The Federal Communications Commission says it has been investigating Verizon over "mystery" fees on its wireless bills, and that while it is glad the company will pay them back, agency penalties are still on the table.
"We can confirm reports of an FCC investigation into mystery fees that appeared on Verizon Wireless bills costing over 15 million Americans tens of millions of dollars," said FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Michele Ellison in response to reports Verizon had conceded the overcharges and would refund them to customers.
"Reportedly, Verizon itself has put the amount of overcharges [which were attributed to mistaken data charges], at more than fifty million dollars, dating back two years," said Ellison in a statement Sunday night.
She the commission was glad Verizon was repaying them, but said questions remain as to why it took the company two years to do so, "Enforcement Bureau will continue to explore these issues, including the possibility of additional penalties, to ensure that all companies prioritize the interests of consumers when billing problems occur."
In a statement, Mary Coyne, Verizon Wireless deputy general counsel, Verizon Wireless. said the company wanted to "do right by its customers."
"In October and November, we are notifying about 15 million customers, through their regular bill messages, that we are applying credits to their accounts due to mistaken past data charges, she said. "We will mail former customers refund checks. In most cases, these credits are in the $2 to $6 range; some will receive larger credits or refunds." What happened?
"As we reviewed customer accounts, we discovered that over the past several years approximately 15 million customers who did not have data plans were billed for data sessions on their phones that they did not initiate," she said. "These customers would normally have been billed at the standard rate of $1.99 per megabyte for any data they chose to access from their phones. The majority of the data sessions involved minor data exchanges caused by software built into their phones; others involved accessing the web, which should not have incurred charges."
She said steps have been taken to prevent a repeat performance, but suggested the refunds were hardly unique. "Verizon Wireless issue credits to customers from time to time based on regular review and monitoring," she said. "When we identify errors, we remedy them as quickly as possible. Our goal is to maintain our customers' trust and ensure they receive the best experience possible."
The FCC has been paying close attention to wireless bills as an overall effort to address the issue of so-called "bill shock," charges that come as a surprise to customers.