Cagey Consumer

Pacific Bell Customers Billed for Free Calls

The June 12, 1998 Palo Alto Daily News reported that "as many as" 100 Palo Alto residents were erroneously billed for local phone calls by Worldcom, in spite of the fact that customers had neither pre-subscribed to Worldcom nor used Worldcom's carrier access code to place the calls. Customers with 493, 494, 813, and 855 prefixes were billed for calls placed to internet service providers and other businesses that obtained their local phone service from Worldcom having 481, 687, and 856 prefixes in area code 650.

Worldcom officials blamed an "incorrect code" that marked the call as billable when it crossed over to Worldcom's lines.

Pacific Bell officials claimed that fewer than 100 people were affected by the problem, and promised that if customers were unable to get a satisfactory resolution from Worldcom, PacBell would "try to help".

Pacific Bell Understates Problem, Provides No Help

Based on information that the Cagey Consumer has obtained, a better estimate of the number of customers affected by this problem would be 1000, ten times Pac Bell's estimate. The large difference in these two estimates can be accounted for by the number of people who fail to carefully examine their phone bill, even when it contains substantial extra charges, and thus haven't reported the problem to Pac Bell.

Other reports that the Cagey Consumer has received indicate that Pacific Bell customer service representatives have refused to honor customer requests to put amounts disputed as a result of this billing snafu in suspense.

This represents a change from previous Pacific Bell practice of flagging disputed amounts on a customer bill so that service is not disconnected as a result of the customer not paying such disputed amounts. According to California Public Utilities Commission policy, customers in this predicament may send the disputed amount to the PUC along with a completed complaint form. Customers can also contact the California PUC as indicated on the PUC Consumer Services page.

Presumably, sanctions would be imposed against Pacific Bell if it disconnected the customer's service after the disputed amount had been deposited with the PUC.

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