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Double-Check Your Bills on a Regular Basis

Written by Nickel - 10 Comments

Reducing the Cost of Medical Care

Earlier this week, I received a “thank you” flyer from AT&T for signing up for their for roadside assistance program. The only problem with this is that I never signed up for it. Curious as to what I was going, I logged into their site to check my bill — and boy, am I glad that I did.

After logging in, I discovered that they had added not only the roadside assistance to my cell phone bill ($2.99/month), but also the phone insurance plan ($6.99/month), and something called the “enhanced mobile protection plan” ($3.00/month). That’s a grand total of $12.98/month (+ tax) that I never authorized.

Needless to say, I was furious. These charges appeared to date back to January, when I upgraded to the iPhone 4S, but it’s hard to tell the exact dates. I dug up the contract from that day day and confirmed that I hadn’t inadvertently approved these charges, and then I jumped on the online chat with AT&T.

It took a little while to get everything straightened out, but they ultimately removed these extra services and I also got them to refund the previous charges. They offered no explanation as to how this might have happened, and never once apologized. In fact, at the end of the chat, the CSR pasted this lovely little nugget into the chat window:

It is the customer’s responsibility to review the monthly bill and advise us of any inaccuracies to our attention in a timely matter. You can review your detailed bill online by pulling up “My Paper Bill.”

Right. I know. We should regularly review our bills, but it really shouldn’t be my responsibility to ensure that they’re not just randomly adding charges to my account. Should it?

So… This all brings us to today’s point. While you probably shouldn’t have to do this, you need to get in the habit of periodically checking any bills that you have set to autopay. In the case of those that are paid through our bank, this is easy. Whenever I reconcile our account in Moneydance, I see the amounts and can tell if something is out of line.

As for credit card payments, I’m a bit more lax here. While I’d like to say that I scrutinize each and every bill line by line as it comes in, that’s often not the case. Rather, I often let this slide and then skim over several bills at once. Ultimately, this isn’t a huge problem, as most service providers are willing to adjust your bill at least 90 days back without too much fuss. But it’s easy to forget.

Had I not been paying attention, I could have easily wound up paying AT&T (and the government) somewhere close to $175/year (including taxes) for unwanted services. Not good. When you extrapolate over their entire customer base, these sorts of billing mistakes could be funneling a huge amount of cash into AT&T’s coffers.

Oddly enough, while I was checking my bill, I discovered another problem. This one can be traced back to when I called AT&T and asked them to reduce the cost of our home phone and internet service. While tinkering with our bill, the CSR somehow triggered a $14.95 monthly charge for our static IP address — which had previously been free.

Before you ask, no, we don’t really need a static IP address. But it was free, so I took it. I’m a sucker for free stuff. Well, apparently the plan that we ended up on after the discounts was incompatible with the free IP address. I doubt the CSR (who was very helpful) had any idea about this.

Regardless, that extra $14.95/month was eating up a significant chunk of the savings I had secured by calling. So… It was time to get in touch with AT&T again. Ironically, while you can get service on your cell phone account via online chat, you have to pick up a phone and call to get help with your DSL bill.

Once again, there was no explanation for how this happened (though there was at least an apology). After a lengthy hold, the CSR quickly removed the charges going forwarded and credited us for the charges that had already occurred.

What about you? Have you ever checked your bills and found mystery charges? If so, did you have any trouble getting things straightened out — and getting your money back?

Published on March 23rd, 2012
Modified on March 26th, 2012 - 10 Comments
Filed under: Consumer

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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10 Responses to “Double-Check Your Bills on a Regular Basis”

  1. 1
    CBW Says:

    It is always wise to check bills regularly. This is to avoid those hidden charges or charges that you did not authorize. It’s called the fine print. You have to read that as well.

  2. 2
    BuckTrak Budget Planner Says:

    Yes, I have found “mystery charges” when I’ve checked my bills – BTW cable providers and cell phone companies seem to be the pros at adding in phantom charges. After getting these charges waived with at least one cell provider (you have to call and sometimes talk to two or three reps before you get someone willing to work with you), I have since switched to a prepaid carrier. No more mystery charges!

  3. 3
    jim Says:

    I’ve had this kind of thing happen with various companies randomly over the years.

    I’m sure its almost always simple clerical errors. Yeah companies shouldn’t make such errors but its going to happen once in a while. Nobody’s perfect including the companies we buy stuff from and the people working at those companies.

    But I also wouldn’t be surprised if once in a great while a salesman adds an extra charge to someones bill just to inflate their commission or a service rep adds a service to your account cause a customer yelled at them or was otherwise belligerent.

  4. 4
    Chris Says:

    Yes, I’ve seen this several times over the years.

    I use the budget function on Mint.com to flag strange charges. If my cable bill is “over-budget”, mint emails me.

  5. 5
    LD Says:

    I’ve set alerts on my Mint account so any bills that aren’t close to a set amount (my cell phone bill is the biggest culprit) will trigger an email to me. If I get one of those, I got check the bill to see what’s up. This really came in handy when my cell phone bill was $10 more than normal. I called and the CSR (Sprint, by the way) was terrific. She said I was lucky (I call it smart) to have caught this. Apparently a company/scam artist had sent me a text. She said you normally have to open the text but I didn’t have texting on that account (hello, 10 cents for a stupid text? no way!). Unfortunately, it wasn’t BLOCKED (which I instituted immediately) so a text must have come through. I deleted every text I received because they were all spam.

    Anyway, the trick was that if you even opened the text, to say nothing of clicking on the link, you tacitly approved adding a $10 3rd party charge to your account for gaming codes or something stupid like that. I asked how this was legal and she said it was, just barely, but folks were working to make it illegal, as she thought it should be. But since it was legal, all Sprint could do was refund customers who complained. She said that many times folks didn’t realize they’d been paying the extra – and sometimes there would be two or three of these charges PER BILL – for months, and she could only refund up to three months worth of charges.

    We recently reupped our Sirius satellite radio subscriptions, and with it came an extra charge for internet radio. That had always been free so I called and they ‘corrected’ it without any trouble. Come to find out, the free internet radio ended some time ago! I guess that my status as a long-time, multiple-subscription customer must have been a factor in that decision. :-)

  6. 6
    PennySaved Says:

    NY Times just had an article on these mystery charges being added to people’s cell phone bills. Called “cramming.” They are from spam text messages that supposedly you must read and then opt out of the service if you don’t want it. So if you don’t read the message and just delete it, you are on the hook. Although some people in the article said they declined the offer and still got charged.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03.....?src=rechp

  7. 7
    Tyler S. Says:

    Fortunately I have yet to experience any of these mystery charges, but I have been told by former Verizon employees that Verizon loves to put these kinds of tiny hidden fees into people’s auto-pay bills. This is a huge deal that most people just don’t notice! It’s crazy the stuff these companies get away with!

  8. 8
    The Frugallery Says:

    Another thing to think about is if companies add fees or charges, they are supposed to notify you in writing and offer you the opportunity to cancel. This got me out of a phone contract that I was looking to escape. Read the fine print on your bill and you might be surprised!

  9. 9
    MoneySmartGuides Says:

    I always check my bills each month. There is a person that enters the data on the bill and they can and do make mistakes.

    I got a bill from my cable company that had an “Other Charge” for a movie I rented. I forgot about the rental and was about to call in complaining about the charge when I realized what it really was.

  10. 10
    Advise Debt                       Says:

    Yes, it is really important to keep note of the bill and payments regularly. It will be helpful to manage the financial strategy and make a bright future.

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