A BILL GONE HAYWIRELESS: Philadelphia man gets a 17G bill from Verizon Wireless

DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff photographer
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff photographer
Posted: October 29, 2010

IF CARLOS Mota had $17,505 lying around, he would be able to pay off his North Philadelphia house.

Not that he has that kind of money, but that's the amount Verizon Wireless expected him to cough up in one bill this summer.

Mota, 52, bought a USB modem in March that allows him to access the Internet wirelessly on his laptop, and he signed a two-year contract for $60.75 a month, he said.

When Mota, who has lived in Philadelphia for 23 years, visited family in the Dominican Republic, he took his laptop and the USB modem. He said he accessed the Internet with no problem for an hour early on June 19 and a half-hour that evening.

The third time he tried to log on, he said, a message told him that he was roaming and he immediately shut down his computer and didn't use it the rest of the trip.

When he returned, he found the $17,505 Verizon bill in his mailbox - $17,445 of which was for roaming charges.

"I was shocked, with no words," Mota said in Spanish as his niece, Maribel Castro, interpreted. "I called my daughter and wife to look at it. I asked them, 'Am I seeing correctly?' "

Two days later, Mota said, he began trying to resolve the bill, first by visiting the Center City Verizon office. He was told that they couldn't resolve the problem and gave him a number to call in Texas, he said.

Mota said he spoke with numerous Verizon representatives and supervisors but got nowhere.

"Every time I called, when they pulled up my account, each worker had the same reaction: 'Wooowwww!' they would say," he said.

On July 27, a supervisor told him he was responsible for the monumental bill, he said.

On Mota's bill, his roaming charges aren't determined or listed in minutes, but rather kilobytes - 872,255 of them, to be exact. He said he has asked for an audit of the bill, but has yet to receive one.

At first, Mota continued to pay the $60.75 base fee he had agreed to, but Verizon began billing him more than $250 in late fees each month, so he stopped paying the bills altogether. This month's bill is for $18,225.87.

Now, on top of the bills, he's also getting letters from Verizon threatening to take him to court, he said.

Castro wondered yesterday if a company like Verizon even knows what $18,000 means to someone like Mota, a father of four who worked in landscaping before he was injured and was forced to go on disability.

"For them, it means nothing, but for him, it means his life," she said. "It would ruin him."

Mota said he has finally built his credit back after declaring bankruptcy several years ago, and he fears that this will ruin all his hard work.

"I am worried, I can't sleep, I can't eat," he said. "Here, in the U.S. no one is no one if you don't have credit."

Sheldon Jones, Verizon spokesman, said the company was looking into the bill yesterday, after being contacted by the Daily News.

"We go to great lengths to educate our customers on our products and services so they avoid any unintended bills," Jones said. "We understand our customers don't like surprises. Neither do we; it's bad business. We are looking into Mr. Mota's case."

Mota admitted that he never asked about fees for Internet usage overseas but said he was never informed of it when he bought the modem. He said that if he had any clue, he would never have used it.

Separately yesterday, Verizon Wireless was slapped with a $25 million fine for charging customers who inadvertently accessed the Web via their cell phones, even though they didn't have data plans. The company also agreed to pay $52 million in customer refunds.

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