National Consumers League

Do Yourself a Favor: Read Your Bills


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by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

I’m one of those consumers who always assumes there’s a mistake — and not in my favor — in the bills that arrive in my mailbox. I’m not always right about that, but mostly it turns out to be true. When my wireless phone bill arrived this month, my eyes popped out. How the heck did I rack up these charges? Upon more careful examination, I noticed that the higher rate for international coverage for my Blackberry that I needed when I went overseas during the holidays had never been changed back to normal, despite my request — the day I arrived back in the U.S. — that it be done. I also noticed that my son had racked up 850 text messages sending inane one-word notes to his friends umpteen times a day. Hey, but I thought I had signed him up for unlimited texting? I called the company and can report that my story has a happy ending. They had on record that I had called in January to change my service, so they credited me the extra charges, plus the hefty taxes, and they changed my son’s cell phone over to unlimited texts retroactively, so we didn’t have pay for the extra 500 texts. (Turns out that hadn’t been an overcharge after all; my son really had only 250 free ones coming, which explained the $64 extra on my bill.) I saved nearly $140 by taking the time to call! What worries me, however, is when consumers don’t call and question charges on their bills, utilities companies are only too happy to keep their money. I worry about consumers with limited English, the elderly, or people working two jobs who just don’t have the time it takes to challenge the kind of charges I saw on my bill. As sure as day turns into night, the corporations who send out monthly bills are making millions from consumers who cannot or do not challenge unfair charges. Should companies have people on staff who routinely review consumer bills to see if there are unfair charges? I think that would be great PR for any corporation.