Special Reports

Billing mistakes more common than you think

Friday, May 27, 2011

Many companies are no longer sending out itemized bills, and that means you could end up paying for products and services you don't even use.

Billing mistakes happen much more often than you might think, and you better catch those mistakes quickly because in some cases, companies are only required to give you a refund for a limited amount of time.

Garrick McComsey has been fighting PECO for two years in his father's name.

"My Dad was from a generation where he trusted people," Garrick McComsey.

So for nearly fifteen years, Garrick's Dad paid PECO for natural gas he wasn't using!

You see, at his request, a PECO technician had disconnected the line, but PECO kept charging the monthly fee, and Garrick's dad kept paying it.

Garrick discovered the error after his father died and called PECO, but PECO refused to offer a full refund.

"We didn't provide the credit initially because we were only required to provide a credit for four years," said Ben Armstrong.

It's true, the Public Utility Commission mandates that companies keep billing records and offer refunds for only four years.

"I feel it's wrong," Garrick said, "you know if the error was on our side, we'd be paying that back."

"All of the $1,$ 2, $5 a month charges end up being millions and millions of dollars for the companies, and it's at your expense and when they finally do catch it, they refuse to give you a refund," said Lance Haver.

The P.U.C.'s rule requiring records be kept for four years covers not only natural gas and power companies but landline telephone companies, too.

But there are no rules for most other companies, meaning your cable or credit card or wireless phone companies may keep records and offer refunds for an even shorter amount of time.

"If you don't look at your bill, you're opening yourself up to letting someone take advantage of you," said Haver. "It's kind of like you're shopping and you don't count your change."

Take the case of Jim Lynch. He says Verizon Wireless erroneously charged him for internet access that he never used and mobile-to-mobile calls that were supposed to be free.

"I said I'm not going to make another payment and I'm not going to have anything more to do with you, because this is ridiculous," said Jim Lynch.

Verizon Wireless sent Jim's bill to a collection agency, and Jim took Verizon Wireless to court.

Jim won a judgment for $3,638.

To dispute a mistake on your credit card bill it's best to do it before the payment is due. Once you've paid a disputed charge, you can't get your

money back by withholding payment of later purchases.

And to be protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you have to dispute the amount in writing within 60 days after the bill was sent to you.

"So these are all the old bills that my dad kept," Garrick said.

Back to Garrick's case against PECO, Action News brought it to PECO's attention.

"To keep our customer satisfied, which is always the focus for us at PECO, we did credit back the customer for the usage from 1995 all the way up to 2009," said Ben Armstrong.

Garrick finally got a refund after a long two-year fight. Garrick's persistence paid off.

"It makes me feel great," Garrick said. "It's justice for my Dad.

What finally got the case resolved is the paper bills that Garrick's father kept for so many years; something to consider the next time you shred your bills or set up automatic or online billing.

Mistakes are harder to catch if your payment is automatically debited since that means you probably never even see a statement, and you can only access your online bills from companies like PECO for four years. It is probably a good idea to print those bills out and keep them.

Verizon Wireless says quote: "We have a longstanding reputation as an industry leader in customer satisfaction, and have consistently had the highest customer loyalty in the industry."

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PECO, verizon, money, special reports, nydia han
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