When I get a bill, I take a close look to make sure I know what I'm paying for. Sometimes the sender of a bill makes an honest mistake. This is easy to fix: a simple phone call, a pleasant conversation, an apology and an immediate adjustment. Thank you very much.
Others, however, aren't so easy. Tell me about it. I'm mad as hell.
It started when I got my AT&T bill in December. On Christmas Eve. There was a jump of about $15 in the total amount due. The AT&T bill bundles our home phone, cell phones and Internet services. We have been happy AT&T (or some variety thereof) customers for more than 45 years, transferring our account as we moved around the country.
On the very last page of the AT&T bill (telephone bills are like labyrinths) was a charge of $14.95 for something called "Email Discount Network." I wondered: Has AT&T added a charge for our Internet service, which includes e-mail? A toll-free number was listed on the bill, so I called it. Well into the seemingly endless voice prompts, my call was disconnected. Twice.
I called another number. I got an AT&T customer service rep who immediately informed me that the charge was not from AT&T and I would have to call another number to have the charges removed by Email Discount Network. I complained that my attempts to call EDN had been disconnected. Twice. I appealed to the customer service rep to provide me some customer service. He did. He got an EDN rep on the line who assured me that my EDN service (I still don't know what that service is) would be canceled immediately. I was given a confirmation number. Merry Christmas.
So when I got my most recent AT&T bill on Monday, I checked to see if my account had been credited for the $14.95. It had not. On the last page was an additional $14.95 charge -- for a service I know nothing about, never ordered, never wanted. I called the toll-free number at EDN. This time I eventually got to speak to a human being. She said my service (what service?) had been canceled in December, but apparently I had "forgotten" to request a credit for the billed amount. However, she said, she would give me credit for both months. But it might take one or two AT&T billing cycles before the credits appeared on my account. She assured me there would be no further EDN billings on my AT&T bill. An e-mail I received confirming the cancellation tried, once again, to convince me that I had authorized the EDN service. This included some mumbo-jumbo about order confirmations and IP addresses. OK, EDN, send me copies of my authorization. Or a recording of that conversation. Or a copy of my signature on an authorization form.
But EDN can't do that. EDN is a fraud. A ripoff. A scam. These are some of the nicer words used to describe EDN in some of the more than 2,300 Google results for "Email Discount Network," which apparently has been bilking telephone customers at least since 2005 for services they never wanted.
Here's the goofy part. AT&T takes no responsibility for the fraudulent billing, even though AT&T puts the charge on its bill and obviously collects the money for this band of thieves.
According to AT&T (and, I presume, other federally regulated telephone companies) the phone company is required by federal deregulation regulations (is that an oxymoron?) to provide this billing service.
This is not the biggest or most complex problem facing our nation today. But it's a needle in my butt, and I'm going to complain -- loudly and a lot -- until someone provides a satisfactory answer for why the U.S. government sanctions scammers to add unwanted charges to my phone bill.
R. Joe Sullivan is editorial page editor for
the Southeast Missourian. You can reach
him at firstname.lastname@example.org.