It seems some companies will go to great lengths to find ways to generate additional income. Some may use ethical means, such as diversifying products and/or services or slightly raising prices with fair warning to customers. Then, there are those who resort to sneaky, unethical tactics to boost income quickly. Although I will not name the corporations involved, I will provide you with real-life examples of some billing “scams” by well-known companies – two of which you probably either use or, at the very least, see their commercials on television everyday.
My opinion is that when most people get a bill for a regular service (electric, telephone, etc.), they just pay it. Some people may not even look at their bills and notice something like an extra $10 charge. Others may notice it, but are either too busy or non-confrontational so they don’t challenge the charge. Two of the corporations I will describe serve hundreds of thousands of customers. Adding a $10 charge to a bill can be quite lucrative. If just 1000 of their customers don’t question it and just pay it, the company just put an additional $10,000 back into its coffers!
A few years ago we got a bill from our home telephone and Internet provider (which happens to be one of the largest in the country) showing an additional charge for “installation”. We had lived in our home for several years, and transferred services and the telephone number from a previous residence. So, no “installation” of anything had occurred. When I phoned customer service to inquire about the charge, I was put on hold and transferred to several representatives. No one seemed to be able to explain the charge. Finally, after being on the line for what seemed like hours, a “supervisor” came on the line and said the charge was for installation in our previous home. She said they “forgot” to charge us several years ago and now we must pay for that service. Interestingly, as I recall, when we initially signed up for services in that home, they offered us FREE installation. I was astounded to find out they were trying to make us pay for a supposed “free” service they offered us in a previous home several years back. REALLY?? She then went on to say that they waived the late fees for not paying for that service since they never billed us for it, but if we did not pay by the due date, they would charge us all of the several years worth of late fees. After talking to a number of “supervisors” and literally threatening to file complaints anywhere and everywhere I could, they finally backed down and took the charge off our bill. I wonder how many customers they’ve don’t this to who either did not notice the charge or just paid it without question because they assumed they owed it.
Let’s move on from landline to wireless. In defense of my wireless provider, I do believe this was an honest mistake (unlike the charge from my home telephone/Internet provider who not only has very poor customer service, but have been caught several times by myself and others with sneaky tactics). My husband and I upgraded our smartphones. We always purchased TEC (Total Equipment Coverage) insurance in the past. We decided to drop the TEC insurance in favor of an extended warranty plan offered by the manufacturer. A few months into our new billing cycle, I noticed the bill was slightly higher. I went through the charges and found the TEC insurance had been added back on to our plan. I called my wireless carrier to find out why this happened. Contrary to the experience with my home telephone provider, they confirmed that I indeed did not want to TEC insurance, took it off my plan, and immediately credited my account for the charges. When I asked them why this was added back into my bill, they explained that my account had gone through an audit. They noticed that for the past five years, I had subscribed to the insurance through several phone upgrades. They thought the insurance had been accidently deleted from my account when I purchased the new phones. They apologized for the inconvenience. Again, an honest mistake, but had I not caught it, this additional monthly charge for a service I did not want would have proven costly over the years.
I went to a well-known hospital system for a medical test. I paid my co-pay, and received and Explanation of Benefits (EOB) report from my insurance company explaining the charges and reimbursements. I then received via mail a bill for an additional $25 co-pay. I called the billing department to inquire about this additional co-pay since I had already made the payment in the office. I was told I needed to pay two co-pays. When I asked her why, she said, “You just need to pay it”. I called my health insurance company to find out why I was being charged two co-pays. My insurance company told me to not pay this under any circumstances. She then read to me the agreement they have with all of their providers and told me it is wrong for them to try to charge me this additional amount. I was tempted to just pay it, because it had already taken up much of my time between talking with the billing office and my insurance company. It then occurred to me – the amount they charged was small enough to almost not make it worth my while to dispute, yet if large enough that if they used this same tactic on 5000 people, they stood to gain $125,000! So, I continued to fight…all the way to the point where they actually had the audacity to turn the bogus $25 charge over to a collection agency!! After I explained to the collection agency what had happened, provided them with documentation from my insurance company, and explained how I was about to report and expose their “client”, they apologized and realized they were being used as a pawn in this scam.
After having caught several additional companies trying to take advantage of me (who knows how many scams I may have missed) I refuse to pay my bills through automatic draft. I choose to go through each and every one to ensure all of the charges are correct. I highly recommend you doing the same. It does not take a lot of extra time, and could save you hundreds, perhaps even thousands of dollars each year!
Gina Smith writes freelance articles for magazines, online outlets and publications on behalf of a number of companies, including Global Response. Smith covers the latest topics in the business, golf, tourism, technology and entertainment industries.