Bamboozled: Perils of auto-pay: Watch what you’re paying for

 

Automatic payments are a helpful, convenient and time-saving service. Whether you use a credit BB brandingcard or have debits taken from a bank account, you’ll know your bills will always be paid on time.

But using an auto-pay system doesn’t absolve customers from making sure that bills are accurate.

Betsey Bloom has learned that the hard way.

The Bedminster woman was a long-time user of an AT&T email address.

The first address ended with @worldnet.att.net, then, a few years back, AT&T shortened it to just @att.net, she said.

She had always paid her monthly bills automatically with her credit card.

Bloom, who had always paid her AT&T bill automatically from her credit card, recently decided to switch to another provider.

“I had been paying between $16 and $21 per month — the amount increased over the years — for this service,” said Bloom, 69. “I recently decided that I would no longer pay for an email address… I then spent the last several months notifying everyone of this change.”

She also called AT&T to notify the company that she no longer wanted her @att.net email address.

That’s when the confusion began.

“The customer service representative cancelled my account and advised me that I have not been paying for the @att.net email address, but for dial-up service,” Bloom said. “My @att.net email would not be cancelled, just the dial-up charge which is now $20.95 monthly, would be cancelled. The @att.net email is free.”

Bloom said when she hung up, she got angrier and angrier that she had been paying for dial-up service that she hasn’t used in at least 16 years.

So she called AT&T again.

After being transferred to at least six customer service representatives, Bloom said, she finally spoke to a rep who could address the issue.

Effective November 2012, @att.net email addresses had become free, but AT&T had not notified any of their customers about this change, Bloom said the rep told her. Prior to November 2012, the rep told Bloom that she was paying for not only dial-up service, but for support, too, Bloom said.

“I believe this is a case of pure fraud,” Bloom said. “A service became free effective November 2012 and yet AT&T did notify any of their customers and continued to bill them monthly, even increasing the amount charged. Had I not called to cancel my att.net email address, I would still be paying monthly for a free service.”
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?

at&tBloom said she reached out to Bamboozled because she believed AT&T owed her a refund, but more importantly, that others might also be paying for a service they’re not using. She wanted to let other @att.net customers know they’re not paying for an email address, but for a dial-up service, that like Bloom, they may not be using.

We asked AT&T about the case, and it promised to investigate.

Two days later, Bloom got a call from the office of the president at AT&T.

She said she and a rep had a lengthy discussion, and the rep said AT&T had no way to know if Bloom was actually using the dial-up service she was paying for.

“He also stated that I got monthly bills or texts describing the service I was paying for,” she said. “I told him that I never get a bill, the charges are automatically charged to my credit card monthly.”

Still, the AT&T rep offered her a refund of the fees she had paid since the @att.net email address became free. That comes to about $400.

We were glad to hear AT&T was refunding money for the unused service, but given what Bloom was told by the first rep — that AT&T hadn’t notified customers the email addresses had become free — we wanted to better understand what had happened.

It seems that the explanation the customer service rep gave to Bloom wasn’t accurate.

“In February 2010, Ms. Bloom received a letter from AT&T notifying her AT&T’s Worldnet service would be terminated as of March 31, 2010,” AT&T spokeswoman Ellen Webner said. “The letter contained instructions for the customer to migrate her dial-up services to att.net.”

She said Bloom followed those instructions and migrated to @att.net’s dial-up service, which included a monthly charge.

We asked to see a copy of the letter that was sent to Bloom, or at least a generic version that was sent to all their customers.

Webner said she couldn’t share that, but she explained the letter was sent twice to Worldnet customers nationally — once at the end February or beginning of March and once in mid-March of 2010.

“The letter clearly stated AT&T Worldnet Service will no longer be available and will be replaced by AT&T Dial Internet service,” she said. “We included instructions on how to migrate to AT&T Dial Internet service (att.net) and provided toll free numbers for assistance on migrating or questions with the new att.net services.”

Despite the letter, Webner said AT&T was giving Bloom ” a courtesy credit for any misinformation she might have received recently.”

Bloom was happy to get some money back, but she was still unsure of the communications AT&T said happened.

She said after she hung up with the rep from the president’s office, she checked her text messages and said there were none from AT&T. She also said she doesn’t receive her monthly bill via email.

We asked Bloom if she had ever logged into the AT&T web site to review the bill. She said no, but that it wouldn’t have helped because the billing package probably wasn’t specific enough to realize she was no longer paying for the email address.

“I really never saw any reason to look at my bill since it was the same each month until January 2013, and then even though I was annoyed at the increase, I understood that was the price I had to pay to have an @att.net email,” she said.
LESSONS LEARNED

Bloom’s experience is an important reminder for all consumers.

First, it’s important to always review each bill you receive, even if the amount you’re paying is your regular monthly payment. If you’re not sure of what services you’re paying for, ask.

Next, you should always be on the lookout for both paper letters and emails from your service providers. You should read even the stuff that looks like junk mail, just in case it’s an authentic notification about your account and your services.

A note on email messages: Be cautious because scammers often impersonate real companies, creating fake emails that instruct you to click on a phony site, or they ask you to make payments that aren’t really owed. If you’re not sure, don’t click, and pick up the phone to call your provider.

Bloom said she opens all her mail and she doesn’t remember receiving the letters AT&T said it sent, and that’s possible. It’s also possible she discarded them or that they were never received.

“I still feel that if this isn’t fraud, AT&T is very happy to continue to collect for services whether a customer is aware of what they are paying for or not,” Bloom said.

That’s all the more reason for you, the customer, to be extra sure that you review those bills, even if you make automatic payments.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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