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Verizon Charged Marine's Widow an Early Termination Fee 489

Posted by samzenpus
from the literal-charges dept.
In a decision that was reversed as soon as someone with half a brain in their PR department learned about it, Verizon charged a widow a $350 early termination fee. After the death of her marine husband, Michaela Brummund decided to move back to her home town to be with her family. Verizon doesn't offer any coverage in the small town so Michaela tried to cancel her contract, only to be hit with an early termination fee. From the article: "'I called them to cancel. I told them the situation with my husband. I even said I would provide a death certificate,' Michaela said."
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Verizon Charged Marine's Widow an Early Termination Fee

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  • Re:Early termination (Score:5, Informative)

    by butlerm (3112) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @04:59PM (#32710916)

    Doesn't death let you out of any contracts you are in by law?

    Yes, but that doesn't mean your estate is off the hook. If you have any assets in your name when you die, those assets must be applied to any outstanding debts. That is what probate is all about. The reminder goes to your heirs.

  • Re:Early termination (Score:5, Informative)

    by 91degrees (207121) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:03PM (#32710950) Journal
    Except she (the contractee) didn't die. Her husband did.
  • by butlerm (3112) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:03PM (#32710952)

    Early termination fees are simply part of the way service providers effectively finance equipment purchases at above market prices and at exorbitant rates of interest, while hiding that fact from the user as much as possible.

  • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:05PM (#32710966)

    Except in this case Verizon sporadically decided to change the commitment [nytimes.com], after the contract was already in place, in other words, the ETF fee used to not be charged under such circumstances but they revised the contract through (informal) policy change:

    "Effective April the 26th, 2010 Early Termination Fees are no longer waived if a consumer moves out of our digital calling area coverage map. This means for customers whom have lost jobs and must relocate, people with immigration status and are liable to leave, or anyone who may otherwise relocate, is now subject to the ETF of $175 or $350, depending on device.

    Verizon's reply: "This was an old policy that needed updating, a leftover from before our network covered over 300 million out of the 305 million or so people in the U.S. "There are two issues here. First, very few customers actually move out of a service area today. Second, if a customer buys a device from us at a deep discount in return for a two-year contract, and then decides to cancel service because he or she moves outside of that coverage area (likely out of the country, given the breadth of our coverage area), then the ETF helps us recoup our losses associated with the customer's early cancellation. This policy change was made in April and applies to very few people. We also have other ways of handling exceptions such as military -- Verizon Wireless waives the ETF for deployed military personnel."

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:17PM (#32711076) Homepage Journal

    Those with no decision power CAN escalate it up the food chain to someone that does.

  • Re:Simple really... (Score:4, Informative)

    by GumphMaster (772693) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:21PM (#32711104)
    I think you will find that life insurance policies rarely cover death from "war or war-like activities", which is why the State typically has to support those injured in these activities.
  • Re:I'm with Verizon (Score:3, Informative)

    by carlzum (832868) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:27PM (#32711144)
    When I moved out of my DSL provider's service area (Speakeasy), I didn't have to pay the early termination fee. It wasn't my fault they were unable to provide the service.
  • by zippthorne (748122) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:33PM (#32711200) Journal

    There shouldn't be an ETF. If you finance your phone through the phone company, that should be a separate line-item on your bill, and you should only have to pay off the balance to get out of the contract.

    Phone companies are dipping into the paypal level of scumminess here: they're playing the "unregulated bank" game so they can charge usury interest (and continue to charge premiums even *after* the balance is 100% paid off!)

  • Re:Simple really... (Score:2, Informative)

    by silentsteel (1116795) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:45PM (#32711302)
    It is not offered. It is a requirement, at least it was when I was in the Corps.
  • by purpleraison (1042004) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @06:05PM (#32711476) Homepage Journal

    As a general rule, most contracts have a military clause that extends to the spouse/family of the military member. The reason this clause exists is to protect them should they be required to move without notice, relocate to another area, or lose their spouse. This applies, to homes, cars, and many other things.

    It's a good policy, and Verizon screwed up by choosing to ignore it. If Verizon stuck to their guns, she could easily have gone to family advocacy department in the USMC and they would have helped correct Verizon.

    If nothing else, it highlights how we little people get treated by corporations in America every day.

  • Re:Simple really... (Score:4, Informative)

    by cawpin (875453) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @06:17PM (#32711556)
    Well, it doesn't mean the world stops but moving to a place where they don't offer coverage, by itself, lets you out of the contract with no ETF.
  • by tepples (727027) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Sunday June 27, 2010 @06:48PM (#32711762) Homepage Journal

    I believe in contracts. If you didn't want the contract, don't sign it.

    Do you also believe in antitrust law and public utility regulation? Some goods and services considered essential for the expected standard of living in the United States are available only from monopolies[1] and cartels that impose questionably-conscionable contracts of adhesion on their customers. So I don't know how one would live in the United States without signing such a contract, except perhaps by joining the Amish.

  • Re:Simple really... (Score:3, Informative)

    by geekboy642 (799087) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @06:56PM (#32711824) Journal

    You're allowed to choose how much coverage you get. As of a few years ago, it went from a minimum of roughly 250k up to somewhere near a million, with correspondingly expensive premiums.

  • Re:Simple really... (Score:5, Informative)

    by David Jao (2759) <djao@dominia.org> on Sunday June 27, 2010 @07:04PM (#32711872) Homepage

    That being said, I believe in contracts. If you didn't want the contract, don't sign it.

    A big part of the problem is that Verizon is allowed to unilaterally change the terms of the contract, but the consumer is not. In fact, it was such a change to the contract that led to this incident:

    "Effective April the 26th, 2010 Early Termination Fees are no longer waived if a consumer moves out of our digital calling area coverage map. This means for customers whom have lost jobs and must relocate, people with immigration status and are liable to leave, or anyone who may otherwise relocate, is now subject to the ETF of $175 or $350, depending on device. " Source [nytimes.com]

    Interestingly, there is an official exception for deployed military personnel, but (apparently) not for soldiers killed in action.

    Of course, one could argue "don't sign a contract that allows Verizon to change the terms" but every consumer contract these days contains such a clause, so what do you do?

  • Re:Simple really... (Score:4, Informative)

    by BoberFett (127537) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @07:38PM (#32712070)

    The contract was signed by the woman, not her husband. Not that I'm drawing judgment one way or the other, just saying that the person under contract did not die.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2010 @08:15PM (#32712258)

    With T-mobile they do go down.

  • Re:Simple really... (Score:5, Informative)

    by pcolaman (1208838) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @08:26PM (#32712328)

    Let's say he's an E-2. According to the 2010 Military Pay Table located here [dfas.mil] he'd be making 1622.10 a month before the bonuses. His BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) as an E-2 with a dependent is 619.50. Add to that his family separation allowance of $250 (since I assume he was away from his wife). According to the pay table, his hazard pay (assuming he wasn't on an air crew or in a submarine or something like that) is $150. The BAQ allowance would vary based on where he lives assuming his wife lived off base when he deployed. But that would essentially just cover housing costs. So he makes a grand total of approximately 2641.6 a month to defend our country, assuming he's an E-2 with typical years in service for an E-2. That sounds like a lot, but then let's look at the parent's claim that he makes less than a typical garbage man in a large city. Searched at random for a large city's sanitation work site, found this [nyc.gov] for New York. They start off making 31,200 a year. Assuming they get paid bi-monthly, that's 1300.00 every paycheck, or 2600 a month, right off the bat, and can increase to as much as slightly over 67,000. So right off the bat, a garbage man makes, without accounting for any benefits, just slightly less than an E-2 who is married, in a combat zone, and lives on base. As the increases for the sanitation workers is periodic, and judging the fact that within 5.5 years they are making near or at their cap (a cap that enlisted won't reach for some time even with benefits), I'd say that his claim is valid (and rather sad).

  • by Nikkos (544004) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @08:51PM (#32712428) Homepage
    The fact that you ask these questions means you're totally clueless. Check and see what the total support and training cost for a US soldier is, add his wage, and then compare to a Blackwater merc. (hint: Cost of deploying one U.S. soldier for one year in Iraq - $390,000 (CBO))

    Then check the SLGI, the life insurance plan for the military. You are told when you enlist to check the box, you're told before you deploy to check the box, you're told repeatedly throughout your military career to "check the fucking box" which means that if you checked the box and you die, you get up to $400,000 for your family as well as all the other benefits for your kids and wife (which are quite a bit) Veterans benefits are fucking amazing already, adding more is just vote-buying by politicians

    As far as Verizon goes, to cancel any account because of the death of the account-holder requires a death certificate. Just like the car loan, the mortgage, etc, etc. What's the big deal?
  • Re:Simple really... (Score:2, Informative)

    by tophermeyer (1573841) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:16PM (#32712776)
    I'm probably going to burn some mod points with this, but I just want to go on record saying that I think you are a huge piece of shit.
  • Re:Simple really... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Forge (2456) <kevinforgeNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:29PM (#32712836) Homepage Journal

    ... I doubt they lose that much money in early termination due to deceased individuals.

    For the record they do loose that much money. If you got a top end phone for "free" with your contract, it cost the phone company the full wholesale price.

  • by couchslug (175151) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:38PM (#32712886)

    "Why aren't we providing end of life payouts to widowed military wives?"

    Widows and widowers are eligible (chicks get killed too):

    http://usmilitary.about.com/library/milinfo/casualty/blgratuity.htm [about.com]

    There is also SGLI, which all but utter idiots retain (it's opt-out).

    http://www.insurance.va.gov/sglisite/sgli/sgli.htm [va.gov]

    Easier to read fact sheet:

    http://www.navymutual.org/ServicemembersGroupLifeInsuranceSGLI.asp [navymutual.org]

  • by couchslug (175151) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:52PM (#32712936)

    It wouldn't apply in this case, but the military has the legal authority to order G.I.s not to patronize any "Off Limits" business, Reasons for that order are at military (usually Base Commander) discretion.

    Example:

    http://www.fortcampbellcourier.com/news/article_bffa90b2-2d53-11df-b2ce-001cc4c03286.html [fortcampbellcourier.com]

  • Re:Sigh. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Sanhedran (1803634) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:12PM (#32713002)
    Except the contract she signed allowed no ETFs if she moved into an area with no coverage, which was unilaterally amended by them. That's a significant enough change to have that contract dissolved.

    I also love that you think she's "milking her dead husband" by providing the set of circumstances that is putting her in said position. She's not exploiting it for personal benefit, as "milking" would imply. I feel sorry for whatever stooge with mod points rated your comment up.
  • by canajin56 (660655) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:14PM (#32713008)
    The important part isn't the death. The important part is that the contract she signed didn't have an ETF if she moved to an area without coverage. In April, Verizon announced they were reneging on their contracts and would no longer honor that clause. Their reason: "We have perfect coverage so not honoring our contract should not make any difference". This woman is moving to an area without coverage, which her signed contract says is allowed with no ETF. Verizon is refusing to honor the contract and sending collections agencies out for blood.
  • Re:Simple really... (Score:4, Informative)

    by LandGator (625199) <john...bartley@@@gmail...com> on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:36PM (#32713128) Homepage Journal

    E-3, Lance Corporal, according to insignia in picture. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Marine_Corps_rank_insignia#Enlisted [wikipedia.org]

    $83/mo more.

  • by Stu_28 (83254) on Monday June 28, 2010 @12:49AM (#32713498)

    She probably lived in base housing. When he died she was required to move.

    No, you get 365 days after the service member's death until you have to vacate base housing (or lose your housing allowance if you live off base). It's not like they push you out the door after the funeral...

  • Re:Simple really... (Score:2, Informative)

    by ChrisDevine (1843442) on Monday June 28, 2010 @01:04AM (#32713568)
    TFA says he is a Lance Corporal, which would have given him an E-3 paygrade. Another article from a hometown newspaper says he enlisted in early 2007, which would have put him right around the 3 year mark.

    As an E-3 with over 2 years in service he would make $1813.20 a month. If he was over 3 years, he would make $1923.00 a month.

    Add $1,198.97 a month in allowances and he is making between $3,012.17 and $3,121.97 a month.
  • by FrankieBaby1986 (1035596) on Monday June 28, 2010 @03:19AM (#32714044)

    Your imagery here is certainly interesting and somewhat entertaining, but IMHO, the idea that a 'corporation' is necessarily and naturally devoid of humanity and moral code is absolutely bullshit.

    A society is composed of a collection of individuals who may or may not be working towards a common goal (typically they are, such as "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness"). This collection of individuals always has some composite set of morals, even if they are few and mild. The stronger the moral compass of individuals, the stronger the morals of the whole is likely to be.

    A corporation should be no different, and to claim otherwise is simply a cowardly way of shirking personal responsibility on the part of CEOs all the way down to janitors. The apparent greed of a corporation is not intrinsic to the corporation as an idea, but only exists because of the greed exhibited by the individuals it is comprised of.

  • by CODiNE (27417) on Monday June 28, 2010 @08:43AM (#32715292) Homepage

    Since we're sharing anecdotes, here's my T-Mobile experience.

    Had a 2 year contract but was planning to move out of the country. I talked with a rep at one of their stores and was told if they don't offer service in the new country I can cancel service without an early termination fee, also I need proof of address in the new country. No problem, the rep also offers to suspend service for up to 6 months while I make my initial move, get proof of address and come back for final paperwork. Sweet, so no charge while in the (obviously no service) country for 6 months, I fly back with proof of new address and I should be golden yes?

    Nope, when I get back I find out they reactivated my account soon after I left, I'm charged with 6 months of service and a $250 early termination charge. I politely explain to the new rep (different store) how I have all the paperwork with me today because of the conversation with the old rep who set everything up and explained exactly what I needed. It's obvious no calls were made over that time period and previously I'd never had a late payment. Why would I leave for 6 months and NOT suspend my account? The rep agreed it made sense, but "Can't do anything", finally the supervisor agreed to waive the early termination fee and give me some kind of "discount" but I still owe several hundred dollars.

    I was told if I went back to the original store... found the same rep, got them to admit fault, then THEY could waive the other fees. Yeah right, that was in another state and I couldn't remember exactly which rep anyways.

    So I head back to my new home, T-Mobile account closed with an outstanding balance. I refuse to pay a cent since they're bastards and now a credit collection agency is hounding my parents. Such fun.

    Knowing my dad, he'll probably pay the whole thing just to make them stop calling. I hate T-Mobile.

    There's my anecdote. They're really worthless aren't they?

  • Re:Simple really... (Score:3, Informative)

    by stewbacca (1033764) on Monday June 28, 2010 @09:15AM (#32715520)

    Sure that is a good and all but what about the family bills that per monthly have to be paid without the second income?

    From a VA fact sheet, dated 2004, the VA pays the surviving spouse $967 month plus $241 per each child until that person turns 57 or remarries. It's probably more than that now.

    http://dva.state.wi.us/Webforms/Data_Factsheets/survivor_benefits.pdf [state.wi.us]

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