Thursday, June 27, 2013

VERIZON WIRELESS: Can you hear me now?

     I’ve been a Verizon Wireless customer for as long as I’ve had a cell phone which is about twelve years or so now.
     I remember having a pager.
     The pager company I went with offered standard issue pagers in two colors surprisingly reminiscent of the colors of NyQuil cough syrup.   You could go with NyQuil Green or NyQuil Red, roughly the equivalent of “his ‘n’ hers” colors but I went with red anyhow because I’ve never been one to fall for gender stereotyping in colors.    I mean, if it was hot pink versus cobalt blue I’d go with the cobalt blue, but red and green are pretty ambivalent.   Christmas-y even.   So I went with the red.
     Between having a pager, which, when you think about it, was essentially an early version of someone text-messaging you their phone number for you to call them back, and having a land-line in my apartment with an answering machine so people could leave voice messages, I was able to do what I needed to do.   There was a fair amount of phone tag and leaving messages for each other, but it was what we had so we made it work.
     Then, cell phones were made widely and relatively affordably commercially available.
     I don’t remember exactly when I made the switch from pager and land-line to cell phone but it was around 2001 because I remember making a joke about having a musical ass and farting melodies when I would forget to mute the ringer on my cell phone at work and an 8-bit Nintendo version of Chopin’s Nocturne #1 would suddenly come drifting from my pants pocket.   So I don’t remember when I got my first cell phone, but I remember my first ringtone and that it was an LG.
     I also remember that it was around 2001, because I was living in an apartment block that was essentially a concrete bunker and I never got cell phone reception when I was indoors, so every morning I would have to go outside and retrieve all of my missed calls and voice messages.   It was inconvenient, and I missed a lot of opportunities because of not having cell phone service in my home.   Opportunities for work, when my employer would call to ask me if I could work overtime, and I didn’t receive the call until the next day.   Social activities, like people inviting me to go out and do things with them, or people trying to call me to see if they could come over and visit me.   And one time, when my friend Kristina called me when her and a girlfriend were leaving a lesbian bar and decided that they wanted to, in her words, “put some meat in their girl sandwiches”, my lack of cell phone reception cost me a ménage a trois.   Imagine waking up the next day and realizing that you missed that call.   Yeah.   That sucked.
     It never occurred to me to try to hold Verizon Wireless responsible for any of these inconvenient accidents as it was never done out of malicious intent.   I lived in a sturdy concrete dwelling with windows on only one side of it.   So although at least I didn’t live underground, I didn’t expect to have the best cell phone reception and I made due.   So, due to lapses in their signal strength or coverage area, I was being billed for twenty-four access to a service that I was only able to access only about half the time.
     Maybe you can see where I’m going with this.
     Although Verizon Wireless was unable to provide me with the service that they were charging me for about half of the time, I never received any kind of discount on my bill, my bill was never “pro-rated”.   Verizon Wireless billed me for service that they did not provide, and in the words of the law, that is fraud.   It is fraud, pure and simple.
     Don’t know what fraud is?
     Here’s a definition from Wikipedia: “In criminal law, fraud is intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual; the related adjective is fraudulent, and verb is defraud. Fraud is a crime and a civil law violation, though the specific criminal law definition varies by legal jurisdiction. Defrauding people or entities of money or valuables is a common purpose of fraud.”
     By taking my money for service that Verizon Wireless was well aware that they were unable to provide, they were engaging in fraudulent activity and by doing so, they were putting themselves in a situation where they could potentially be liable for damages in a civil action.   I know that there was a long contract that I was required to sign each time I renewed my contract with them every two years or so, and somewhere in that contract there was a clause that probably said something like, “Verizon Wireless is not responsible for any loss or damage incurred through the use of our products and services.” and, I thought that was fair.   I can’t blame Verizon for my only being able to afford to live in a bunker with windows on only one side, and therefore only being able to receive service most of the time.   But they were probably aware that half the time my phone was unable to connect to their network, and if they weren’t already aware, I let them know, and they were still pleased to demand full payment each month as if I actually had access to the service I was paying for.   But I didn’t really mind that much at the time.   It only worked half the time, but it was only $50 a month at the time, which wasn’t a lot of money for a telephone you could carry around in your pocket.   I always paid my cell phone bill in person, resisting their persistent suggestion that I let them have my bank card number and bill me automatically, because I didn’t trust Verizon Wireless to act in a just and legal manner if given unchecked access to my financial network.   And when I went in to pay my bill I often mentioned that I was only receiving service about half the time and said that I would appreciate if they would pro-rate my bill to reflect the fact, because $25 isn’t a lot of money, but it did build up over time, but the Verizon clerk, and manager of the location if the clerk was a dullard, would just shrug and say that there was nothing they could do about it.   The old “I don’t know what to tell you / we’re all just cogs in a big machine / are you going to pay your cell phone bill or will we have to hold your access to our service hostage until you render payment in full” routine.
     My relationship with my cell phone service provider hasn’t always been copacetic.
     Sometimes I’d be short on cash due to other financial obligations or a lapse in employment.   I’m not perfect, and sometime employers and I didn’t see eye to eye, and sometimes my lifelong sleep cycle problems came between me and showing up to work when I was supposed to and I’d be informed that my services were no longer needed.   So cash would be tight, and I can’t eat cell phone service, so I’d let it slide a couple or a few months, and sometimes my cell phone service would get shut off.
     For a few years there, they would tack on a late fee if you didn’t pay your bill on time.   I can understand why they would do that, but it always seemed a bit harsh.   I already don’t have the money to pay my cell phone bill.   Now you’re going to levy an additional fee when I already can’t afford to pay the initial fee?   Kind of a dick move.   Do you even want customers?
     And sometimes when my service would be disconnected for non-payment I would have to earn beg or borrow enough money to pay of my overdue balance, and my overdue fees, and on top of that they would levy a reconnection fee.   Verizon could have waived the reconnection fee in consideration of my customer loyalty since I had been a customer of theirs from the beginning and reconnecting my service happened instantaneously as soon as I rendered payment and the clerk made the necessary changes.   But they didn’t, and despite my suggestions I’d get the same shrug and the same explanation that it was beyond their control from the clerks and managers of the location I frequented.   It wasn’t beyond their control, as sometimes I could get them to waive the fees.   So, essentially the clerks and managers were lying to me the other half of the time, which, as you can clearly see is more fraud and not cool.
     Then, one day, I get a postcard in the mail.
     The postcard is inviting me to participate in a class-action suit against Verizon Wireless to entitle myself to a piece of a multi-million dollar lawsuit over illegal overdue fees.
     Interesting.    Turns out that I wasn’t the only one that thought that it was kind of a dick move on the part of Verizon Wireless to kick people when they’re down.   But since I’m not overly litigious by nature, I declined to reply to the postcard.   Verizon would presumably stop levying late payment fees and that was enough for me.
     Cell phone technology evolved and text messaging was the next thing that everyone started using and you kind of had to participate in.   Sure, at first you could get non-text message enabled phones, but that was temporary, and if you wanted to be part of the next wave of computer-mediated communication you learned how to text message and learned how to emoticon and “lol” like everyone else.
     Of course, text messaging wasn’t going to be something that Verizon Wireless just gave its customers.   Despite the fact that they could just make their money from charging people for the phones that were text capable when people upgraded to a new phone every two years or so, Verizon levied either a per-text or a variety of different monthly subscription packages.
     I opted for unlimited nights and weekends for phone calls and unlimited text which was an extra $30 a month so now my bill was up to $80 per month.   It worked out fairly well, and I told people like my mother and my best friends that tended to want to talk for over an hour on the phone to call me during off-peak times, and on the off chance that I went past my 300 or 500 allotted monthly peak minutes, I was usually able to argue my way out of the surcharge which was a small victory.   Plus I think that Verizon Wireless was aware that it wasn’t worth arguing over an extra fifty bucks here or there considering that ten of the twelve months I wouldn’t exceed my minutes and I didn’t receive a refund for any minutes that I didn’t use so things sort of balanced out.
     That was how it was for a couple years.
     Sometimes I was ahead, sometimes I was behind, but it was relatively uneventful, and aside from the service areas being unreliable and missing calls and messages which would cause social complications and missed opportunities of the employment/financial/social/romantic variety I wasn’t completely dis-satisfied.   It was still only $80 for me to have a telephone in my pocket all the time.
     Cell phone technology evolved and smart phones became mandatory.
     I had been rocking a RAZR V3 for years and I was perfectly happy with it.
     It was and probably will be my favorite cell phone until they can make a smart phone that slim and cool looking.
     Texting using the alphanumeric code was a bit of a nuisance, but after practice I was able to compose whole messages without even looking at the keys.   Press “2” three times and you get a “c”.   Pretty simple when you get used to it.
     I had my RAZR for so long that when I finally developed a problem with it, a misfunctioning number key if I remember correctly, that I had skipped a couple of my “every two years new phone” opportunities and the clerk was amazed that I was still running off the original battery.   Turns out I’m pretty good at taking care of a cell phone when it’s not too big to be unwieldy.   I never dropped any of my cell phones into a toilet bowl or down a stairwell or out the window/under the wheel of a moving car or got pushed into a swimming pool with it in my pocket or anything like that.
    The clerk told me that I couldn’t have another RAZR as they were being discontinued and I would have to upgrade to a smart phone.   This was only half true.   It’s true that the RAZR V3 was being phased out in favor of smart phones, but Verizon was offering a smart phone compliant updated variant.   But maybe the location I frequented in Long Island didn’t have any of those in stock, or it wasn’t an option for my “free” phone upgrade.   So I let the clerk talk me into a Blackberry Curve.   I think it was an 8530.   I’ve never been a tech fetishist so I usually don’t know the tech specs for my cell phones.   All I know is that it was a Blackberry, it was black, and it had the trackpad instead of the roller ball.
     Of course, upgrading to a smart phone wouldn’t be free and there would be an increase to my monthly bill for taking advantage of having access to the internet in my pocket.   So now my monthly bill was around $100 each month, give or take.   But I fell in love with my Blackberry.   The tiny keypad was kind of a pain for my big sausage fingers, but I developed callouses in the corners of the fingertips of my thumbs and forefingers and with practice was able to type with relative ease.   Plus I was able to receive and reply to e-mails and access Facebook from my phone which was quite a valuable privilege to have since I was a brand manager for an horror-genre-merchandising company which did most of its business online so some days I could do my work from home or while away from my computer with relative ease.   I was happy with my upgrade, the $20 per month surcharge was worth it, and I was making decent money, so keeping current on my bill wasn’t a problem.   All was right with the world.
     I mean, there was still the problem with spotty coverage.   That’s continuous.   Sometimes you’d have cell phone reception but no internet, and sometimes you’d have no reception at all, and you’d come out of spending time in a dead spot with no internet and be swarmed with a tsunami of notifications about e-mails and Facebook notifications you had missed, but for the most part it was serviceable.   I didn’t expect perfection, and although I was still being billed for continuous service when I was only able to access cell phone service about ¾ of the time, and the internet about half the time, I didn’t make much of a fuss because, as I said, I didn’t expect perfection and I was a loyal Verizon customer.
     I listened to my friends complain about their cell phone providers and when asked who I went with and if I was content I’d usually say that I hadn’t had any problems with Verizon.   The service was spotty at best, but what do you expect?
     The job ended and I moved.
     At my new residence, I was sharing a flat with an insane senior citizen.   The kind of deal where you rent a bedroom in a house, and share the common areas with whoever is renting the other bedrooms.   Kind of inconvenient, but it was all I could afford at the time since money was tight.   The old codger had cable, but not internet and trying to add on internet was going to be a hassle.   I was able to steal internet from a guy that lived upstairs, but after a few months I think he started to get wise.   My friend Josh told me that he had the same phone that I did, except a slightly different model through T-Mobile and that he was able to “tether” his phone.   For those less tech savvy than I am, to “tether” your phone is to use your cell phone as a modem to connect to the internet with your computer, using your existing cell phone plan.   I had unlimited everything on my phone so I figured it was worth looking into.   For those more tech savvy than I am, I apologize for any over-simplification.
     When I tried to activate my cell phone as a tether, I was notified that tethering a Verizon phone was a premium service and would require agreeing to pay an additional fee and would I like to do so?   I contacted my friend who tethered his Blackberry through T-Mobile and he said that it was free for him.   The phone can do it, and he pays for cell phone service so why would he have to pay for the privilege?   I agreed with him, so I went to my local Verizon location and asked what the deal was.   The first clerk I talked to said that he could enable tethering for an additional $20 per month.   Another price increase and kind of a rip-off considering that T-Mobile offered the same service for free but I needed access to the internet from my home so I was willing to pay for the price hike for the privilege.
     The clerk begins to process the change to my account and encounters a problem and calls a manager over.   Okay so far.   Then the manager informs me that the clerk was mistaken and that it would cost me an additional $60 per month to allow my phone to function as a tether.
     Me: “But that guy just told me that it would only cost $20.”
     Manager: “He was mistaken.”
     Me: “My friend has the same phone through T-Mobile and can tether for free.   So why should I stay with Verizon?”
     Manager: “-something rude about who cares if you stay with Verizon or not, loser, we’re a giant company so take it on the arches, chump-“
     But I’m resistant to change so in spite of being told I could take it or take a hike, I stuck with Verizon and continued to steal internet from the guy upstairs, lying to him about it whenever he’d ask me about it.   He wasn’t tech savvy enough to cut me off or change the password and I tried to only use heavy download access when he was likely to be out or asleep.   I know it makes me look like a bad person, but desperate times inspire desperate behavior.
     I moved back to Rhode Island and the trackpad on my Blackberry stopped working which made the phone just a telephone which would have been fine if I wasn’t paying for internet access.
     I went to a Verizon location, but, unfortunately, the location I went to was a satellite location.   It looked like a legitimate Verizon location.   All of the signage and collateral read Verizon and had the proper brand colors.   There were phones in the store, the store was a storefront in a mall, and the card that the clerk gave me said “Verizon Wireless” on it.   It was quite a clever illusion considering that this wasn’t really a Verizon Wireless, just an “authorized dealer”.
     I went in with my broken Blackberry and said, essentially, “This is broken.   I liked this one.   I’ll take another please.”
     The clerk gave me some shell-game bait-and-switch story about how Blackberrys are a thing of the past and if I wanted a new phone I’d have to go for a smart phone.   I was skeptical, as I loved my Blackberry.   How could such an awesome phone be obsolete?   The clerk talked me into a Samsung Stratosphere which is not the phone I wanted.   I wanted a Blackberry.   But the Stratosphere seemed the least of all possible evils.   It was touchscreen, and I hate touchscreens, but the screen was easily twice as big as the Blackberry, and the phone slid in half revealing a keypad which was a nice concession.   So I got talked into it, knowing I was being misled, but having no choice in the matter.
     The next month when I went to my usual Verizon location, a legitimate Verizon location, they had Blackberrys in stock.   I had been lied to, and the clerk had made his commission.   Thanks dude.
     The Stratosphere was awful.   It’s a cool device, kind of.   I immediately named it “Spacephone”.   I bought a big 16G Micro-SD card so I could listen to music, downloaded Winamp so I’d have a decent player, threw on a bunch of movies in AVI format so I could watch my favorite movies on a screen the size of my hand if I was bored, but it wasn’t much of a phone.
     But the Stratosphere was even worse than the Blackberry for poor reception and I was paying for internet service that I was more often than not unable to take advantage of unless I was standing on a hill on a clear night with my arm raised like the Statue of Liberty petitioning the invisible internet gods to let me check my Facebook.   Also, I was never able to synchronize my e-mail with the new phone, so I would receive messages but be unable to reply to them until I got back to my laptop.   I don’t know much about wireless connectivity.   I don’t know anything about 3G versus 4G except that 4G is supposedly better because it’s one “G” more.   [“Yes, but these go to 11.”]
     What I do know is that more often than not I’d be lucky to even have cell phone service, and again, Verizon was happy to demand payment for a service that they were unable to provide with anything resembling consistency and my bill was never pro-rated to reflect what I was being billed for but not receiving.
     I hit a lapse in employment again and fell behind on my bill.
     Verizon has a method of gradually strangling your service when you fall behind.
     First you can receive text messages, but not send them.   This sucks because it makes you unable to conduct business via text.   Business from which you will presumably use the proceeds to pay off your cell phone bill balance.
     Then you can receive phone calls, and talk to people if they call you, but if you try to call out, you get redirected to Verizon Customer Service where they mispronounce your last name and ask you to give them your ATM card number so they can take your money and restore your cell phone service, which they are somewhat justifiably holding hostage until you pay your bill.   This is inconvenient because when you’re between jobs in a tough economy and you’re trying to line up job interviews it’s embarrassing to try to line things up using just your e-mail and you become terrified of going anywhere or doing anything on the off chance that a potential employer will call you to try to set up a job interview and you won’t be able to return the call so you can get a job and earn some money and pay off your cell phone balance.   I actually missed a couple of those calls and let me tell you, checking your voice mail and hearing that “if you want to schedule a job interview give us a call back” and not being able to call them back is quite frustrating.
     I was in a desperate situation, but thankfully a business partner for a new business opportunity felt bad for me and lined me up with his cell phone carrier.
     In one day with the help of Sprint customer service, my phone number was ported over to Sprint and as an added line to my business partner’s account it’s only $20 per month for everything I was paying $100 a month for at Verizon.   Yes, you read that correctly.   I’m saving $80 per month by finally ditching Verizon and their fraudulent overcharging for services that they only sporadically provided.
     Now I’ve got a Samsung Galaxy S III for FREE.   Don’t get me wrong, the service is still spotty and unless I’m sitting on top of a cell phone tower I never see 4Gs whatever that means.   But at least It’s only costing my friend and business partner $20 a month.   We spend more than that on beer and appetizers when we have a dinner meeting.
     All should be well with the world.
     Then the phone calls started.
     Verizon, like a jilted lover, did not take well to being spurned for another carrier.
     The final bill they sent me, almost $300 I owed them in unpaid monthly bills which is kind of fair considering I contracted for a service that they usually couldn’t provide, also had a $250 “Cancellation fee” tacked onto it.
     I had been a Verizon Wireless customer for twelve years, give or take.
     Often when I could keep their cheap shoddy “free” phones working for longer than the two-year contract period, I would be continuing to subscribe to their cell phone service out of contract.   When I had my RAZR I went for about five years without renewing my contract.   Despite their spotty service, I would recommend them as the least of the evils when it came to cell phone companies.   Slapping me with a cancellation fee is no way to repay the thousands of dollars I have rendered over to them willingly over the years.
     I figured that when I had built up some cash I would settle with them for the outstanding balance, being a relatively honest person and not wanting them to continue to further stain my already blackened credit by reporting my delinquency in settling up with them.   I would also tell them that there was no way I was paying their cancellation fee so they could take my offer of the outstanding balance for unreliable service rendered or take nothing.
     Verizon referred the debt to a collections agency.
     The agency was calling me two or three times a day and leaving blank voice mails.   Now I’m not that familiar with the laws regarding creditors and how many times a day they’re allowed to call you before it crosses over into harassment, but I’ve always been of the opinion that the number of times per day they were allowed to call you was one.   Once per day.
     Thankfully my new phone allows you to block incoming phone calls by number.
     Did a bit of research.   Interesting what you can learn.
     Apparently, according to The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act a creditor is quite constricted in their lawful authorization to contact debtors.   Also, over-stepping those boundaries can result in civil legal settlements of $1,000 per call or $500,000 in the case of a class action suit.
     I called Convergent Outsourcing Incorporated, operating out of Renton, Washington and informed them that by calling me repeatedly, day after day, that they were engaging in harassment and that I am going to seek legal counsel regarding the possibility of engaging in individual or class action legal action against their company for harassment.
     Why have I bothered to write all of this?
     Because I have a proposal for Verizon Wireless.
     I want them to waive the outstanding balance on my account and the “cancellation fee”.
     My credit is already bad enough without them further sullying my reputation.
     But I also want compensation.
     I want compensation for every time I wasn’t able to take advantage of the service that they were billing me for.  I want compensation for every missed and dropped call and all of the missed business opportunities and social opportunities I missed.   For every missed dollar and kiss I lost out on because Verizon promised and billed for something they could not and did not provide.
     A hundred dollars a month times twelve months per year times twelve years is $14,400.
     I’m not asking for a full refund.
     I contracted to take advantage of the service they provided and I did take advantage of their service fairly regularly and with few problems when the service was working reliably.
     I’m asking for compensation for the other half of the time when I missed important phone calls, e-mails, and text messages from my friends and professional contacts.
    Half the time Verizon did not provide the services they were contracted to provide and that is a breach of contract, so in exchange for them levying a charge for my breach of contract by changing cell phone service providers I am contemplating counter-charging for half of the amount paid for the service that they only provided half of the time.
     Simple math indicates that that would be around $7,200
     Now I know that I wasn’t paying $100 per month for the duration of our relationship, but in lieu of filing for damages by way of lost wages and the “pain and suffering” of missed social opportunities I am willing to accept $7,200.
     I’ll be e-mailing this to Verizon Wireless if I can find an appropriate e-mail and I will also be contacting a few of my friends engaged in the legal profession to inquire about beginning an individual or class action suit to carry forward my complaint.
     This is not a threat.
     I am not in the practice of threatening people.
     This is a statement of my intentions.
     If Verizon Wireless would like to take the easy way out of this and concede to my request I will be pleased to make a public note that they have done so and cease any further inquiries regarding the possibility of legal action against them.
     If not, I will continue to move forward with my inquiries and will post a link to this entry into any and all public forums inquiring if any other Verizon Wireless customers who have been unsatisfied with the services rendered would be interested in participating in a class action suit against the company.
    I’m sure that there’s a lawyer somewhere that would be interested in the commission for what could potentially be quite an expensive legal action.
    And I can’t be the only person that is unsatisfied with the overall unreliability of the services provided by Verizon Wireless can I?
     If a representative from Verizon Wireless would like to contact me to settle this, you’ve got my number.   I know that you may be busy with the impending class action suit levied against your company due to your complicity with the NSA’s surveillance program, but this one should be much easier to settle.   I’ve tried to resolve this issue in private with your representatives but I feel that you haven’t been listening to my concerns.

     Can you hear me now?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act:

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