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Verizon tells couple their account balance is $2 million

Technically Incorrect: An Oregon couple only had their Verizon phones for a month before they gave them back. Then they were told they owed more than $2 million.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Paul Slusher didn't really owe Verizon $2 million. Fox 12 screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

They surely didn't remember having watched, say, a million movies back to back.

They can't have talked non-stop with people in Australia, even in their sleep, ever since they had their phones.

So why, then, did Verizon believe that Ken Slusher and his girlfriend owed them $2, 156,593.64?

Slusher, from Damascus, Oregon, told Fox 12 that the amount Verizon said they owed -- as relayed by a Verizon automated voice system -- was preposterous.

He said he and his girlfriend had their Verizon phones for a only month. Immediately, they noticed quite mind-bending mistakes on their bills. A bill that ought to have been for $120 arrived demanding $698. Oh, and there was a previous balance of $451. The next bill was for a mere $9.

"Mistakes are always made and whatnot, but the number of errors and the comedy with which they happen is astounding to me," he told Fox 12.

Tired of this procedural mayhem, they decided to give the phones back in January. That's when the really big bills started. Collection agencies wanted $2,000 or more. Months and months of conversations with Verizon customer service didn't seem to solve anything.

On Monday, Slusher called the automated system in the hope, perhaps, that finally the balance would be zero. Instead, it was insane.

This was particularly vexing for the couple as they were about to buy a house and needed to ensure their mortgage was secure. An outstanding debt of more than $2 million was likely to cause a lender to run for the hills.

A Verizon spokesman admitted it erred in its bill-collecting system but said the error has been corrected.

"We have apologized to an Oregon customer for a programming error in an automated voice response system," the spokesman said. "The error caused him to receive an incorrect voice message that he owed $2 million on his bill. We have corrected the error and have resolved the issue to his satisfaction."

The spokesman told me that the automated voice system error was fixed on Wednesday evening. However, what about the constant stream of apparent customer service failure here? The spokesman didn't deny it.

"We had several opportunities to resolve this issue and failed to do so," he admitted. "It would be a gross understatement to say this is a learning opportunity, but I'll say it anyway. We're looking very carefully at what happened and why so we can make changes and do better next time."

There are programming errors and programming calamities. At least an even greater calamity, Slusher and his family being prevented from buying their house, appears to have been averted.