death, taxes—and the phone bill


According to a story appearing in yesterday’s New York Post, there are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes—and the phone bill.

When her mother died and the family canceled the mother’s Frontier Communications phone service, a NY assemblywoman named Aileen Gunther was socked with a $200 fee for early termination. When the family balked at the charge, a phone rep threatened to put the dead woman’s name on a bad-credit list if her family didn’t pay.

“For what, when she goes to buy a Jacuzzi?” a family friend said, adding that the rep then also threatened the grief-stricken daughter.

Frontier ultimately relented, but the experience convinced the assemblywoman to introduce a bill in the NY Legislature that would penalize telephone, cellphone, TV, Internet and other companies that charge contract-cancellation fees for people who die. The bill would impose a $1,000 civil penalty for any company that violates the law.

Frontier issued a statement Wednesday saying the termination fee was a “mistake,” but this happens more often than you’d think.

In 2008 Sprint tried to get a customer named Tracey Stewart to keep paying her dead father’s cell phone bill. Sprint is not completely heartless: they offered to cut the monthly rate to $10 until the contract expired months later, but this, too, turned out to be a “mistake.”

in 2012, a woman’s mother-in-law had a prepaid Verizon cell phone account when she died with a credit balance of $250. After speaking with numerous people about the account, Verizon was only willing to “sell” the woman service to use up the balance, and unwilling to issue a refund of the money.

In 2013, Peter Fitchett, a Brit whose 14-year-old son committed suicide, tried to cancel the teenager’s BlackBerry mobile. The phone provider, Orange, refused, and instead advised him to sell his teenage son’s phone to pay the cancellation fee.

In 2014 an Englishwoman was threatened with bailiffs by T-Mobile and ordered to pay a cancellation fee after her husband died from cancer. But despite visiting the T-Mobile store three times and even showing the mobile phone giant an urn full of ashes, a death certificate, and funeral bills, it still refused to end the contract.

In August of last year, a woman from Leicester, England, claimed that EE (a British telecommunications company that offers the EE, Orange and T-Mobile brands to over 27 million customers) tried to charge her £500 to cancel her dead mothers’ mobile phone contract. Again, the service provider claimed this was a mistake, but only after the customer took her beef to the social media to share her experience, went viral, was retweeted over 5,000 times, and attracted hundreds of angry comments.

But the most egregious example of such abuse took place in 2006, when a Malaysian man disconnected his late father’s phone line, settled the 84-ringgit (US $23) bill, and was later presented with a US $218 trillion phone bill and was ordered to pay up within 10 days or face prosecution.
These are not the only examples of the victimization of bereaved families by corporations.

So passing legislation in New York and levying penalties doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all. A large variety of companies make it difficult or even refuse to cancel contracts after someone has died. Even though in the end they usually say their policies are more humane and their dunning efforts are a mistake, you can’t blame these companies for trying to monetize dead people. There are a lot of dead folks out there.

In 50,000 years of human history, more than 100 billion human beings have been born. There are fewer than 6.4 billion people alive today. There are therefore about 15 dead, probably more, for every living person on earth.

That’s a lot of potential money.



Groove of the Day

Listen to the Reckless Ones performing “Dead & Gone”


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75° and Clear


1 Response to “death, taxes—and the phone bill”

  1. 1 Dave
    January 28, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    When my father passed away, i was harassed by an ambulance service for payment they alleged wasn’t received from Medicare. After telling these folks he didn’t live with me, and receiving several rounds of calls and various threats, one demanded an address where they could reach my father.

    I gave him the cemetery’s street address and the designation number of Dad’s mausoleum. Never heard from them again.

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