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TMCNet:  Asbury Park Press, N.J., David P. Willis column

[January 31, 2013]

Asbury Park Press, N.J., David P. Willis column

Jan 31, 2013 (Asbury Park Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The collection notices started to come to William Watters' Lakewood home last year.

He didn't know many details about what he owed. They noted the amount due, $188.33, and the creditor, Verizon South Inc.

Watters and his wife moved to from Brick to Lakewood in late July 2011. A customer with Verizon FiOS, including television and high-speed Internet, he cut back his service and later canceled it by early July of that year. Watters returned all the equipment, including set-top boxes by mid-August, a month later.

Where did that $188.33 figure come from When he canceled, he was told he would have a balance due of about $30, Watters said. Did Verizon charge him for a month of service after he moved Getting answers from a collection agency is tricky. In one note to AFNI Collection, Watters wrote, "This account has been in dispute for some time. Our records show it paid in full." What he wanted was a bill, from Verizon, and an explanation of the charges.

After not getting satisfaction or a bill, Watters contacted Press on Your Side. He asked for helping in finding out the origin of the collection notice.

"We've requested a bill for this account many times," Watters said. "Please verify what the bill is for and if the documentation doesn't support our contention that it has been paid, we'll address the situation." Press on Your Side reached out to Verizon spokesman Lee J. Gierczynski, who spoke with the company's billing group.

An answer came shortly afterward: the amount due included an early termination fee.

Gierczynski said Watters had 10 months left on his 24-month contract and was subjected to a prorated early termination fee of $150 plus $38.33 for his final basic service charge.

"He requested a copy of the final bill to review and we will be sending that out to him so that he can pay the outstanding balance," Gierczynski said.

Several weeks later, Watters received a copy of a bill dated Sept. 28, 2011, which was addressed to his former residence in Brick. Watters said he had never seen the final bill until now.

What's more, Watters said, he was never told of an early termination fee.

He and his wife moved to Lakewood because they needed to live in a home with a first-floor bedroom. Verizon FiOS is not available in their community so they opened an account with Optimum, Cablevision's service. He said he was happy with FiOS and would have signed up if it was available.

"This is the first time I have ever had an idea of what they are billing me for," Watters said. The bill may have been forwarded to his Lakewood address, he added.

He said he not yet received a copy of the agreement detailing the early termination fee. "I can't believe they said I am not allowed to move," Watters said. "I can see if I stayed in the same place and tried to change. That is a little different." Watters said he was against the fee as "a matter of principle." Gierczynski, the Verizon spokesman, said the early termination fee was $345, with a two-year contract term, when Watters signed up for his bundle in 2010. The terms called for it to be reduced by $15 per month.

The fee is waived for those who move from one address to another and keep their FiOS service, or, if FiOS is not available, sign up for another Verizon service, he said.

Early termination fees are common on wireless telephone plans.

Carriers typically sell wireless phones, such as the iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy SIII, at greatly reduced prices. But there is a trade-off. If a customer cancels his or her phone plan before the term expires, an early termination fee is charged.

In the case of FiOS, customers who sign up for a 24-month contract for a bundle of services receive additional discounts over the non-contract, month-to-month FiOS rates, Gierczynski said.

Frankly, Press on Your Side doesn't like early termination fees. Consumers should always ask if there are such fees before they sign up for any service that comes with a contract.

Companies should offer discounts and special offers without holding these fees over your head. Quality service and great customer relations should be the tool used to keep your business, not the threat of paying more if you cancel.

Do you have a consumer problem that needs solving Contact business writer David P. Willis and he will try to help. Reach him at 732-643-4042 or pressonyourside@ or dpwillis732.

___ (c)2013 the Asbury Park Press (Neptune, N.J.) Visit the Asbury Park Press (Neptune, N.J.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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