Hang up on surprise phone charges

March 4, 2009 5:06:01 PM PST
You might think your phone bill just records charges you make while on the telephone, but that is not the case. In fact, if you sign up for some products and services, the charges can show up on your phone bill. It's called third party billing and some people only find out about it after an unauthorized charge shows up. In the past it seemed nothing could be done about it, but now you can get control over your phone bills.

When Cherie Petersman opened her November phone bill she saw an extra charge that did not add up. So she called her phone company, Verizon, to find out more.

"They informed me that it was actually not them that was billing me for the monthly voice mail service, it was an outside carrier," she told us.

The $13.76 charge from My Voicemail Network was a pass through charge. The third party billing company, ESBI, was collecting the fee for the My Voicemail Network.

"How is it that this charge appeared in the first place, because I did not request additional voicemail service, I already have voice mail service," Petersman explained.

Petersman was told her husband signed up for the service, but no one in the home recalled signing up for voicemail. The charges were reversed, but in January the voicemail charge was still on the Petersman's bill and it showed up again on February's bill too.

"They agreed to credit the two accounts," Petersman told us. "They said it actually had gone through but missed the billing cycle, so apparently on my next billing statement I should be clear."

It was during her last conversation with Verizon that Petersman was told she could ask for bill block. That's a free service that will stop all third party charges from showing up on her phone bill.

"So they cannot just automatically put a bill on there," Petersman said.

Verizon says anyone can call and ask for bill block. If you have not asked for bill block, it's a good idea to keep a close eye on your phone bill.

"If you are not reviewing it carefully, knowing what charges are normally on your bill, what should and should not be on there, what companies you currently use, then you can have one of these charges slipped in," explained Deana Turner of the Houston Better Business Bureau.

When we called the voicemail service billing Petersman the company said it will remove the charges if anyone is unsatisfied with the service. They also claim they do not bill people who do not sign up for the services.

So let this be a warning to be careful when surfing the web, because that's where most people sign up for my voicemail even if they don't realize it.

AT&T does offer bill block, but not in our area, at least not yet. The company says there are plans to offer bill block, we'll let you know.

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