NY Times’ Pogue: Verizon, AT&T scamming mobile customers by charging for bogus data downloads

“Starting next week, Verizon will double the early-termination fee for smartphones. That is, if you get a BlackBerry, Android or similar phone from Verizon, and you decide to switch phones before your two-year contract is up, you’ll be socked with a $350 penalty (it used to be $175),” David Pogue reports for The New York Times.

“This fee drops slowly over time ($10 a month), but after two years, it’s still $110,” Pogue reports. “If the premise of the early-termination fee is to help Verizon recoup its original cost of the phone, shouldn’t the fee go down to zero at the end of your contract? This move doesn’t help Verizon’s reputation for steep pricing and aggressive gouging.”

“What bothers me more, though, is another bit of greedy nastiness that readers both inside and outside Verizon have noticed,” Pogue reports. “Verizon has a bigger scam going on: charging for bogus data downloads.”

Pogue recounts some information one of his readers, a Verizon customer, has noticed:

Virtually every bill I get has a couple of erroneous data charges at $1.99 each—yet we download no data.

Here’s how it works. They configure the phones to have multiple easily hit keystrokes to launch ‘Get it now’ or ‘Mobile Web’—usually a single key like an arrow key. Often we have no idea what key we hit, but up pops one of these screens. The instant you call the function, they charge you the data fee. We cancel these unintended requests as fast as we can hit the End key, but it doesn’t matter; they’ve told me that ANY data–even one kilobyte–is billed as 1MB. The damage is done.

Imagine: if my one account has 1 to 3 bogus $1.99 charges per month for data that I don’t download, how much are they making from their 87 million other customers? Not a bad scheme. All by simply writing your billing algorithm to bill a full MB when even a few bits have moved.

Pogue reports, “At about the same time, I got a note from a reader who says he actually works at Verizon, and he’s annoyed enough about the practice to blow the whistle:”

The phone is designed in such a way that you can almost never avoid getting $1.99 charge on the bill. Around the OK button on a typical flip phone are the up, down, left, right arrows. If you open the flip and accidentally press the up arrow key, you see that the phone starts to connect to the web. So you hit END right away. Well, too late. You will be charged $1.99 for that 0.02 kilobytes of data. NOT COOL. I’ve had phones for years, and I sometimes do that mistake to this day, as I’m sure you have. Legal, yes; ethical, NO.

Every month, the 87 million customers will accidentally hit that key a few times a month! That’s over $300 million per month in data revenue off a simple mistake!

Our marketing, billing, and technical departments are all aware of this. But they have failed to do anything about it—and why? Because if you get 87 million customers to pay $1.99, why stop this revenue?

In an update, Pogue reports, “A reader notes that his AT&T phone has exactly the same buttons and he gets charged exactly the same $2 for an accidental press.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Yet another reason to get an Apple iPhone. No mechanical buttons programmed to scam customers over bogus data downloads. Regardless, Verizon and AT&T and any other scam artist carriers that are conducting systematic ripoffs of their customers should cease doing so immediately. This is exactly the sort of thing the FCC and, perhaps, the U.S. Senate, actually should be looking into. If they aren’t already, they should. And, another thing: Carriers found guilty of such actions should be forced to refund every penny to every customer they’ve ripped off so far.

41 Comments

  1. Sorry to hear that AT&T;is doing this same thing with the downloads. So happy I have an iPhone where this is a non-issue, and on the AT&T;network where I can check my email while I deal with a caller. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”grin” style=”border:0;” />

  2. I wondered why my new Android phone had a separate $ button on it. Problem now is the plastic keypad is stuck in the down position so it keeps pressing $ repeatedly.

    Customer support says they should have the problem looked into within a week.

  3. I have had the same accident happen to me many times. Sony-Ericsson phones (of which I have used five) have their “MediaNET” button (This is on AT&T’s flavour of the phones) on the front face. In addition, they have several choices on the main menu that take you online.

    This is an insidious scam of massive proportions that totally merits some congressional/senate investigation.

  4. “This fee drops slowly over time ($10 a month), but after two years, it’s still $110.”

    Wrong! Once your contract expires at the end of the contractual period, there is no $110 fee to cancel your Verizon service. David Pogue should do his research instead of peddling blatant lies.

    It’s called an Early Termination Fee for a reason. They can’t charge you $110 to leave after your contract is finished. Leave the day before your two-year or one-year contract expires and THEN it’s $110. Or you could always buy the phone at full retail and have no contract at all.

  5. Even with the iPhone, you have to call and tell ATT to block text messages to avoid getting a 20 cent fee every time a random bozo decides to send you one. There should be a setting on the phone itself to disable incoming text messages so you can enable it at your convenience if you wish.

    Text messages – WTF – it’s a phone, it’s a computer. Call or email me. Nobody, nowhere, no how needs to instantly contact me, especially for an added fee for a service that transfers far less data than an email or phone call.

  6. I have Verizon, and this happens to me every month as well. The most ridiculous thing is that I have data blocked on my plan, yet every month I am still on the phone getting charges removed.

  7. This why I dropped verizon. Always Fighting for those overcharges with a data plan. Yeah they really f’ed my bills up. It was never the same month after month. Problem was solved when I moved to iPhone.

  8. An easy fix for this problem (and it is a BIG problem) is to move your quick keys to do something else. I did this as soon as I got charged the 1.99 the first time. Just because the quick key might have an icon on it doesn’t mean that you can’t program it to do something else. So, I changed all of my quick key actions to start either the calendar, calculator or alarm clock. So now, I have to drill down into the menus to get to the web browsers or any of that other data using stuff. Worked for me. Verizon should just have it that way to start…thats where the real problem sits.

  9. @R2
    dude, calm down and quit harping in people. What he is saying is that there is a $110 fee down to the last day. He very well knows the once your contract ends, you can leave without a penalty. Oh, and someone better not dare turn this comment section into a political battle! That pisses me off more than anything else here…

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