We recently switched phone providers from Cincinnati Bell to Verizon, attempting in these tough economic times to save a few extra dollars wherever we can. In the long term this move may well indeed pay off. In the short term, our phone bill for the past month is three hundred twenty-three dollars and forty-seven cents for seven hundred anytime minutes. If you want that in numerical form: $323.47. Or $4.62 per minute. (We know a deal when we see one!)
The reason? Gotcha Capitalism.
Bob Sullivan, a consumer advocate who writes a blog for MSNBC.com called The Red Tape Chronicles, coined the term to describe all the ways companies nickel and dime you with hidden fees and trickster tactics. Then he wrote a book called Gotcha Capitalism that compiles many of the schemes and frauds you, the consumer, should be on the lookout for.
How did we get duped? We switched providers on July 25. Cincinnati Bell, whose virtue had been not requiring us to sign a contract in those impetuous days at our relationship’s start, slammed the door behind us by billing us a full month for five days of actual service. (Shame on you, Jeremy Piven.)
You would think, then, that we might enjoy the benefits of a full month of service (read: all of our anytime minutes) with Verizon even though we signed up five days into the month. Yes?
Well, no. The good folks at Verizon, as a show of thanks for joining their network, threw out the welcome mat by — unbeknownst to us — prorating our first month’s minutes. We were charged an extra $47.70 for going over our monthly allotment. (We had been sitting pretty at 693 anytime minutes.)
“We have to go to the store right now and correct this,” Erin said, rooting through the closet for an axe.
“I can straighten this out tomorrow,” Ben said. “I’m a little beat.”
“You know who else was beat?” Erin said. “Rocky. They said he was all washed up. They said he was a quitter.”
“Please,” Ben said as he got his keys, “anything but the Rocky speech.”
When we arrived, we had Bob Sullivan’s advice in mind (“You should be able to [state your complaint] in one or two sentences”) and, thankfully, no axe. We calmly explained that no one told us that our first month’s minutes would be prorated. We also couldn’t figure out why we were seemingly charged twice for monthly service.
“We really can’t do anything about that here,” the man — Nick — told us. Below Nick’s nametag was a red ribbon that said, MY NUMBER ONE PRIORITY IS YOUR EXPERIENCE. “You’re best off calling Verizon to get it straightened out.”
We looked around, slightly confused. Weren’t we in a Verizon store? Why did we have to call Verizon?
“We’re not authorized to change billing,” Nick explained. He shrugged. Nick’s number one priority did not appear to be loving his job.
We called Verizon. A very nice woman named Lisa explained to us that Verizon bills you ahead of service, like a mortgage or rent payment, which Cincinnati Bell did not do. Hence we were paying for August and September in one bill.
“They should’ve explained that to you when you signed up,” Lisa said. “They always forget to tell you that.”
What about those prorated minutes? “They also should have told you about that. Did they not tell you?”
Hell no, Lisa.
“Hmmm. Let me take care of that for you.”
Sullivan says that only one in five successfully get refunds with phone companies when it comes to bill disputes. Thank you, Lisa. You’re a sweetheart.
When have you been the victim of Gotcha Capitalism? What savvy know-how can you impart to fellow Voreblog readers? The name of the game is information. If any of you get chump changed switching cell phone providers like we did, we’ll be very disappointed. Our loss is your gain. Comment below with your own hard-won wisdom!