Verizon Bill Follows Customer to the Grave

Sometimes you get the feeling that the bills keep coming and they won't stop until you're dead. And sometimes, even then, the bills keep coming.

The Los Angeles Times reported on the sad and true case of Betty Howard, who received bills from Verizon even months after she died of breast cancer. Verizon initially charged Howard $110.80 for missed payments on her Internet service, even though Howard's residence, after repeated calls to customer service by her daughter-in-law, Marilynn Loveless, was never actually connected to the Internet. After learning of Howard's death, Verizon cut the bill to $54.82 -- but still turned it over to a collection agency.

This isn't the first time Verizon has tried to collect on a bill from a dead person.
The bills didn't stop there. Loveless had put her mother-in-law's Internet service on her personal credit card, so even though Verizon never delivered broadband Internet and the account in question was associated with a dead person, Verizon still demanded $81.26 for the service package, which it reduced to $42.75 out of consideration for the circumstances.

After much haranguing from both Loveless and The Los Angeles Times, Verizon eventually removed all charges associated with Howard's account. A Verizon spokesperson told the newspaper that it strives to make sure its customers are "heard" but that "...there are circumstances where mistakes are made. No one is perfect."

Perfection -- especially in customer service -- is an impossibility. But this isn't Verizon's first bout with grave-digging:

  • Verizon kept Bill Young's account open for eight months after his death, and when his relatives attempted to close the account -- a necessary action before Young's estate as a whole could be settled -- customer service representatives refused to comply without the deceased man's PIN. After months of intervention and media attention, Verizon finally closed the account and removed all inappropriate charges.
  • Similarly, The Consumerist reported in 2007 that Sprint refused to cancel a dead man's cellphone. The company tried to compromise by putting the cellphone plan "on vacation," which would make the deceased's estate responsible for monthly charges, presumably for eternity.
  • Sprint's customer service reps also harassed a woman in 2005 for two years after her son's untimely death in a car accident, even going so far as to follow up on the missed payments by asking "Is your son back yet?"
  • AOL kept an Internet account open for nine months after Maxine Gauthier's father died and its customer service representatives laid on the snark when Gauthier tried to submit proof of her father's death.
  • A personal story on Reddit details AT&T reps refusing to remove a dead person's name from an account without first upgrading the service plan.

The legality behind canceling a deceased person's account varies, and the policies at individual companies shift. Still, this is a ghastly occurrence that will most certainly happen again and again. Maybe it's that corporate customer support is too reliant on prefab scripts, have shoddy training, or that staffers simply don't have the financial incentive to effectively problem-solve and carry an individual situation to resolution. Either way, it's enough to give the average consumer pause -- and wonder when, exactly, the bills are going to stop.

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