffman was a Verizon customer in 2012, and in June of that year, he decided to cancel his service.

bamboozled-august 4He received a bill dated July 3, 2012, for $112.09, and he said he paid the balance online.

On July 19, he received a statement showing Verizon received his $112.09 payment, and it also showed he had a credit balance of $206.35.

On Aug. 19, he received another statement showing the same credit balance.

Come September, something fishy was afoot.

Hoffman received a letter from a collection agency saying he owed $112.06 to Verizon.

“I called the collection agency up then I spoke to Verizon, and Verizon gave me the runaround telling me that I owed the money,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman had a bank statement showing the payment was made, and he had a Verizon statement showing the company accepted the payment, so he sent the proof to the collection agency, he said.

“I figured they were satisfied that I had paid the bill and I never heard from the collection agency again. Never heard another word. Never,” he said.

Then in November, he received yet another statement from Verizon, but this one showed a credit of $2.25.

And that was the end of statements from Verizon, he said.

All was quiet, until this past June, when Hoffman found the $112.09 delinquent bill on his credit report.

“They put an adverse statement on my credit score. I have bank statements and their bills with all this information,” Hoffman said, and he asked Bamboozled for help.


Hoffman and other consumers who disagree with items on their credit reports have plenty of recourse, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, we reached out to Verizon to ask it to review the Hoffman case.

In a day’s time, a rep from the company called Hoffman.

“He’s telling me that in 2012 they sent me a check for the $206, but that’s something I have no recollection of,” Hoffman said. “I can’t swear I didn’t get it but I’m not positive. And they say I still owe the $112.”

Verizon found a copy of the cancelled $206 check, which had been cashed by Hoffman in 2012. A rep hand delivered a copy to Hoffman’s front door.

Hoffman said the rep explained that Verizon had to establish a second account for him because he had closed out the first one when he cancelled service. The $112 payment was processed in the wrong account, and when Verizon sent him the $206 refund check, it included the $112.

“One account didn’t talk to the other account,” Hoffman said he was told. “He told me they made a mistake.”

We wanted to better understand this dual account situation, so we turned to Tom Maguire, Verizon’s senior vice president for national operations support.

He said some 15 years ago, rules were established concerning the portability of phone numbers — in plain language, when a customer wanted to take a number to another service provider. The company taking the number made a request to the current service provider for the number. Simple.

But as the years passed and more providers offered a triple play of phone, television and internet, the portability request was not updated to include video and data service.

“There’s no guarantee if you move voice service that you also want to sever your data and video accounts,” Maguire said. “If you moved voice service to Vonage or magicJack, if we disconnected your data automatically, you couldn’t use those services.”

So a customer would have to specifically tell Verizon or another carrier that they wanted to end all three services.

It seems that didn’t happen in Hoffman’s case, so when his new service provider told Verizon it was taking Hoffman’s phone, Verizon was not notified that it should also end internet and television service. Current regulations say the customer has to do that separately.

Hoffman did cancel the television and internet service, but that was five days after his new provider told Verizon it was taking the phone number.

So when the voice account was cancelled, a new account was automatically opened for television and internet service.

It gets a little more complicated. Verizon and other providers bill phone service for what has already been used, but they bill in advance for television and internet. That’s why the bills showed Hoffman owed some money but also had a credit.

And when Hoffman paid the $112, it wasn’t credited to the old voice account, but to the television and internet account, which showed Hoffman had a refund coming.

Maguire says Verizon is notifying the credit agencies to remove the negative mark on Hoffman’s account.

“I feel a lot better now,” Hoffman said. “Now all I want is the credit report to be fixed. I’m 87 so it’s not that I’m going for a mortgage. It’s the principle. If anyone looked it up, I’d be an adverse risk.”

Hoffman said he’d let us know when that’s corrected.


We were surprised the speed with which the “delinquency” showed up on Hoffman’s credit report, but it turns out items can end up on your report with lightning speed.

“That’s the big thing that consumers don’t realize,” said Gerri Detweiler of “A collection account may appear on your credit report even before you even get a notice about it.”

She said the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that a business notify you if it may someday report your payment history to the credit agencies, and that’s usually in the fine print when you sign up for an account. But there is no specific requirement that it notify you when it does, or that it be some in a certain timeframe, Detweiler said.

That’s all the more reason to stay on top of your credit.

Every consumer has the right to a free annual copy of their credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

You can request the reports all at once, or space them out throughout the year.

While you can get the reports through the individual reporting agencies, the best approach is to go through, a web site established by the bureaus for that purpose. Or, you can call (877) 322-8228.

You can also get a free report if you’re denied credit.

When you get your reports, go over each entry for accuracy.

If you find an error, you must contact the credit reporting agency in writing.

The Federal Trade Commission offers a sample dispute letter on its website.

Be sure to include your complete name and address, each item you’re disputing and explain if the item should be removed or corrected, and why. With your letter, send copies of whatever documentation you have to prove your case.

Make copies of everything you’re sending for your records, then send it certified mail, return receipt requested.

The credit reporting agency must investigate and respond within 30 days (45 days if the dispute was found on a free report). If it finds the item is inaccurate, it must notify the other agencies to correct the item.

You can also ask the agency to send copies of your corrected report to anyone who has pulled your report in the past six months — such as a lender who turned you down for credit — or to any employer who has pulled your report in the past two years.

You should also, in writing, tell the entity that gave the erroneous information to the credit agency that you dispute the item. Include the same information you sent to the credit agency. This is to make sure the entity that provided the bad information doesn’t continue to report the bad information, which could cause the item to show up on your credit reports again.

Also note that while credit reports are free once a year, credit scores are not. If you want a credit score from the three major agencies, you have to pay for it. Take note if you visit the agencies’ sites, you’ll find offers of “free” scores if you sign up for credit monitoring services, which are not free.

There are also some websites that do offer free scores with no strings attached, but they’re not always the same scores used by the credit agencies or by lenders who look up your score. Make sure to understand the nature of whatever free score you’re getting, and as always, read all the fine print. Twice.

Have you been bamboozled? Contact Karin Price Mueller at

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