A plague of extra charges added to your bills

July 23 2010 by Ellen Roseman

Added fees are getting out of control. I’m tired of seeing large companies advertise one price to lure you in and then jack it up with a multitude of extra costs.

My CBC radio commentary on this topic attracted lots of comment. I referred to a study by the Public Interest Advocacy Group, calling for new consumer laws to curb the misleading practice.

One outcome is a loss of faith among the buying public. How can you trust lowball prices that don’t reflect what you’ll pay down the road when you get the bill?

Advertised airline fares are a big offender, as are cellphone plans. Utility bills have transportation and delivery charges, customer charges and debt retirement charges added to the commodity price.

And let’s not forget the “provincial benefit” on fixed-price electricity contracts — not a benefit, but a hefty surcharge.

I’d like to see more pressure on companies to adopt all-in pricing. Upstarts in an industry can also lead to change.

New cellphone entrants offering unlimited monthly rate plans — namely, Wind Mobile, Public Mobile and Mobilicity — have pushed Rogers into launching its own copycat brand, Chatr Wireless.

When extra fees are excluded from prices, you feel surprised, shocked and abused. Your trust in sellers is gone. The integrity of the shopping experience is in tatters.

Here’s an example below of a Bell Canada customer struggling with a plague of extra charges on his bill.

17 comments

  1. LM

    Jul 23 2010

    I am a Bell subscriber for a year now. Actually, the account is in my father-in-law’s name.

    He emigrated to Canada and he is living with us, so he needs a proof of address for pension purposes and also to get functioning in Canadian society.

    Also, my in-laws have a large family and many friends back in Venezuela with whom they want to keep in contact.

    We were attracted by Bell’s unlimited world long distance plan, which offers a flat monthly rate to several countries, including Venezuela.

    The only requirement for this plan was that we had to have two other Bell services. So I switched my home phone and Internet service to Bell and put the bundled services in his name.

    Right from the beginning, it was a nightmare to get the services bundled. (I opened all the accounts online in the same transaction, but somehow ended up having different Internet and phone accounts.)

    After several complaints, I could finally talk to a supervisor, who took the time to understand my problem and had the power to fix it…

    But that was a year ago.

    Let’s move forward to early June of this year, when we got a call out of the blue from Bell. My father-in-law has very limited English knowledge, so he put me on the phone.

    The representative was calling to remind us that the discount on our Internet account (a one-year promotion, clearly described during the account opening process) was about to expire.

    She was offering the possibility of extending such discount for another year.

    If there is anything I learned (or I should have learned) dealing with merchants (especially after reading your columns) is that they don’t give away something for nothing, so I asked several times (in different ways) what was the catch.

    My English is good, but still it is not my mother language. Besides, I have hearing difficulties. I can carry on a regular conversation in English over the phone, but I always struggle (a lot) with sales representatives talking at several times normal speech speed.

    Finally, after reassurances that nothing would change in my account and that I had to do nothing to get the discount extended, I accepted (who wouldn’t?).

    Two weeks later, we started getting calls from Bell. This time, we were asked to call back regarding a problem with the account.

    I called on my father-in-law’s behalf; however, the representative insisted that he had to call himself, even after I explained about his English limitations.

    He called and found out that Bell was asking for over $600 in telephone charges and that the long distance service would be suspended if he did not offer a payment plan on the spot.

    He argued that it was a mistake, given that we have the unlimited plan. The representative denied it.

    Finally, after waiting several minutes, he got confirmation that yes, the unlimited service was restored and the long distance charges would be fixed.

    A couple of weeks later, we got the bill. Effectively, the unlimited long distance service was restored.

    However, there was still over $600 in charges between the moment the Internet account was closed and reopened.

    I finally learned what the Bell Internet sales rep did to renew the discount for another year. Had I known this, I would have never accepted.

    My father-in-law’s call clarifying the situation was still there, plus disconnection and reconnection charges for a service that was never really disconnected.

    I called immediately and got confirmation that, indeed, the problem was fixed. I would get a credit for the wrong charges.

    Also, I asked if I had to pay the whole bill and the rep told me not to worry. Just pay my regular charges (with the flat-rate plan, the monthly charges are pretty much fixed) and I would get a credit in the next bill.

    That same day, I got an email with a $45 credit for the disconnection and reconnection charges.

    I thought the problem was finally solved… I was wrong.

    Yesterday, I received another email from Bell stating that we still owe $692.41 and that I should pay immediately to avoid late charges.

    I feel so frustrated that I don’t want to deal with another Bell rep one more time to tell me that everything is ok when clearly it’s not.

    I had to take my father-in-law to the hospital last night, as he has heart problems and got quite angry after reading the email. Nothing serious, thanks to God, but yet it is extremely inconvenient to be carried upon mistake after mistake with no one really caring about our problem.

    My father-in-law cannot pay this amount, living on a pension income. I can, but it gets me really mad to be rewarding Bell for their mistakes every time.

    This is not the first time I had billing problems with Bell, leading to the cancellation of my services several years ago.

    If Bell has so many problems bundling services, if their home phone service and their Internet service function like completely separate companies that don’t even talk to each other, if their employees don’t care about looking at the whole picture and have no clue of the implications when they do an operation in the computer, why should I pay the consequences?

    I am so angry about this that I couldn’t sleep, so I guess I should make better use of my time and go directly to someone who really cares about consumer problems and really can do something to fix them: you.

    I am hoping that you can help me to correct this error, as you have done for so many people in the time I have been living in the GTA and reading your columns. In the meantime, I will call Bell one more time in office hours.

    I don’t care about the discount (they can take it back if what the Internet sales rep did was against company policy).

    I only want to get the charges corrected before my father-in-law gets a real heart attack if a collection agency calls him asking for payment and/or he gets a bad credit record (the last thing he needs).

    We want Bell to put my phone number in their “do not call” list, at least for this kind of “promotion” we have no interest at all.

  2. Jay

    Jul 23 2010

    Bell’s billing systems have always been horrifically bad. Ironically, sometimes their mistakes work out in their customers’ favor (I know of several examples personally), which leads me to believe that their bumbling is a case of incompetence rather than trying to cheat the consumer.

    I also know of several others who hesitate to change any feature on their account because they expect to spend the next several months on the phone ironing out mistakes.

  3. SaS

    Jul 23 2010

    A couple years ago, I switched to different companies after some glitches with Bell home phone and mobility. Ten years ago, I stopped using Sympatico and switched to a small internet provider, after experiencing its script-reading customer support.

    Even though the current companies aren’t perfect, I am more satisfied than with Bell. Not a big fan of bundle services. They’re been calling and sending letters, cards of promotions, I never respond. I’ve learned my lessons.

    Never come back to Bell. Bell will never change for better customer service. It’s too big to change for the sake of its customers. It simply cannot change. Its management simply neither care nor want to look after their customers.

    I am not against Bell’s majority of dedicated employees. I just lost hope in this company (and a few others that Ellen have mentioned their names here).

  4. LnewMan

    Jul 23 2010

    If Bell was forced to give refund of the funds that it incorrectly charged over last year, I think they would be bankrupt. I’m hearing about these incorrect charges by Bell for at least 3 year from Ellen’s blog alone. I’m starting to wonder if Bell does this on purpose, just to survive. Bell, please prove me I’m wrong.

    To Bell’s media person or whoever is going to look after these complaints: Please don’t keep saying that you try your best to resolve these issues ASAP and customers’ satisfaction is your first priority.

    If you are honestly concerned about customers’ issues, I propose a solution/challenge for you. Every time your company takes more than 2 months to fix a customer’s billing issue, could you give the amount in question as a credit to the customer after fixing the issue? If you do, believe me, these billing issues would be gone in 3 months.

    Oh wait, maybe your company would be gone.

    I understand that a company that is big as Bell would have too many of these issues. I completely agree that all major service providers have to go through this. My only question for Bell is ‘why does it take you guys months and months to fix a minor issue?’.

  5. JC

    Jul 24 2010

    Ellen is there any way you can address this concept of “contracts” with Rogers and/or Bell?

    I recently signed up to extend my cable with Rogers for a year (I called initially to cancel…. should have stuck to my guns).

    After being told several times that my cable would be a certain amount, all in – I got my first regular bill, only to see it’s higher than I was told.

    I called and Rogers claims that they have every right to do this under “their terms”. If I want to cancel, it’ll cost me $240 because ” I signed a contract.”

    Actually, NO, I didn’t sign anything, but Rogers seems to think that a verbal agreement (on my side only, apparently) constitutes a binding agreement.

    I studied contract law years ago and seem to recall a number of elements that have to be present for a binding contract – some of which seem to be missing in these cases.

    Could you address this in a future column?

  6. Bill Rushworth

    Jul 25 2010

    Advertised airline fares are a big offender, as are cellphone plans. Utility bills have transportation and delivery charges, customer charges and debt retirement charges added to the commodity price.

    FYI the bill to make advertisements show the full cost of airline fares has been passed by parliament. Emperor Steven has chosen not to enact the bill. I have written several letters to my MP Van Loan who has chosen not to reply to my missives.

  7. JC’s Complaint

    Jul 26 2010

    Yes Ellen, kindly address this issue of verbal contracts with telco and cable providers that lack key components of a binding contract.

    Bell and Rogers are infamous for this type of thing. What defense do consumers have?

    I’ve heard many stories where Bell internet offer an existing client a new price or a discount for bundling their services, but they neglect to tell the client that they are giving up something in return, such a grandfathered price plan that offers unlimited downloads.

    Holding back this key bit of info would make the contract void since it’s completely material to the offer. But when the client calls back to fight it, they don’t get anywhere.

  8. Frances

    Jul 26 2010

    As far as electricity bills are concerned, the separation of charges has been around for quite a few years now. The separation was put in place when the Ontario government broke up Ontario Hydro. I confess to not liking it much but it does tell you what it costs to provide the various services. The one charge that I am really against is grossing up the kwh’s used to reflect line losses; there is nothing I can do about line losses and I cannot figure out why they are not just included in the price paid.

  9. Romeo Locke

    Aug 21 2010

    Why is Mobilicity shutting down all of there major corporates stores if they are not going bankrupt? I know they have shut down four of their largest stores in Downtown Toronto, Scarborough, Mississauga and Markham. How many more to go??? They only had 18 corporate stores in all??? 14 to go!!!!

  10. Romeo Locke

    Aug 21 2010

    Mobilicity had threatened to sue Rogers over Chatr. They rolled back the Pakistan plan, and have now shut down their best 4 stores.

    Who will believe what they have to say? They have never kept their word on any of the BS that has been coming out from them.

  11. Gary Jennings

    Aug 26 2010

    There are a total of 6 MOBILICITY stores that have been shut down during the past one week. I just saw another one in Brampton which is shutting down next week. If you don’t believe me go and see it for yourself. The proof is in the pudding!

    The one on Queens and Brittania in Mississauga was the first to go.
    Wind may be, just may be, able to stand up to Chatr but Mobilicity is history! They will be better off suing Rogers and living off any money they get from them. Don’t burn your money on these jokers!

  12. sandy nelson

    Aug 26 2010

    Mobilicity is claiming it has grown by 30% over the past 3 months. Mobilicity may be growing by signing up people who sell 50 other things as well. You cannot equate your corporate store with a pawn shop which also sells Mobilicity.

    Wind had it right from the word go. They never signed up pawn shops to sell their phones.

    No wonder Mobilicity is shutting down 10 of their own stores and signing 15 pawn shops and claiming they have grown 30%. This is the worst kind of spin I have ever seen in Corporate America.

  13. Pat Russo

    Sep 1 2010

    I just received a flyer from Mobilicity claiming that its Blackberry 9700 uses MS windows mobile 6.5.

    Can anyone explain me as to why Mobilicity is making such wild claims. Have they gone mad or is it just another stunt to gain notoriety?

  14. C Grant

    Sep 17 2010

    I signed up for a 3 year cell phone contract with Bell last spring.

    After many calls and complaints, I finally found why they have been charging me for calls made after 6 pm, even though I was told my early unlimited evening calling started at 6.

    They fixed this problem, but they will only credit me for the last 3 months — even though I have been calling and complaining about this since my contract started more than 6 months ago.

    Every time, I was told it would be fixed on my next bill, so just go ahead and pay your bill and the next one will be fixed. Then I’d get the next bill and see the same problem and start calling Bell to complain again.

    They told me they could only credit 3 months. That is their limit and they have no record of me calling to complain about it before.

    When I said I had called many many times about this problem (and other problems, there have been too many to discuss here), they asked me if I had the names, dates, times or proof that I had called because they had no record.

    I requested a call back from a manager, as supervisors are only authorized to credit back 3 months. No manager ever called (also, not the first time this happened).

    I have had many difficulties accessing my bills online. Their website is very slow and often the page with the bill will not download at all, even when I try on different computers.

    I have absolutely no trust in this company at all and have only been their customer for less than a year of this three year contract.

    I have not yet received a bill for any month that did not have many mistakes. I have to call, wait on hold, talk to representative, talk to supervisor, only to get to the point of requesting a call back from a manager that has never ever called back.

    This has been the process with Bell every month that I have been their customer so far.

    I have spoken with many very rude and aggressive supervisors and have yet to be able to contact any managers.

    I really don’t know how I am going to be able to continue with this company for the remainder of my contract. It is the most horrendous service I have ever experienced.

    Although I do not want to “reward” them by paying the huge disconnection fees, I really don’t know what else to do. If I cancel my contract and do not pay the fees, they will ruin my credit and send me to collection.

    I really feel like I am at the end of my rope and the stress of dealing with them is affecting my health. I had a huge panic attack the last time I had to deal with them.

    Any suggestions of how I can end this horrible service without having to pay a huge fee to a company that has been misrepresenting, rude, unorganized, not correctly billing, promising to “fix things” and not doing it, promising a call from a manager and not calling and generally causing me way too much stress than is necessary for a cell phone?

    Please send any suggestion you have. Thanks.

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