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Verizon pursues dead woman's bill for three months

Verizon insists on billing a woman for three months after she died, even though the service the company provided reportedly didn't work. The saddest part is the small amounts of money involved.

Can it really be the case that cell phone companies will pursue every single customer for an unpaid debt? Even if the person has been dead for months?

This thought is nagging me more than certain elements of my wasted youth after reading a Los Angeles Times story concerning Betty Howard and her Verizon bill.

According to the Times, when Howard, from Loma Linda, Calif., was struggling with breast cancer, she signed up for Verizon's wireless broadband. It seems that Verizon had trouble securing an Internet connection for her. So, last September, she signed up for a package that included broadband. Still, sadly, the Internet connection didn't work.

Howard died in December. But her daughter-in-law, Marilynn Loveless, reportedly continued to get bills from Verizon, despite the fact that she'd notified the company of her mother-in-law's death days after her passing. The last bill, in March, was for $110.80. (The package was billed to Loveless' credit card.) On hearing that Howard was dead, Verizon reduced the charge to $54.82. When this was not paid, the bill was passed alertly on to a debt collector.

Eric Hauser/Flickr

Loveless then became the object of pursuit, until she contacted the L.A. Times. On discovering that Howard had been double-billed, the $54.82 charge was withdrawn. But it was replaced by another demand, this time for $81.26--this supposedly related to the package. On further review, Verizon reportedly offered to reduce this bill to $42.75.

The thing is, the Internet connection part of this deal never actually worked. "They just don't get the fact that they're charging for a service they never provided," Loveless told the Times.

You will feel light-headed when I tell you that the paper's dogged pursuit of Verizon engendered a seeing of the light. All of the charges were waived. Moreover, a Verizon representative told the Times: "Mistakes were made. We apologize."

Perhaps, if you're like me, there will still be a couple of little nagging things that will make you feel queasy about this.

Firstly, would it really have taken more than just a touch of humanity for Verizon to have realized the situation and acted accordingly in the first place?

Secondly, isn't there something slightly sad about the amounts with which we are dealing here? This isn't AT&T sending an American soldier in Afghanistan a bill for $16,000.

Here, these seem to be relative pittances, amounts that surely dwarf the cost of the labor time that was expended in pursuing a dead woman and her family for services that appear to have wandered somewhere along the axis between poor and nonexistent.

Perhaps the folks at Verizon who originally dealt with all of this were only following procedure. But some might imagine that it's a faintly troubled procedure that leads to such disturbed customer service in the face of what appear to be relatively simple facts.

I just relayed this story to a friend who is known for his sanguine judgment. His response appeared to put it in perspective: "Oh, you mean the man in glasses knocked on the lady's coffin and said: 'Can you hear me now?'"