Rogers customer gets $1,500 refund

When Bruce Sturdy signed up for a Rogers wireless account for his laptop computer, he didn’t know how much data he would need.

“I’m in my 50s and I didn’t know a megabyte from a hole in the ground,” he says. “My account included 500 MB, which I assumed would be plenty.

“I also assumed that Rogers would notify me if I went over my limit and there would be a nominal fee.”

Everything went well for the first two months. But when Sturdy tried to check his usage, the Rogers website said the information was unavailable.

“I watched a moderate amount of videos over that time,” he says, “and the only indication I had there was a problem was a little blinking mail light last month that said my usage was well over the 500 MB.

“I cancelled my account and received a bill from Rogers for $1,500! I was 6 GB over and Rogers was charging me $240 per GB!”

He asked for help, since no one had mentioned the astronomical overage fee to him when he signed up. The average charge for Rogers’ plans is $10 per GB.

“Doesn’t Rogers have a legal obligation to tell me how much data I have been using while I’m using it?” he asked.

I thought he had a good case, so I sent his complaint to the Rogers’ office of the president. There, he did get some help — but not enough. He also got some bad news about his next bill.

Rogers said my bill was going to be reduced from $1,500 to around $800, but I would be billed ANOTHER $1,000 in the next billing cycle. Luckily, I could be enrolled in a variable rate plan so that $1,000 would be covered by the plan rate.

What apparently happened was when I found out that my account was over, I went on MyRogers and picked a variable rate plan. Unfortunately, I picked a plan not even Warren Buffett could afford!

I picked a Canada-US roaming plan that listed a charge of 25 cents a MB for overage. Not being great at math, I didn’t realize I was really paying $250 a GB.

I asked the Rogers fellow why $250 a GB wasn’t listed on the plan page and his weak defence was that measuring by MB was the industry standard. I suspect it was because no sane person would ever pay $250 a GB.

What really bothers me is that I enrolled in this plan because I WAS PROMPTED BY THE ROGERS SOFTWARE. When I checked my account, I got a popup saying my account was over and would I like to change to this, and beneath the roaming plan was listed.

I assumed that Rogers was trying to help me by giving me a variable rate plan, so I signed on without giving it much thought. As it turns out, the popup was really about filling Rogers coffers and I will be suffering for it for some time to come.

In my view, telecom companies must make an effort to educate customers. What is an MB or a GB? Describe it in familar terms, such as the number of TV programs you can watch. People need help choosing the right plan.

Luckily, Rogers has a higher level of appeal. I went to Kim Walker, the Rogers Ombudsman, whom I interviewed and wrote about recently. She jumped at the chance to help Sturdy.

“He followed all the right steps and his issues are quite obviously not resolved,” Walker said.

When I heard from Sturdy again, he was thrilled.

Wow, Ellen, you made the pit bull rollover, it’s unbelievable!

It was only two short weeks ago that a Rogers rep was calling me at 6:30 a.m. to “remind” me my bill was coming due in two weeks!

Now the Ombudsman has zeroed my entire bill! Not only that, she apologized profusely because no one contacted me when my overage began.

She said it was a complete breakdown in communication. She also wondered aloud why the fellow in the President’s office had decided I still owed $900, even though an obvious mistake had been made.

Going forward I will be on a graduated Rogers plan that I should have been on in the first place.

I can’t thank you enough, Ellen. You are a real miracle worker and this is a tremendous load off my shoulders.

I’ve learned my lesson. In the future, I will read every plan I sign on to CAREFULLY before I click.

What a difference a fresh pair of eyes makes in reviewing a complaint.

Rogers was smart to appoint an ombudsman two years ago and to choose a replacement who came from the front lines.

Now if only Bell could do the same thing.

SAVE THE DATE: I’m doing my Financial Basics Workshop on Tuesday, June 19, 5.30 to 9.30 p.m. at Ryerson University’s Chang School of Continuing Education, 297 Victoria St., 7th floor, Peter Bronfman Room. You don’t need to register, but you can just show up. You’ll get a great workbook to take home with you.

United Airlines misleads passengers on baggage claims

Have you heard of Dave Carroll’s viral video, United Breaks Guitars? The musician spent nine months in a customer service maze, trying to get the airline to take responsibility for damaging his $3,500 instrument.

When he struck out, he wrote a song saying United was unfair to deny compensation because he hadn’t complained within 24 hours.

Now we know that United was misleading customers. There’s no such thing as 24-hour period for baggage complaints under international conventions.

Gabor Lukacs flew on United a year ago and found the name tag missing from his suitcase. The airline said it wasn’t responsible for normal wear and tear, which includes damage or loss to protruding parts.

Though he did get a $15 refund, Lukacs decided to challenge United’s denial of responsibility for normal wear and tear and for baggage complaints filed after 24 hours. The CTA agreed with him in a decision released last week.

Passengers can complain to a carrier about damage to checked baggage, at the latest, within seven days , the government agency said. They can’t be denied compensation because they didn’t do so within a short window of 24 hours.

Gabor Lukacs sent me a copy of the CTA’s decision after I wrote about Dave Carroll’s memoir of consumer advocacy in his new book.

I find it hard to believe that a U.S. airline was enforcing an illegal policy for years. How many other people lost out on reimbursement?

United suffered a hit when Carroll posted his first video on youTube in July 2009. Almost three years later, the company seems to have learned nothing from the experience.

United soars above its rivals in complaints, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s monthly rankings. The Untied gripe website had more complaints in April than in any month before.

Lukacs is a fighter when it comes to lost and damaged luggage. He successfully challenged WestJet Airlines’ $250 limit on liability and Air Canada’s no-fault policy.

“I view myself as an airline passenger’s rights advocate,” says Lukacs, adding that he travels frequently to academic conferences and to visit family in Europe.

When asked for advice, he tells people to keep detailed notes and to record their calls to customer service. If an agent refuses to comply with your request, ask him or her to put it in writing. You can also create a written record of the incident.

Learn what the law says about the issue under dispute And learn what your rights are.

“I’ve seen cases where airlines’ trained employees provided false or misleading information to passengers about their rights.This underscores the importance of knowing one’s rights,” he says.

Finally, if all else fails, he urges people to consider calling company directors at their homes and asking for help. Do it politely and at a reasonable time of day.

Lukacs and Carroll use different tactics to highlight flaws in airlines’ baggage policies. Both deserve thanks for fighting for our rights.

Send me your tips on how to fight back

I’m working on my book, 99 Ways to Fight Back: How to Hang On To Your Money and Protect Yourself from Corporate Trickery. It’s to be published early next year by Wiley.

I’ll be dealing with 10 topic areas: Banks, insurance, credit bureaus, financial advisers, telecommunications, travel, cars and major appliances, home renovations, fitness clubs and online fraud. (Have I missed anything you’d like to see there?)

Today, I want to talk about getting consumer justice from Canada’s big telecom firms, which are notorious for treating customers badly.

Here’s the story of Linda M, who wanted a refund from Bell for a high-speed Internet service she had paid for but hadn’t received. She eventually found someone to help her — but it took much time and trouble to get there.

Linda’s Internet service went down on March 25 of this year. Bell’s technical support couldn’t fix the problem and sent a technician to her home to install a new modem.

After connecting the new modem, the technician said her Internet was extremely slow. After he tested it, he said she was paying for high-speed Internet (Fibe 16) and receiving a fraction of what she should have had (0.5).

She finally pieced together what happened. Four days after receiving her high-speed Internet service on Nov. 18, 2010, she called to report a problem. Bell downgraded her high-speed Internet temporarily to try and resolve the problem, but never upgraded it again.

Naturally, Bell blamed her for everything. She was offered only a token refund after she paid for high-speed Internet for 16 months.

Since I had never called to complain about the speed, the only thing Bell could do was give me credit for one month’s free Internet service.

How could I complain my Internet was slow when I only had it for four days? I assumed this was what Bell considered to be high-speed.

When I did call technical support, I mentioned that my Internet was slow. But all they wanted to do was sell me more services for more fees. They didn’t offer to check to see if I was receiving what I was paying for.

Linda spent more than a month calling and leaving messages, speaking to the wrong people in the wrong departments, before getting Bell’s executive office to investigate and agree to a refund. By that time, she was getting ready to go to small claims court.

Her long and winding road to get action required the persistence of a marathon runner.

The first person who called me was a commercial Internet contact. He transferred me to a residential Internet contact, who wasn’t terribly helpful.

I spoke to her supervisor, who transferred me me to Terry, who transferred me to Todd in the executive office.

Todd was the correct person, but it took us three weeks to connect. He only seemed anxious to get hold of me when I left my last message, saying I would be taking my complaint to Bell CEO George Cope.

Dealing with Bell was like dealing with the government, but in the end I got a satisfactory result.

Bell isn’t alone n being hard to reach. Some Rogers customers also spend hours, weeks, months, on their arduous journey to get resolution and retribution. (You’ll find a story posted below about trying to unlock a Rogers cellphone after ending a contract.)

Are there any short cuts to getting attention? Does Twitter help? How about Facebook? How about YouTube? Have you managed to embarrass a company online?

Please send me your tips on how to jump the queue and reduce the tedium of escalating a complaint at Canada’s big telecom firms.