Small businesses have consumer problems, too.
Mary Paulosky, who handles the bills for Gordon Realty Management of Linden, saw something was wrong with the company’s Verizon bills.
The March bills had some unexpected termination fees for several of the lines, which are used for fire, sprinkler and other services for the buildings managed by the company.
Gordon Realty has 45 Verizon lines in all.
When Paulosky received the first incorrect bill, she was confused. No one had authorized any changes in service, she said, but the changes were there.
“How could they just make changes to an account without authorization? I am under a two-year contract for all of them,” she said.
Paulosky said she called Verizon, then sent a follow-up email.
Eventually, the charges were removed.
For the next seven months, more bills had termination fees or service changes the company never requested or approved, Paulosky said. One of the lines — again lines used for fire and sprinkler services — even had DSL installed for it, she said.
She estimates the wrongful charges were $1,000 or more.
And all the changes were made on accounts that wouldn’t reach a contract termination date until 2017, she said.
Over this time, Verizon reps kept calling the company, often with multiple calls in one week, Paulosky said. It became so annoying, Paulosky said, that she and her coworkers would ask to be put on Verizon’s Do Not Call list.
That didn’t work, and the calls kept coming.
Each time a bill wasn’t right, Paulosky called and emailed Verizon to correct the errors, she said.
“Since you can never get the name of one person with an extension, I was forced to explain the situation over and over and over to whichever customer service rep picked up the phone,” Paulosky said. “Some were nice and some were rude. The one thing they all had in common was to promptly remove the charges. So what does that tell you about Verizon?”
It told Paulosky something wasn’t right.
The account changes kept coming, and so did the messed up bills and the phone calls.
Gordon employees started to record the calls and save voice mail messages from Verizon reps, and they’d again request the Do Not Call list.
That didn’t stop the calls.
And then Paulosky noticed something on her Caller ID. When the phone solicitations came in, the calls didn’t say they were from Verizon. They instead came from a series of other company names which she believed to be subcontractors for Verizon and not Verizon itself.
“The lightbulb really went off,” Paulosky said.
She said her suspicions were confirmed in a call with one of the solicitors. In the conversation, the rep explained that getting changes on accounts is how the rep’s company gets paid, Paulosky said.
After that, she said she knew the calls and service changes weren’t actually coming from Verizon.
“They are allowing outside people to actually make the changes themselves,” Paulosky said. “These vendors get paid on commission so it’s beneficial for them to mess with accounts.”
It’s been a huge time-waster and a headache, Paulosky said, noting she believes the problem is bigger than just her company.
“I wonder how many business customers are not realizing what is happening and have already paid the early termination fees? Verizon is making a fortune,” she said.
Paulosky started to include the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) on all her complaint emails with Verizon, and the agency answered her once with a claims number. But there wasn’t any quick action from that.
That’s when she reached out to Bamboozled.
LOOKING FOR RESOLUTION
This is a time of serious competition among telecom companies. It’s clear from the junk mail you receive, the ads that you see.
They all want your business, and they want you to choose their services over the competitors. If you’re already a customer, they want to offer a deal, or an incentive, for you to remain a customer.
Were all these calls and changes simply an attempt to upsell or keep Gordon Realty as a customer?
We reviewed a long list of bills and emails between Paulosky and Verizon, and we also listened to some of the taped phone messages from the reps who called about the Verizon accounts.
Some offered lower prices for services. Other said they needed a verbal authorization to make an account change. Still others said they were reviewing the company’s discounts, or calling to verify a credit.
We asked Verizon to review the accounts and to explain how the unauthorized changes and unwanted solicitation calls came to pass.
Verizon investigated, and it took action.
It said it has third-party agents — what most people would call outside subcontractors — that represent Verizon across its businesses.
“We hold them to the same high standard we expect from our employees: integrity and honesty,” spokesman Jeffrey Nelson said. “When that doesn’t happen, we insist they take responsibility for their actions.”
And indeed the company did.
“In this situation, our customer had a bad experience, and by letting us know, we had the opportunity to investigate, leading to terminating that agent’s relationship with us,” Nelson said.
The agent, in this case, isn’t an individual employee, but several employees who work for an outside contractor.
Nelson said Verizon is working with the customer to address any and all outstanding issues.
Verizon said it found about $975 in wrongful charges — some as little as $30 — and it’s still looking to see if there were others.
We asked how many subcontractors, or agents, Verizon uses, and if it has received other complaints about unauthorized account changes.
Nelson didn’t answer those questions, but he said, “We will take swift and decisive action any time we find circumstances where agents don’t uphold our high standards of integrity and honesty.”
Verizon assigned a new contact for Paulosky. They’ve already chatted, and the new rep is going over all the accounts to make sure there are no outstanding concerns. The rep will also be Paulosky’s single contact going forward.
Paulosky says she’s looking forward to having her company’s accounts fixed, but it’s not the end of her concerns.
“It’s extremely disturbing to think of how many customers maybe didn’t notice changes to their account, had no idea it happened, and Verizon profited off of that,” she said. “It’s also disturbing they gave our contact information to outside contractors. Our contract is with Verizon and they have no right to give out information like that. A trust has been broken.”
Let us know if your business has had similar troubles.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.