IF CARLOS Mota had $17,505 lying around, he would be able to pay off his North Philadelphia house.
Not that he has that kind of money, but that's the amount Verizon Wireless expected him to cough up in one bill this summer.
Mota, 52, bought a USB modem in March that allows him to access the Internet wirelessly on his laptop, and he signed a two-year contract for $60.75 a month, he said.
When Mota, who has lived in Philadelphia for 23 years, visited family in the Dominican Republic, he took his laptop and the USB modem. He said he accessed the Internet with no problem for an hour early on June 19 and a half-hour that evening.
The third time he tried to log on, he said, a message told him that he was roaming and he immediately shut down his computer and didn't use it the rest of the trip.
When he returned, he found the $17,505 Verizon bill in his mailbox - $17,445 of which was for roaming charges.
"I was shocked, with no words," Mota said in Spanish as his niece, Maribel Castro, interpreted. "I called my daughter and wife to look at it. I asked them, 'Am I seeing correctly?' "
Two days later, Mota said, he began trying to resolve the bill, first by visiting the Center City Verizon office. He was told that they couldn't resolve the problem and gave him a number to call in Texas, he said.
Mota said he spoke with numerous Verizon representatives and supervisors but got nowhere.
"Every time I called, when they pulled up my account, each worker had the same reaction: 'Wooowwww!' they would say," he said.
On July 27, a supervisor told him he was responsible for the monumental bill, he said.
On Mota's bill, his roaming charges aren't determined or listed in minutes, but rather kilobytes - 872,255 of them, to be exact. He said he has asked for an audit of the bill, but has yet to receive one.
At first, Mota continued to pay the $60.75 base fee he had agreed to, but Verizon began billing him more than $250 in late fees each month, so he stopped paying the bills altogether. This month's bill is for $18,225.87.
Now, on top of the bills, he's also getting letters from Verizon threatening to take him to court, he said.
Castro wondered yesterday if a company like Verizon even knows what $18,000 means to someone like Mota, a father of four who worked in landscaping before he was injured and was forced to go on disability.
"For them, it means nothing, but for him, it means his life," she said. "It would ruin him."
Mota said he has finally built his credit back after declaring bankruptcy several years ago, and he fears that this will ruin all his hard work.
"I am worried, I can't sleep, I can't eat," he said. "Here, in the U.S. no one is no one if you don't have credit."
Sheldon Jones, Verizon spokesman, said the company was looking into the bill yesterday, after being contacted by the Daily News.
"We go to great lengths to educate our customers on our products and services so they avoid any unintended bills," Jones said. "We understand our customers don't like surprises. Neither do we; it's bad business. We are looking into Mr. Mota's case."
Mota admitted that he never asked about fees for Internet usage overseas but said he was never informed of it when he bought the modem. He said that if he had any clue, he would never have used it.
Separately yesterday, Verizon Wireless agreed to pay a $25 million settlement for charging customers who inadvertently accessed the Web via their cell phones, even though they didn't have data plans. The company also agreed to pay $52 million in customer refunds.
One of the reader somments:
Interestingly, this story appears right above one where Verizon "agrees" to pay 25M for fraudulent charges. They have to make it up somehow! And you people defending Verizon - do you HONESTLY believe those rates and charges are CLEARLY AND PLAINLY listed when you sign up? Or are they buried in the 30 pages of microprint? "Buy beware" is these idiots charge - which I guess is true when you are dealing with thieving, deceptive greedy pig corporations who will stop at nothing to make a buck.
Verizon Wireless has agreed to reduce the bill for a North Philadelphia man who inadvertently racked up more than $17,000 in roaming charges when he used his wireless modem in the Dominican Republic over the summer.
Carlos Mota, who along with his hair-raising bill was profiled in Friday's Daily News, said yesterday that he agreed with Verizon Wireless on Monday to pay $1,000 over 10 months to settle his bill.
Speaking through his niece Maribel Castro, who acted as an interpreter, Mota said he was relieved, yet cautious.
"I feel like a load is off my back," he said. "At the same time, until I get something in writing, I'm unsure."
Mota, 52, bought a wireless modem for his laptop in March and signed up for a two-year Internet service contract at $60.75 a month, he said. He said that when he took the computer and modem with him to visit family in the Dominican Republic in June, he used it twice for a total of 90 minutes without anything unusual happening.
The third time he tried to log on, he said, he got a message that he was roaming, and he shut his computer down and never used it again on the trip.
When he returned home, he found a Verizon Wireless bill for $17,505 in his mailbox - including $17,445 for roaming charges.
Mota said he had no luck with Verizon Wireless workers or supervisors and was told he was liable for the full amount. By September, with late fees, it had grown to $18,225.
After the story about Mota's bill ran in Friday's paper, several lawyers called offering to take his case pro bono, but Verizon's offer on Monday settled the issue.
Sheldon Jones, spokesman for Verizon Wireless, stressed yesterday that the charges were valid because Mota's plan did not cover international use.
"I think the lesson learned here is that there is an education piece for customers who are traveling outside of the country and are going to use wireless services," Jones said. "I don't want it lost that the charges he did accrue were valid as we took a look at his billing and his usage.
"If customers are traveling globally, they should call us first."
This man was lucky, but there are hunderds out there who have had similar problems with roaming charges. Unless you are fully aware of the charges for data roaming in other countries you should not do it. The best and cheapest solution is always to buy a local sim card for your pin drive if you like to use the internet while on vacation.
Verizon sends $25 million settlement to FCC, credits customers $52.8 million for wrongful data fees
Did we say Verizon would dole out $90 million in credits? It seems we spoke too soon, because the US Government is taking its cut of the carrier's apology after charging for data that customers didn't actually use. Verizon says it's settled with the FCC for $25 million and will cut a check to the US Treasury, and put the remaining $52.8 million towards the bills of 15 million affected customers in the form of $2 to $6 credits each. Verizon's not taking any blame in the matter, mind you, as it says the original data charges were "inadvertent" and caused by software pre-loaded on some phones. Yet another reason to ditch the bloatware, we suppose.
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