BadGuys: GTE Paging...Resolved
During 1998, my daughter had a GTE pager. In January 1999 we received the bill for year 1999. My wife paid the bill. Within a few days my daughter told us she couldn't find the pager, so my wife called and cancelled the service. She was told we would have to pay for the whole year of 1999, but that service was cancelled as of that point.
In January of 2000, we received a bill for the year 2000.
For several months we tried to get the mistake resolved. Numerous phone calls and visits to local offices produced only frustration. GTE didn't think it was a mistake -- they wanted money. To be sure, they only wanted $20, but there is a principle here. When they turned the account over to a collection agency, I put up this web site and submitted complaints to our Washington State Atty General and to the FCC.
August 3, 2000 Just received a letter from Sona McKeon of our Washington State Atty General's office. Enclosed was a letter from GTE saying they were dropping the case. Actually the GTE letter also claimed they'd sent me a letter, which I never received.
So in January of 2000, my wife called GTE Paging. She was told there was no record of cancellation the previous year. She was told we would have to pay at least for part of 2000, but that service was cancelled as of that point.
My wife tried to find a mailing address to send a registered letter rejecting this bill. She was told the only way to reach GTE Paging billing services was via the phone number (800-GTE-PAGE). She was told the payment address was only a lockbox and they threw away any other paperwork. In other words:
My wife spent many hours calling GTE, being routed from one person to another.
In February 2000, we received a bill for :
SUMMARY FOR ACCOUNT NUMBER : 79166 DATE DESCRIPTION AMOUNT Previous Balance 88.40 11/30/00-01/27/00 Credits -71.58 Past Due Balance $ 16.28 02/10/00 ADJUSTMENTS Late Charge Adjustment 02.50 $ 2.50 ========= $ 19.32 YOUR ACCOUNT IS NOW PAST DUE. TO AVOID DISCONNECTION OF SERVICE AND A $20 RECONNECT FEE PER PAGER, PAY IMMEDIATELY * ****DISREGARD DATE ON BOTTOM OF BILL**** **** PAYMENT IS DUE NOW ***** CUSTOMER SERVICE/SALES (800)GTE-PAGE
(Yes, folks, the credit line was for November 2000 through January 2000. Hmmm.)
My wife called again. She was told service was not cancelled, and that the cancellation could be made only by me, since the service was in my name. (Oddly enough this hadn't stopped them from cashing checks written by my wife.)
We were told I would have to do the cancellation in person at a local GTE Phone Mart. I took a day off work to personally go to the Phone Mart at Alderwood Mall in Everett Washington. After waiting, talking to a representative, and talking further with various reps from the Florida office, we got verbal agreement that the bill was cancelled. But that we'd still have to pay for the part of year 2000 prior to cancellation. This was over a year after the initial cancellation. It was not acceptable.
By this point I was taking a personal interest. GTE's behavior had gone well beyond mere human error. It appeared to be a flawed system, with the flaws in GTE's favor. I searched the web, looking for information about GTE's billing systems. I identified a consultant retained by GTE and asked he look into the matter:
Harry George <firstname.lastname@example.org> 02/20/2000 01:23 AM GMT To: John J. Murray@Andersen Consulting cc: Subject: GTE's CBSS GTE claims AC audited its Y2K process, so I'm guessing you also handle its billing processes. AC's web pages give you as the contact, so .... I'm an extremely irate ex-customer of GTE's pager service. We cancelled the service in Jan 1999, and are now being billed for yet more fees. Apparently (according to their Florida billing offices), they have no knowledge of the original cancellation. I'm guessing the billing process was via CBSS, and that the error is either a) a human error (in which case CBSS specifications are flawed) b) a bug in the system (in which case CBSS implementation, and testprocesses are flawed) or c) a deliberate revenue enhancement mechanism (e.g., via a random number generator to insert low-volume "errors" in favor of the vendor) (in which case the audit process is flawed) Questions: 1. Did you or anyone in AC work with, audit, or participate in the development, test, or certification of the pager billing systems? 2. Is it in fact CBSS (which is being sold the industry in part as a tool to "mazimize revenues" on accounts which might be lost)? If not, do you know the name of the system, and can you tell me that name? 3. Is there any other resource I should contact in the process of resolving these issues? -- Harry George email@example.com
I received a response on Feb 18. The followup suggested a phone call. I tried several times but we could not connect. I had the impression that Anderson Consulting wanted to do the right thing, but the end result was zero. Also, it was frustrating to make a long distance toll call (and be put on hold) trying to connect with someone about poor phone service.
I then received notes from GTE CBSS, asking for my billing data. I did not respond because I wanted to debug the system, not have a one-time work-around which left the flaws in place. I wanted to prevent receiving another bill in 2001, 2002, ... Of course, GTE Paging could look up my records themselves. Or just go to the Florida office and ask if anyone recalled my story -- I must have talked to most of the sales reps in a multi-state area.
We received a bill in March for 21.82. Then we received a notice from a collection agency, dated 4/17/00:
RELIABLE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, INC 685 E. COCHRAN #200 SIMI VALLEY CA 93065 PHONE: 800 577-3101 GTE001 4140799 096 04/17/00 79166 GTE PRINCIPLE INTEREST COSTS TOTAL GTE PAGING $21.82 $21.82 $21.82 ... UNLESS YOU NOTIFY THIS OFFICE WITHIN 30 DAYS AFTER RECEIVING THIS NOTICE THAT YOU DISPUTE THE VALIDITY OF THIS DEBT.....(etc.)
(Yes, the two $21.82's are misaligned.)
At that point I set up the web site and submitted complaints to the FCC, our State Atty General, and again to GTE. In each case, I cited this web page.
The GTE email went to the GTE Wireless website. I received a concerned response asking for additional information. I sent a response. She wasn't able to track down my account, but did give me a phone number.
This email was received 2000-05-25. I immediately called the suggested number. Then it got really strange....
The number was for Message Link, who took over GTE PAGING billing as of Apr 1, 2000. "Rene" took the call. They did not take over the account numbers so they have no way to track back to my account. When I asked for Rene's full name so I could backtrack, she declined, saying she was alone in the office and that I could simply call back in. [This first-name only approach was also used in all previous GTE contacts. In the entire saga, I have only two traceable names.] Rene gave me the GTE Billing phone number at 877-566-6535,
GTE Billing could not look up my account by number, and asked for my SSN. When I complained about the inappropriate use of SSN, I was immediately forwarded to Message Link (same office, different person). When I asked to be transferred to Rene, I was instead forwarded to Irene.
I tried phoning back to GTE Billing. Ended up with a representative in Houston, who went out of her way to help. She couldn't find my account by either name or SSN. She did give me an additional phone number for GTE Paging: 888-258-8017, but they were off duty. I'll try tomorrow.
Then I tried the "Reliable Adjustment" number: 800-577-3101. I was forwarded through two pleasant sounding representatives and then dropped off line. The system said I'd waited too long to dial. Called in again and got Paul.
This was the first person who could actually find the account. I explained the story and gave him the URL. He asked for a letter describing the disagreement. I agreed to to send one, after pointing out that this was a cost to me that was completely GTE's fault, and that he needed an email address to cut my costs.
Creator: Harry George