This month my phone bill was about twice what is normal so I took the time to look carefully at the billing detail. I noticed that there was this whole additional section added on to my phone bill called "Independent Operator Services," something for which I was being billed $12.95/month. Just a small enough fee that in a normal month it would go unnoticed (which I'm sure is the plan), but for some reason this month I was billed for August AND September, and that's close to $25, so I noticed.
I called my phone company, Frontier, and asked what this charge was. They said that there are lots of "Independent Operator Services", like if you're in the hospital and rent a phone, you can have that charge put on your regular phone bill. I asked her who "Personal Voice Inc." was and she had no idea. To remove these charges I would have to speak directly to them.
The contact number that was on the bill was for Integretel, the company that does the billing for Personal Voice. I called that number, got a recording, verified my phone number and without ever talking to a human, my call was forwarded to Personal Voice. A nice, if tired sounding, man answered the phone. He said that I had signed up to receive a personal voicemail service. I said no I hadn't, he said yes I had.
I had no idea what this service was. He explained that it was a voice mailbox with a phone number. I give my friends the number and they can call there and leave me messages and I can call there to pick them up. I asked why I would need a service like that since I have an answering maching on my land line and voice mail on my cell? I also told him that it sounded like the type of service only drug dealers or cheating husbands would need. He didn't laugh.
When I asked him how I was supposed to use this service since I never got the number to give my friends he said, "You never called to activate the service." Ah, yeah, right, because you never sent me one single thing in writing to authorize or verify this account. Pretty creepy that a company can open an account and begin billing you for a service you never knew about, ordered or authorized.
I am sure that I did not sign up for this service. I don't need this service, I did not authorize this service, I never signed anything. This must be a mistake. He told me that I signed up online and then gave me the email address that opened this account and it was indeed my email address. But still, I am certain that I did not purchase this service. I asked him if he could remove the charges from my phone bill and he said no, I would have to fill out some type of termination request form. I asked him why it couldn't be done online or over the phone since this is how the account was apparently opened and he said it just couldn't.
I asked what their website was so I could go and have a look at how they got my email. He told me that they didn't have a website. I said, "So you're telling me that I applied for and opened this account online, but that you don't have a website? How is that possible?" He sputtered. Promised he'd send me the termination forms, then asked me if I was happy with this call. Was he high?
This morning I had a million more questions so called Frontier again. I asked if they could block third party billing from ever happening on my account without my specific authorization and they did that at no charge to me.
Then I went online and started researching Personal Voice + Integretel and learned that this is not their first scam, that they have done similar things before and in the state of Florida they were sued by the Federal Trade Commission seeking restitution in the millions for defrauded "customers" just like me. I was intrigued so I called Personal Voice back and this time spoke to a woman named Camilla.
I asked her if she had ever googled Personal Voice + Integretel and she said no. I suggested that she do this. Then I told her that this company was involved in fraudulent and illegal activities and had been sued by the FTC. Silence. But then what could she say since they probably tape her calls. I asked again if they would please remove these fraudulant charges from my bill and she told me that my account had already been closed. Really? Without the "account termination" form I was told I needed? But there are still these charges on my phone bill. She said I would have to fill out some type of reimbursement form. More forms, right?
Then I got to thinking that my phone company must get some type of percentage from this third party billing, there must by a cut for them. I called Frontier back again and asked them what their cut was (yes, I'm angry). The customer service rep assured me that there was no "cut" for them. This can't be true. The cost of ink, postage, other overhead. Not to mention that this third party billing was completely integrated right into my phone bill, which took man-hours (i.e. $$$). Tell me they don't have some agreement or contract. Puh-leeze, they must think we're all idiots. I told them that their doing any business with this company, even allowing the Personal Voice name to appear on their bills, reflected badly on them.
Now everyone thinks I'm nuts, but you know what? I'm not about to pay a penny for a service I never signed up for and never authorized. I have $25.90 currently outstanding on my phone bill and $12.95 that I accidentally paid already. I will not be paying another penny to Personal Voice since it is obvious they harvested my emaiil and billing info fraudulently. There is a chance that this will damage my pristine credit rating, in which case I will be suing them. As soon as I'm done here I'm contacting the BBB and our state's Attorney General with this story.
Dansville, New York