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Verizon Charged Marine's Widow an Early Termination Fee 489

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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  • by BlueKitties ( 1541613 ) <> on Sunday June 27, 2010 @04:52PM (#32710868)
    I purchased a Motoroal Droid when it came out last year. Shortly after mentioning my purchase, I got a number of warnings about their billing department. Concerned, and also pissed at Verizon, I decided to return it for a full refund (it was well within two days of buying.) Shorty after, I got a huge termination fee, coupled with data charges in the megabytes (I literally never even used it with any 3G service.) and activation fees, even though it was clearly stated I wasn't supposed to be charged. It took upwards of four calls before the charges were removed from my account. Needless to say, I'm glad I did it, especially after seeing more bologna like this. Maybe one day they will realize that for each angry customer like me who cancels, they lose far more than the $350 termination fee.
  • by jcookeman ( 843136 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @04:57PM (#32710902)
    I disagree. These absurd "policies" are pushed from the top down. It's called "maximum return for shareholders." The moment companies took this philosophy, it was all downhill sense. Big, evil corporations are only concerned with maximum return, and they drive these principles within. It's just a teeny tiny example of the erosion within US corporations and finance. It's just a simple indication of why the "global crisis" happened. Pure greed.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:01PM (#32710928)

    I don't understand the pathological fixation americans have with war widows and orphans. If they are married and have common property there's no reason she is exempt from the fee, even if he signed the contract. If it wasn't the case she is obligued to legally pay the money I'm sure the correct course of action would be simply to ignore it.

    I don't know how it works in the US so please correct me if I'm mistaken but as far as I know she will get a widow pension for life. It's not that she can't pay $350 dollars and THAT'S precisely the point of insurance (which I'd like to believe the armed forces provide), looks more to me like she wants to profit from her war widow status.

    What if the husband had died from suicide or an accident? War widow != exempt from obligations.

  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:09PM (#32711008) Homepage Journal

    Like Louis C.K said in his "Being Broke" monologue about the rich guys listening to it: "Well, yeah, you are financially irresponsible and you have to pay the price, I don't frankly... see why you are angry about it. The bank has the right to accrue a fee, clearly..."

  • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:13PM (#32711044)

    >unilateral contract change, effectively a contract of adhesion

    A customer cannot unilaterally change the contract with Verizon.

    What gives Verizon the right to play Calvinball with contract law?


  • by Renraku ( 518261 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:17PM (#32711066) Homepage

    The Early Termination fee is two things. One, it's a way for the company to recoup their costs of you running off with a smart phone that retails for $500+. Two, it's a way for them to ensure that none of their sheep go running off to other pastures as soon as they look a little greener. They've pretty much figured out that two years is the optimal length for a contract. Long enough to where you'll have their income coming in for a while and can make plans around that, but short enough to where you'll splurge for the most expensive phone every two years (with new two year contract, of course!) because you've had two years to save up for it.

    I think a reboot of the cell phone industry really needs to happen here in the United States. I can go to Walmart right now and buy a prepaid phone for $20 or so with lots of features. Or I can go buy the same one at a cell phone store that's linked ONLY to one provider and costs $100. Free with two year plan, though..

  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:20PM (#32711102) Journal
    She has cost the phone company a certain amount for the phone they fronted her. This has no remaining value for them.

    Does she also get away without paying her credit card bills? Perhaps she bought something for her husband. Will Visa refund that one since she no longer needs it?
  • by yyxx ( 1812612 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:24PM (#32711120)

    I feel sorry for her loss. However, I'm a bit unclear about the reasoning behind this. For which fees, financial obligations, and loans is it unpatriotic to ask for repayment?

    Waiving such fees is a nice thing to do; it expresses gratitude for the sacrifices that our military makes.

    However, I start feeling uncomfortable when members of the military start talking about it as if it were an entitlement or obligation.

  • by ThreeGigs ( 239452 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:26PM (#32711134)

    But the person involved in this case _didn't_ die. She's alive and well. She wants to move because her husband died. Her husband didn't have a Verizon contract, she did.

    Oddly, when I moved overseas, I was able to cancel my contract with no fee because VZW didn't provide service where I was going. Had they provided service, I would have had to pay. I expected to pay though, and when the rep told me I didn't I was pleasantly surprised. Granted, I believe the $350 in her case was the subsidized cost of her phone, so VZW might be losing money here, depending on how long she had the contract/phone. My cheapie had been long since paid off, and I only had a few months remaining.

  • by the_raptor ( 652941 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:26PM (#32711140)

    No, the OP's point was aside from the PR damage why should being a war widow get you out of a contract for free? The ability to break contracts due to "exceptional circumstances" should be enshrined in law*, and not just happen due to the court of public opinion. Because we all know if Verizon couldn't provide the service for some reason or decided the customer wasn't worth the fee they would drop them like a rock and the customer would have no legal recourse.

    * Also it should be illegal to only offer "free phone on a million year contract" deals.

  • by careysb ( 566113 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:33PM (#32711208)
    "Re-payment"? We're talking about future obligation here, not repayment of a loan. All contracts pertaining to future obligations should be canceled upon death, military or not.
  • Re:Simple really... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by religious freak ( 1005821 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:37PM (#32711236)
    I made the unfortunate choice to be a residential property manager (in the USA). There are a number of provisions for protection of our troops for rentals. Military personnel can terminate leases when they're called up for duty, they are legally protected against being discriminated against for their military service, there are special provisions for eviction if someone is actively serving, and I believe there are also special protections on foreclosures and collections when they own their own home.

    This is as it should be, in my strong opinion. Contracts are contracts, but the law supercedes contractual terms. Law exists to protect the rights of citizens, and military service personnel are certainly very worthy of this type of protection. If there is not legal protection for something like a cell phone service contract, there should be. And Verizon should be shamed for this asinine handling of the situation. Not only was he actively serving and quite busy... but he fucking died for Christ's sake. Assholes
  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:53PM (#32711382)

    Sometimes, due to the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act: []

  • by aaandre ( 526056 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @06:04PM (#32711466)

    That is correct. The thing is, this behavior is encoded in a corporation's DNA. Corporations only understand money. They are organisms designed to extract money from their environment and give it to their owners. That's it.

    Any expectation for a corporation to have a "moral code" comparable to human morals is unrealistic and naive.

    Yes, by law, corporations are "persons."

    Invincible, inhuman "persons," with no morals, no feelings, no compassion, programmed to extract money at any cost.

    Sometimes I wonder if corporations can be viewed as parasitic life using humans to create suffering and transform it into an abstraction (the idea of value represented by the agreement of money).

    The tendency to convert all natural resources, human lives and creativity into abstract numbers stored in computers leads humanity towards a future where we will have only money left on a toxic dead planet.

  • by Rallion ( 711805 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @06:04PM (#32711470) Journal

    So how long after a spouse dies is the surviving spouse exempt from service fees for their own services?

    I feel sorry about her loss, and I believe that this isn't about the money. Also, I know that when a death is involved, most companies are going to make exceptions to rules. But the (tragic) death is only tangentially related here.

    The reason that she is canceling is NOT because her husband died. It is because she is moving. That part is a choice.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2010 @07:29PM (#32712016)

    I saw this on consumerist and fark, Yes Verizon is a soulless corperation, that's a fact.

    However you don't get out of your contract with Verizon for moving out of the coverage area. The fact that her husband is dead has nothing to do with it. The phone's not in her husband's name. That's the sympathy ploy.

    The only reason Verizon caved now is because oh-noes,media-attention.

    Front line customer service representatives do not have the authority to reverse or waive ETF charges. If they did, they would do it for every single stupid sob story. Employees who reverse the ETF get shown the door.

    Because the media was involved, it was obviously escalated to the office of the president, and they probably felt that the PR damage being caused by consumerist, fark and every other brainless news site is somehow the sentiment of the public.

    Far from it. If you read most of the comments on consumerist and fark you'll see that few are sympathetic about wanting out of the ETF.

    Believe it or not, people will fake dying to get out of an ETF.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2010 @08:39PM (#32712370)

    Verizon wanted to charge us for cancelling Dad's account when he died. Verizon told me I needed to "request" the fee be waived. Ok, fine...I ended up emailing Verizon and CC'ing the NY Times, Bloomberg and a dozen other news firms along with a dozen High profile folks in Congress who take interest in hese kinds of things to make my point. It wasn't long before I received an empathetic call from Verizon. Oh snap, is that humble pie on Verizon's face...are those crown feathers flying out of verizon's mouth. Shame on Verizon.

  • by tchdab1 ( 164848 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @09:19PM (#32712548) Homepage

    Giving your life for your country doesn't excuse your financial contractual responsibilities.

    Unless you're a corporation, then you can cancel your end at any time with no penalty.

    God, I love this country! :sarcasm,off //anger, that's still simmering.

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

    by Maximus633 ( 1316457 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @09:31PM (#32712590)
    Thank you for the hard work and looking into this. Your post was very well written.

    For the person who was discussing that they make a lot of money or that they get a check for their life insurance. Sure that is a good and all but what about the family bills that per monthly have to be paid without the second income? Yes Verizon has their loss now that the poor guy isn't going to be using the phone monthly and they can't collect that fee. I am sorry for that but when someone dies in any respect you won't get your money monthly anymore any way so why should you "collect what you can" instead of being resonable and going we are sorry for your loss and you proved the person died so since they won't be a problem to our business or use any resources we can justify letting the ETF go. If I had a large enough business like Verizon does I would say just that "Send me a copy of the death certificate." Once I got that it would be "I am sorry for your loss. Should you need a new cell phone provider in an area we service please feel free to look us up we will be waiting for you to come back." But I have a lot of respect for the military and people in general and don't look for every possible way to screw them out of a dollar. Low level drone or not this person should have some compassion and if not him the company should have a policy in place to offer that. Guess I won't ever be rich.
  • by trogdor8667 ( 817114 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:19PM (#32712794)

    I know when my grandmother died, we had just helped her renew her AT&T contract a month before. I called AT&T from her phone and requested to cancel the service and asked how much the ETF would be. The girl on the phone acted surprised I'd even asked. She essentially told me that they would never charge an ETF for a line for someone that had passed away, mostly because they didn't want to cause any more hardship on the family. I'm sure thats crap and its just that they can't really hold a deceased person to a contract, but I was surprised how easy they made it to close the account. Its a shame Verizon's level 1 support couldn't have done the same thing.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 28, 2010 @12:06AM (#32713256)

    Heh, "A city at random" now equals NYC, the most expensive city in the country with salaries to match.

    Nice also to see that you dodged the question of take-home pay after tax.

    I would also argue that a garbage man does more to serve 'our country' than participate in a war of aggression. I think it's funny how 'serving your country' means being a soldier and not, say, being a cop.

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

    by ArcherB ( 796902 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @02:05AM (#32713776) Journal

    "It was some low paid drone in a call center who made the original decision."

    You're absolutely right. But what is happening to us as a species when these drones are so concerned with "following the rules" that they can't show some human compassion? I am really sick and tired of drones who can't/won't help, even on a basic, simple request, because the rulebook says 'no'.

    Having worked customer (dis)service, it generally comes down to:

    • A) Follow Rule Book and say "No." -- Keep job, even if low paying, in an economy that is still utterly tanked.
    • B) Fuck the Rule Book. -- Help some random stranger you really don't care about, who really doesn't care about you or the crap you put up with on a daily basis, which in turn places your job and livelihood at risk.

    I'm sorry, but given the options most customer service representatives can choose from, they will undoubtedly go with the "cover your ass" approach to insulate themselves being detrimentally effected by poor decision-making. Was it right to charge an ETF to a grieving widow? No. But in business contracts are king. You signed it, deal with it.

    Obviously, you have never worked in customer service or if you have, you didn't last very long because you're too stupid for the job.

    Let me show you how it's done:
    Option C: Escalation. Call your manager over and ask him/her what to do. If they say bill the widow, you say, "Although I'm not qualified to make that decision, I don't agree with the decision you have made here. Since the decision is yours, either you tell her yourself of tell me, i writing or email, exactly what it is you want me to tell this lady."

    I've done CS for years and I'm actually making a pretty good living at it. I'm high enough to make decisions and if I have any problems with something I'm told to do, I either take it the supervisor of whoever gave the order or make the manager do it his or her self.

    No job can make you do what you don't think is right.

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

    by Totenglocke ( 1291680 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @03:01AM (#32713988)

    Basic theory of national defence: fight your wars on someone else's soil. Otherwise you'll be fighting them on your soil.

    Except that these were countries that we had no quarrel with and no reason to go to war with. If we didn't attack them, they would not have attacked us. Those wars were fought over politicians personal agendas, just like the current one.

    Also, fun fact - did you know that without explicit Congressional approval, it is unconstitutional for the US to have a standing military in a time of peace? Kind of explains why ever since WWII the government has always had some bogus excuse for a perpetual war or "police action" of some sort.....

    Really? The Army pays for his mortgage while he's away?

    I guess you missed the part in that guys calculation where he mentioned monthly stipend for housing.

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

    by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <[ten.tenaprac] [ta] [cjs]> on Monday June 28, 2010 @08:18AM (#32715144) Homepage

    > But *this* woman's husband died serving our country

    Call it that if you like. He caught a pay check for doing the dirty work of the regime in Washington. If you want to cal that "Serving our country", go right ahead, I refuse to call it such. He did a despicable and honorless job, he may as well have died murdering babys for all I recognize it. I don't see why verizon or anyone should make any concessions for him or his family.


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

    by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <[ten.tenaprac] [ta] [cjs]> on Monday June 28, 2010 @08:24AM (#32715174) Homepage

    > Look, you may or may not have had respect for the last Administration. But this guy decided to leave his family, go over
    > there, and serve his country. He was fighting the Taliban, the same folks who harboured Osama, who err, let's see,
    > bombed the World Trade Centre? I'm Australian, but last time I checked, that incident killed quite a few of you folk.

    How about if I don't have respect for this administration, now. Or the one before the last one, or the one before that, or the one before that...

    The world trade center incident didn't kill quite a few, it killed a small drop in the bucket of our folks. Many many more Afghanis and Iraqis have died since the pointless wars started than we have lost. Personally, I don't give a shit about the whole "US" vs "Them" thing, dead is dead, and we have rivers of blood on our hands now thanks to assholes like this guy who can't say no to a paycheck and an order.

    There is no honor in being a military man, and its time we stop pretending that there is. The only honor in fighting is when casting off an occupying force. Otherwise, you are just a wanna be conqueror's bitch.


"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault