Comcast Incorrectly Bills Customer $1,775, Tells Him To Figure It Out With His Bank

from the customer-is-always-wrong dept

At this point it's pretty much a monthly event: Comcast does something stupid, then only bothers to correct the problem once the press gets involved. We then get a breathless explanation from Comcast about how this sort of thing is the exception instead of the norm, despite being able to set your watch to the dysfunction.

Comcast's latest screw up comes in the form of a $1,775 early termination fee (ETF) that the company admits should never have been charged in the first place. A Comcast business-class customer was incorrectly charged the fee after his long-term contract had already expired. When he contacted Comcast to complain, the company quickly admitted the error and stated that the check was in the mail. This continued for two years with no actual check ever being sent:
"Robert says that when he called Comcast, “the rep actually laughed when I told her I didn’t get a check yet. She said it would take three months." The check still didn’t come, and repeated attempts to get an answer or an actual refund from Comcast went nowhere. When he called again in June 2015, Robert says the response was “Ohh sorry, we messed up but the check is getting sent out now." He says Comcast repeated that sentiment again in Aug. 2015, then again in Jan. 2016: “We made a mistake and this time the check is really getting sent out."
The original ETF was incorrectly charged in 2014. But after two years of promising that the check was in the mail, the customer was suddenly contacted by someone in Comcast's "Executive Customer Relations" team who takes the screw up to another level. The employee informs them no check will be coming, and that the customer needs to tackle the problem with their bank:
"“[I]t does appear the Early Termination Fee (ETF) applied to your Comcast Business account was done in error,” reads the email, confirming what Robert had already been told, but at least this was in writing, so Comcast has to do something, right?

Nope.

“I understand you’re claiming that someone advised you Comcast would send a refund check for the last payment that was debited but this is generally not the way we handle these situations,” continues the condescending email. “We generally only issue a refund check for a disconnected account with a credit balance leftover. For your situation, you would have to dispute the payment with your bank."
In short, Comcast incorrectly billed a customer $1775, promised to refund the amount for two years, then backed away from the refund promise and effectively tells the customer to go to hell. As usual with these kinds of stories, it's only once contacted by the media that Comcast does an about-face and promises to really mail out a refund check (which still may or may not ever actually arrive).

While Comcast does appear to be making some modest strides in customer satisfaction ratings (recently going from apocalyptically awful to just abysmal), you'll know they've truly turned a corner when monthly reports on their blistering incompetence stop being as reliable as the full moon.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 5:24am

    Gotta love those shyster classics...

    Repeatedly stall in the hopes that the mark will decide that the effort is worth more than the money, and then just flat out tell them that they aren't getting a cent when that doesn't work. Would have worked too if it hadn't been for that pesky press attention making the con public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PRMan (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 7:55am

      Re: Gotta love those shyster classics...

      "Would have worked too if it hadn't been for that pesky press attention making the con public."

      Comcast is a Scooby Doo villain now?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BentFranklin (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 6:23am

    Never let a vendor debit your accounts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Jason, 1 Jul 2016 @ 8:26am

      Re:

      Absolutely agreed. No matter how many hoops I have to jump through (and some places I used to have to deal with made a lot of hoops) I never connect my primary account to a vendor's system. I go through my bank's online bill pay site instead.

      All it takes is one screw up like this and someone has a pile of my money they shouldn't have gotten, and it's going to be a nightmare getting it back. (Funny how quickly it can turn nasty when it's you who owe something to them.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 6:30am

    How is this not fraud?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 6:34am

    What would Comcast do to someone who owed them that much money for so long and kept playing the check will show up?

    One wonders how many times they can screw up on peoples accounts, before there are like some sort of industry watchdogs who would I dunno bar them from access peoples accounts until they get their shit together.

    They have access to withdraw money and do so without any rhyme or reason... how is this different than theft?
    As someone known to randomly steal from customers, one would think someone might cut off their access until its fixed. The behavior is unacceptable, and to finally condescend saying make the bank fix it shows that they shouldn't have this sort of access if they are going to demand customers & banks expend resources to fix Comcast being unable to handle its own affairs correctly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 6:56am

      Re:

      "What would Comcast do to someone who owed them that much money for so long and kept playing the check will show up?"


      Probably terminate the account and send the debt to collections.

      Perhaps this is what the guy should have done.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Abraham's Choice, 3 Jul 2016 @ 2:54pm

        Re: Re:

        He'd only get pennies on the dollar. Small claims court would be a far better solution (depending on jurisdiction), as would bad publicity, which is what's happening here.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uenu (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 6:44am

    What's next? Accountability Reclamation Fee?

    Here's your refund of $1,775, and a bill of $5,000 for Accountability Reclamation (which we've already withdrawn from your bank). Assessed for each occurrence of an ungrateful customer daring to expose our incompetence to the Media/Public after we jerk them around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 7:00am

    “We generally only issue a refund check for a disconnected account with a credit balance leftover"

    Well, I would hope that you're generally not charging a $1,775 fee that you shouldn't be charging either. So, by definition this is an exceptional situation, and therefore you have to take action outside of your normal procedures, perhaps?

    This is what a lack of real competition looks like, I believe. Not only don't they care about you when you're subscribed, they have no need to make themselves look good in front of other existing or potential customers. So, a major PR disaster for someone else is just another day at the office...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 7:05am

    I'm kinda surprised the guy didn't just take them to small claims court.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 7:08am

      Re:

      Odds are good that like all smart/sleazy companies they'd forced him to sign a contract with a 'binding arbitration' clause prohibiting him from bringing them to court over the matter, leaving only an insanely biased arbitration 'court' to go to if he wanted to go legal, which would have been no different than trying to get the money from them directly at best.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        The Tickled Trout, 3 Jul 2016 @ 3:15pm

        Re: Re:

        Aren't those unfair contracts in the US?

        Personally I make a habit of looking for lines like that in the small print of the T's & C's, and I run a biro through them. Sometimes I get some funny looks, but so far, no-one's said this is a deal-breaker. They want a sale, after all...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 4 Jul 2016 @ 4:13pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Not only are those clauses legal in the US, last year the Supreme Court ruled that they even override state consumer protection laws.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 4 Jul 2016 @ 11:33pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            A private contract can override the law in the US? Wow...

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Uriel-238 (profile), 5 Jul 2016 @ 1:57am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Considering the numerous times that the non-disclosure agreement in the TOS for the use of Stingray cell-phone spoofers have been used to justify denying their involvement in locating / searching a suspect's cell phone without a warrant has been used in courts of law to slip evidence past a judge, I'd say yes it can, and this incident with Comcast is small potatoes.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Arkab, 5 Jul 2016 @ 10:27am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              A private contract can override the law in the US? Wow...

              Government of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation. So of course it can.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 7:34am

    Lein on them

    He should have taken them to small claims court and got a judgement and put a lien on them and go to the nearest office and start taking equipment. I'm sure they would have paid up immediately.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      I.T. Guy, 1 Jul 2016 @ 7:45am

      Re: Lein on them

      It's not clear in the article but I would have gone to an office, brought the email admitting I shouldn't have been charged and refused to leave without a check.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2016 @ 10:29am

        Re: Re: Lein on them

        ...refused to leave without a check.

        That's when they call the cops and, believe me, the cops know who their masters are.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    scotts13 (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 8:06am

    Really?

    Good luck getting a bank to reverse an incorrect debit beyond 30 days, let along two years. I mean, you know Comcast is gonna stall, but they kind of overdid it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 1 Jul 2016 @ 8:25am

    Nothing unusual actually

    Waiting out the charge contestion period (3 months or so) before issuing a refund check for a contested payment in a terminated business relationship is playing it safe: otherwise the customer can just cash the cheque and contest the charge, making it much harder to recover the extra payment, particularly since the charge contest was legit and the refund check was legit as well, and only the double cashing was illegitimate and could even have happened by a mixup at home.

    Now making this three-month delay an exercise in story-telling is quite distasteful but saves real money: a refund cheque comes with much lower costs than a contested charge.

    So laying the groundwork for screwing the customer over was all sort-of legitimate and understandable business practice. The main question now is where "hey, in our efforts to save money after a fault of ours we have maneuvered the customer into a situation where screwing him out of all the money becomes feasible and he likely can't even sue us for it because of an arbitration clause" turns into "let's just do it".

    And I bet that we have a regional management or department where the balance ended up rather than this being accountable to corporate billing.

    Basically corporate structures rewarding crooks and more likely than not quite uninterested in getting bothered with details.

    A friend of mine works as a union representative in a travel agency and they recently had to ok an immediate termination of an agent who had booked travels on the account of a coworker on maternity leave with credit data from customers. Apparently this wasn't the first time and he also managed rerouting the resulting payment contests when they occurred and probably hiding some parts in surcharges. Totally meek and inconspicable colleague, wife and family (who actually went to travel on those vacations).

    Now this guy really had to do some serious book cooking and account misuse to screw over company and customers to his advantage. Depending on how the company is set up, this might be much easier.

    I suspect that Comcast rather encourages overbilling in its corporate structures, controls, and rewards. Or one would not get to hear so many stories.

    And they probably don't tie complaints to the originator. Particularly not if the complaint was about making Comcast more money than legal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 8:49am

      Re: Nothing unusual actually

      "screwing the customer over was all sort-of legitimate and understandable business practice."

      Says you.
      Screwing your customers is never legitimate nor understandable, whether a stated business practice or not.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Arkab, 5 Jul 2016 @ 10:35am

        Re: Re: Nothing unusual actually

        Screwing your customers is never legitimate nor understandable, whether a stated business practice or not.

        Oh, it certainly is for some companies. Welcome to 'Murca today.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GunSheep (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 8:28am

    Never allow 'automatic' withdrawls.....

    I got burned by this once which is all that it took. Had an automatic car payment apply three times on the same day due to an 'error'. Reduced my checking account to below 0$, caused a dozen checks to bounce. Took months before it was finally cleared up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous UK Resident, 1 Jul 2016 @ 8:31am

    Living in the UK...

    ...sucks, but at least we don't have Comcast.

    Yet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Hitler's One True Ball, 3 Jul 2016 @ 3:00pm

      Re: Living in the UK...

      Ditto here in Ireland. Comcast won't ever get a look in - your market, like ours, is far too competitive.

      Comcast would have to actually have to work for a living, and they'd have zero influence with the associations & regulators, who here, actually have some balls.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2016 @ 10:38am

        Re: Re: Living in the UK...

        Yeah, meaningful competition can make a big difference. Too bad we don't have it in the US.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PlagueSD (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 9:29am

    THIS is the #1 reason I NEVER set up automatic payments...That's what reminders are for. I'll also never go "paperless" either. I want that paper trail...just in case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 9:57am

    This guy was way nicer than most people would have been, first letting them tell him a check will take 3 months and then allowing them to do it for 2 years. If they said all they'd do is send a check out in 3 months I would have gone directly to the bank and disputed it that day.

    Putting everything else aside for the moment, there's no realistic way it can ever take 3 months for a check to be issued and mailed out especially because of them stealing money from your account and admitting it. In 3 months they could have had someone making the paper from scratch by hand for the check and then print it out and still have plenty of time to send the check on a road trip to visit all 50 states(including flying it out to Hawaii and back) before finally being hand delivered to the person and still have plenty of time left over.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 10:13am

      Re:

      Putting everything else aside for the moment, there's no realistic way it can ever take 3 months for a check to be issued

      Corporate practice is to take at least 3 months from receipt of a bill to actually issuing the payment, some take up to 9 months. It is built into their computer systems, as a date filter on transactions to be paid this month.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 10:27am

        Re: Re:

        Not once has it ever taken 3 months or more for a check to be sent out unless they never intended to pay it like Comcast, at most it's the standard 30 days which still leaves 2 months for them to send it on the road trip.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Quiet Lurcker, 1 Jul 2016 @ 10:48am

    Note to Self...

    In future, the FIRST step in a case like this is to contact the bank and the company through an attorney who will also be billing the bank and company for his time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 10:49am

    What a scummy company. You know they were just delaying in he would forget or give up. Sounds like an insurance company.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 11:00am

    going from apocalyptically awful to just abysmal

    Aggressively abysmal. They have to recover their apocalyptically awful status so they have to be aggressive. Now that's another term I have to include in my lexicon. You are good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 12:58pm

    Corporate America, sodomizing their customers one asshole at a time. Nothing new here, just cut the cord. Free your mind and your ass will follow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 1:12pm

    Isn't this exactly the kind of bullshit for which we demolish monopolies?

    Is this not exactly the reason for which we need competitive services to whom dissatisfied customers can go?

    Or, if the system is better served by a monopoly (not saying it is, but hypothetically) shouldn't it be fiercely and cruelly regulated so as to prevent situations like this?

    At one point, I'd have said Comcast needs its windows bricked.

    Now it deserves its workplaces Molotoved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Flotsam & Jetsam, 3 Jul 2016 @ 3:07pm

      Re: Isn't this exactly the kind of bullshit for which we demolish monopolies?

      You do have to wonder their work-ethic; what exactly their management are telling their staff...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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