Tuesday, February 15, 2011

motivation and anger

It's funny how anger gets one motivated. Just take a look at the Middle East; at Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen (etc) and witness the changes that have already occurred. Closer to home, I need to look no further than my monthly Verizon bill to get motivated by anger. Let me explain.

Last month, my bill arrived with a $14.95 charge from ILD Teleservices. This company acts as a payment center for another company named Members Edge. Supposedly, I subscribed to some email service at Members Edge. Yeah, right. A phone call later, I had the charges removed an Verizon install a block on future billings for such changes from 3rd parties.

Fast forward to this month's bill where a company named Payment One has issued a charge of $14.95 on behalf of another company named Enhanced Teleservices for MyAutoBackup services. Yeah, doubly right. After another 20 minutes on the phone, I had the charges removed and yet another block installed at Verizon.

At this point, I think the anger part should be obvious. After all, there is something very basicly wrong with the system as it stand. Consider what is really happening here. Some company claims I signed up for services via their web site. On this site, all one has to enter is a name, address, phone number and email address. No payment information is required (like a CC number). In my case, the email address was wrong but since nothing was done to verify the so-called subscription, it didn't matter. There's no way to know if the subscription actually happened (via a malicious individual, a software bot, etc.) or if it's just a case of pure fraud. All that really mattered here was the phone number. Armed with a phone number, said company can go to an outfit like ILD and pass on the responsibility of collecting the fees. ILD then passes on those responsibilities to Verizon by attaching the fees to your phone bill. If Members Edge or Enhanced Teleservices were to handle their own billing, they would need my credit card number or some other form of payment. But here, all they need is a phone number and voila, they can get paid. This is just plain wrong! A phone number is not credit card numbers but with Verizon (and AT&T, etc) acting as payment consolidators, this is exactly what is happening. The beauty of this system for those involved is that they all win. The phone companies charge fees for their services. ILD gets their cut too. And the companies initiating the charge get paid as well. The only ones that lose are the consumers who have to scrutinize their bills each and every month, and waste time with customer service reps to fix any problems they find.

Who's to blame? For me, its the phone company. They make it too easy to tack on charges. They leave the door open by default and in my case, it's taken two calls to block these services - and it hasn't happened yet. They claim that some of these charges are legit such as accepting collect calls. But that requires confirmation from the customer whereas this form of billing does not. At the end of the day, it's all about money and not about service. The phone companies are just piggybacking services on top of their existing billing infrastructure and their customers be damned.

So now the motivation part.

When I first saw this extra charge last month, I googled the web and found that I was not alone. Many others had faced similar problems with the same companies. The power of the web is in the multitude of voices that can sound off and be heard be it near or far. For a while now, I've been meaning to start blogging here but time always got in the way. This second bill from Verizon has finally moved my butt to the keyboard to write this. The simple fact is that the more voices sound off to expose these scams, the better off we all are.

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