Ed Guinan of Garwood uses a Samsung Galaxy SIII for his cell phone. He uses Verizon Wireless for service.
So when he needed a new case for his phone in October 2012, he went to the Verizon Wireless store on Route 22 in Union.
He purchased a case for $24.06, and he used his Bank of America debit card to pay for it.
“Later that evening I checked my Bank of America account online and noted not only had I been charged for my purchase, but there was an additional charge for $213.96 from Verizon,” said Guinan, 63. “Interestingly, the charge had been made an hour-and-a-half later, after the first — and correct — Verizon charge.”
He said he immediately called Bank of America to report the unauthorized charge. He said he also talked to Verizon, which acknowledged there was a problem, and it said it would work with the bank to correct it.
“The money was placed back in my account and all was well until Feb. 15, 2013, when the $213.96 was debited from my account,” he said, noting he received a letter from the bank on the same day.
“They said after investigating, they found that there was a signature on the receipt and therefore it was an ‘authorized purchase,” he said.
“After explaining and discussing the situation, the Bank of America representative determined that the claim was in the wrong category and it would be placed in the correct category — fraud — and the claim would be reopened,” he said.
Guinan said he knew it could take several months, so he waited it out.
On July 26, Giunan said, he called Bank of America again.
“They said that the charge was authorized by a signature and therefore was a legitimate charge,” he said. “I stated that it clearly was not mine, but that didn’t seem to matter. The Bank of America representative said to go back to Verizon.”
So he did, visiting the Union store during the first week of August.
Guinan said the manager was able to bring up Guinan’s account, confirming he purchased the phone case for $24.06. He said the manager was also able to view the $213.96 charge, and had access to the buyer’s name, address and phone number.
“I received a copy of the Verizon receipt for the $213.96 purchase,” he said. “Not only was the signature clearly not mine, but the phone number listed with the account was in no way connected to me.”
Plus, he said, the $213.96 was for a new cell phone — a phone no one attached to Guinan’s account has ever had.
The manager gave Guinan a number for the Verizon fraud department.
When he called, he said, he got a computer-generated message telling him to take the matter up with his bank.
“So even though both Bank of America and Verizon have the phone number, name and account information of the person who charged on my account, neither wants to acknowledge fraud and reimburse me,” he said. “All I get is sympathetic looks and shrugged shoulders from associates with both Verizon and Bank of America. I have been going around in circles for months.”
More than 10 months, to be precise.
Guinan contacted Bamboozled.
MAKING IT RIGHT
After reviewing the receipts, bank statements and Guinan’s timeline of events, we reached out to Verizon Wireless.
(Before you ask: Sure, Bank of America has some culpability here, but Verizon is the one that has to notify the bank if a charge is incorrect.)
After a day, Guinan said, he received messages from Verizon Wireless’ executive offices on both his home and cell numbers.
He returned the call to the number left by the rep, but, he said, it was a general Verizon number.
The next day, he received another call from the same number, but this one was disconnected before he could hear a human voice.
We contacted Verizon Wireless to let them know there was something amiss in attempts to contact the customer.
Verizon tried again, and this time, the rep reached Guinan.
“She was able to (finally) help,” he wrote in an e-mail. “It looks like I am going to be reimbursed the $213.96 directly into my checking account.”
Guinan said Verizon Wireless said it would investigate, and it should take a couple of days for the money to be back in Guinan’s account.
We checked back in with Verizon Wireless, which would only say, “We worked with this customer and were able to address his concerns.”
We didn’t want to discuss the customer’s account, we explained, but we were wondering if it could explain how the error happened — which is important so customers can feel comfortable that this kind of mistake won’t happen again. We also asked if Verizon Wireless planned to contact the customer who made the wrongly charged purchase.
Verizon Wireless didn’t respond to those requests.
Still, we thank Verizon Wireless for doing the right thing for this customer.
“I do believe that without the intervention of Bamboozled I would still be trying to get my money,” he said. “You may be hearing from the guy who actually owes the $213.96. I wonder what his reaction will be when, and if, he hears from Verizon.”
STATE ACTION AGAINST CHIMNEY COMPANY
Last month, the state announced it had shut down five home improvement companies owned and operated by two relatives.
And yes, Bamboozled had profiled one of its victims in 2009.
Joan Muller of Pompton Plains hired AAA Reliable of Fair Lawn in March 2008 to replace a chimney top that had blown off in a storm.
When the workers came, they told her the chimney’s guts were rotting, but could be fixed for $4,100.
She said yes, but when she finally used the chimney for the first time the next fall, black smoke came into the house. Weeks of disputes with AAA followed, and Muller had other contractors come for evaluations.
They said wrong parts had been installed, and they were installed improperly.
After Bamboozled contacted the company, AAA agreed to return the money to Muller.
But it seems Muller’s complaint wasn’t the only one, and not every customer was as fortunate.
Consumer Affairs said 86 consumers are eligible for restitution based on their experiences with AAA Reliable, and related businesses Old Reliable Construction, A Safeway Construction, A Safety Construction, and A Safeway Improvements. The businesses were run by Sulejman Lita and Liman Lita of North Haledon, men the state believes to be cousins, the state said.
“We alleged these defendants used coupons offering free inspections and low-priced services to gain access to homes, where workers damaged chimneys, roofs or gutters to coerce consumers into paying for expensive repairs,” said acting Attorney General John Hoffman.
Sulejman Lita will pay $315,000 as part of the settlement, and consumers can expect restitution.
Also as part of the settlement, the companies have relinquished their home-improvement contractor registrations with Consumer Affairs. They will also cease advertising, shut down their websites and dissolve the companies.
Plus, Sulejman Lita will be barred from advertising, selling and performing home improvements in New Jersey for three years, and he’ll be barred from managing, operating or owning any businesses in the home improvement field.
“Putting bad actors out of business and getting money back into the hands of those who were wronged are always our priorities,” said Eric Kanefsky, director of Consumer Affairs. “Through this settlement we have achieved both ends.”
Before the weather gets colder and before you hire a contractor, learn more about what your chimney might need at the website of the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
You can also check with Consumer Affairs to see if the business is properly registered, or if there are any complaints against the business, by calling (973) 504-6200.