Ram Kappera and his wife, Lakshmi Potluri, welcomed a new baby boy to their family in early October. But in sharing their joy with family in India, the Maple Shade couple also greeted a jumbo phone bill.
The Kapperas are Verizon FIOS Triple Play customers, but connect their phone to Vonage for international calls — an important distinction that got lost in the baby delivery rush.
While Ram Kappera, 29, was at the hospital, his brother called family in India with news of the family’s first grandchild.
The calls were made on the Verizon connection.
“I could not believe that Verizon charged $432.64, excluding taxes, for a total of eight calls to India, which totaled to 64 minutes of talk time. That’s $6.76 per minute,” Kappera said, wondering how the carrier could justify such high per-minute charges.
Kappera called Verizon, trying to understand why the charges went through even though his phone doesn’t have an international calling plan.
“Since I did not have an international calling plan on my agreement, shouldn’t Verizon automatically block any international calls?” he asked.
Kappera was told if he signed up for an international calling plan, adjustments would be made so those calls would be charged at the lower calling plan rates. Kappera agreed.
But when the new bill arrived, the full charges were still there. This time, Verizon told the couple that because the calls were direct-dialed, no adjustments would or could be made.
While Kappera continued to try to have the bill adjusted, as was promised by the first rep, the full amount was deducted from his checking account as part of his automatic bill-pay with Verizon.
We called Verizon to see if something could be done.
“After speaking to Mr. Kappera and looking at the facts in the case, we decided to make a one-time adjustment to the charges,” Verizon spokesman Rich Young said.
Young agreed that per-minute charges for calls to India are high. That’s because phone companies in many foreign nations charge Verizon termination fees — fees that are essentially the cost Verizon pays to use communication networks in other nations, he said. In some locations, such as Canada, termination fees are “reasonable.”
“When a customer sees high fees in calls to a particular nation, there’s a good chance the termination charges are quite expensive,” Young said. “In these cases, Verizon is only seeking to recoup its costs.”
To avoid unexpected high charges for international calls, Young said customers can choose an international calling plan for a monthly fee. The customer would “have the ability to purchase buckets of minutes to other nations at a reasonable cost.” If customers want to avoid all international calls, they can add an international call block for no additional fee.
“The lesson I learned from this experience is to be very specific about the kind of service being requested or provided,” Kappera said.
Kappera is right. Understand what calls can be made from your telephone and block unwanted services. Otherwise, a well-meaning family member could add hundreds of dollars of unexpected charges to your bill.
A SCAM WE HADN’T HEARD OF BEFORE
Scams are a dime a dozen these days. Here’s one we hadn’t seen before, and it’s timely if you plan to send holiday packages overseas.
An e-mail came to my personal account from “United States Postal Inspection Service.’’ It said my package, mailed from Europe, had been intercepted by customs.
Funny coincidence. I sent one package to Sweden and another to Switzerland the week before, and it’s not uncommon for my relatives to send packages to me. When I sent my packages, I had to complete a bunch of newly required and quite lengthy Customs forms. I figured Customs was getting more vigilant.
So I read on, but I didn’t have to read far.
It seems my parcel contained an ATM card with $1.5 million available, the writer said, and I’d need to complete a foreign affidavit to receive the package.
I stopped reading. I’m not sure bank account number, Social Security number or other private information requests were next, but I’d seen enough.
Curious about what would happen to a package that actually was intercepted by Customs, we turned to John Saleh, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“Typically, the recipients of parcels are notified in writing by mail that their parcel has been detained and a reason for detention,” Saleh said. “Also the letter will give information on how to petition for their parcel or other possible avenues for reconciliation.”
Paper letters, dear readers, not e-mail. If you send international packages this holiday season, ignore any e-mails from the Customs service.
SHOW YOUR SUPPORT
After our story last month about Elizabethtown Gas billing problems, the office of state Sen. Marcia Karrow (R-Hunterdon) e-mailed to let us know that, earlier this year, she introduced S-2612, a Senate bill that would prohibit public utilities from recovering certain charges from customers. There’s also companion legislation in the Assembly, A-3588, with Assemblyman John DiMaio (R-Warren) as the primary sponsor. Both bills are now in committee.
If you’d like to see this legislation advance, you can contact your legislators via the New Jersey Legislature website, njleg.state.nj.us.
THE SIGNS ARE UP
Remember “Frustrated Taxpayers,” the Jersey City residents who for months asked for the replacement of street signs that had been removed from Erie Street during the demolition of Saint Francis Hospital, which was replaced by a condo complex?
The residents sent us a note to say the street signs are up.
“Now the street is cleaned and parking tickets are being issued,” they wrote. “You got the job done!”Ba