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First-Party Cramming (The Sequel): Verizon Stop Telling Your Customers That Their Only Option is Something They Will Never Use

Posted in Consumer Protection

So lets say I go into a store to buy a watch.  I ask the salesperson what watch I need to get.  He shows me a watch for $1,000.  The rep explains that is has a lot of great features, including that it will work at underwater depths of up to 2,000 feet.  Wow I think, what a great watch.  The salesperson says this is the only watch for me.  I should buy the watch right?

Wrong.  PADI (THE authority when it comes to scuba diving) sets a limit for recreational diving at a mere 100 feet.  The only person to ever dive to 2,000 feet was a Navy diver in an Atmospheric Diving System.  What does this mean: I don’t need this watch and, actually, no one needs this watch.

So when I ask the salesperson if there is another option, any other option, he reluctantly says yes.  There is a watch for $100 with all the same features except it does not work at underwater depths of more than 10 feet.  I stare incredulously.  Then I buy the second watch.

Phone companies are selling people $1,000 watches that they (or anyone) don’t need.  And since the price difference is about $15, instead of $900, people are paying it without asking if there is another watch, with all the same features, for less money.

When Joe calls up Verizon to get phone service for his new convenience store he is connected to a service representative.  Joe says, I need 3 lines, one for my phone, one for my credit card processing equipment and one for my ATM.  He is told that he needs Verizon’s Custopak service.  This line has a lot of great features, including call waiting and distinctive ringing, and is only $22 a month for a minimum of 2 lines.  Free installation too.  Great, Joe says, $66 a month is reasonable I’ll take it.  Then Joe hangs up, starts worrying about what color to paint the walls and pays his phone bill when it arrives every month.

What should Joe have gotten?  What he needed: Two plain old telephone lines at $7 each and maybe one line with some fancier features.  Maybe.  He also could just get an answering machine and not need all the features.  Either way, it should have been Joe’s choice.  Phone companies have been wildly successful with this form of cramming: forcing customers into more expensive options they don’t need or want (or, can’t use).

But shouldn’t companies be able to at least try to sell you the more expensive option?  I mean that’s just plain old marketing really.  Yes, but not when you are a company entrusted with providing an essential service in a highly regulated, technically complex industry.  People calling phone companies trust service representatives to tell the truth and, most importantly, explain the choices available.

Sure, talk up your fancy product and explain how great its features are.  But when I say I want a phone line for an ATM machine that will be calling the same, toll-free number over and over (as the service representatives know), don’t tell me that the only option is the $22 service package.  Tell me I could get it, fine, but also tell me I could get the $7 line.  That comes with free installation too.

Verizon isn’t doing this.  Verizon even seems to be lying to its customers – as it seems to have done to this small business (found on Verizon’s own site):

“Has anyone ever heard of Verizon’s Custopak line unrestricted? … I spoke with the lady over the phone and she assured me I would not have a dial tone if I didn’t order this and it is costing us $23 per line. How awful! I still think I’m being ripped off. What are your thoughts?”

To this small business: YES! You are being ripped off.

As for my thoughts, I’m thinking, and maybe it’s because it is what I do: class action.  Together we can stop Verizon from getting away with this.  Do you have a Custopak line with Verizon?

Assisted by Lauren E. Connell