The Howard County Office of Consumer Affairs has reached an agreement with Verizon following a 15-month investigation of the company's sales practices in selling bundled services, which was prompted by complaints from county residents.
Verizon will pay the county $30,000 for consumer education, along with instituting a number of changes in their sale practices, according to a Howard County government news release.
'With bundling of services so commonplace, it's crucial that consumers know when they're promised something on the phone, that's exactly what they're going to get and for exactly the price they were quoted," County Executive Ken Ulman said in a statement. "Moving forward, this agreement protects consumers by making sure there are no unauthorized 'add-on services' or hidden costs when ordering bundled services."
The county's investigation was prompted by complaints from consumers who alleged that Verizon's telephone representatives quoted prices for bundled television, Internet and telephone services that were cheaper than the prices listed in confirmation emails and bills. Consumers also complained that additional services such as game packages, virus protection or tech support were added to their orders when, in fact, they did not agree to those services.
Verizon's changes to their practices as a result of the agreement include:
- Revised training, testing, monitoring and support of Customer Service Representatives ("CSRs") to enhance the accuracy of customer orders.
- Adjustments to the compensation system for CSRs to remove possible incentives for including unauthorized services in customer orders.
- Revised confirmation emails sent to customers after the purchase of goods and services to include a full itemization.
- The implementation of a procedure to enhance the early detection of unauthorized charges by sending follow up or "reminder" communications to customers who purchase "value added" services, but do not activate them shortly after purchase.
Rebecca Bowman, administrator of the county Office of Consumer Affairs, advised that consumers should always take detailed notes while talking with sales agents about the services and options offered and any discounts and price adjustments promised. Consumers should always compare their notes to confirmation emails or letters they receive, as well as their first several bills to ensure the price is accurate and that no additional services have been included that were not agreed to, she said.
"While we are pleased that we were able to reach this agreement with Verizon, we continue to urge residents to take care when purchasing bundled telecommunication services from Verizon or its competitors, she said in a statement.
Consumers who have disputes with Verizon or other telecommunication services are urged to contact the Office of Consumer Affairs by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 410-313-6420.