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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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  • Simple really... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by unts ( 754160 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @04:50PM (#32710854) Homepage Journal
    Why would a corporation care about a grieving widow, unless there was some sort of bad publicity to arise out of... oh dear.
    • by papasui ( 567265 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @04:55PM (#32710894) Homepage
      On the other hand just because her husband dies doesn't mean the world stops. I'm sure she received a life insurance check to cover these type of expenses.
      • by unts ( 754160 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @04:58PM (#32710910) Homepage Journal
        This is true, but Verizon could operate with a certain sense of... decorum. Plus, I doubt they lose that much money in early termination due to deceased individuals.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 )

          This is actually very courteous by corporate (and especially telecom) standards.

          If you check their contract they probably have the right to repossess your corpse's organs to cover early termination fees in case of your death.*

          *Only half kidding.

      • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:05PM (#32710970)
        Cost of lost business to Verizon due to bad publicity > Profit to be made from ETF
      • 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: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 Tisha_AH ( 600987 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @08:19PM (#32712280) Journal

      I had my sister on my T-Mobile account and she had purchased a new Android phone through the T-Mobile store. She died last year and it took me a few months to get around to calling T-Mobile to terminate the contract on her phone.

      The T-Mobile customer service representative was very understanding and sympathetic and waived any disconnect penalties or outstanding balance on the phone purchase. She had even offered to see if she could backdate the service termination a few months. I told her that was not necessary as it was my own reticence to close the account (you know, the finality of death and wrapping up the details of someone's life).

      Over the years little experiences like that with T-Mobile have made me a very loyal customer. It seems that someone still remembers how to treat their customers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by CODiNE ( 27417 )

        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 charg

    • by Totenglocke ( 1291680 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @12:25AM (#32713350)

      Why would a corporation care about a grieving widow, unless there was some sort of bad publicity to arise out of... oh dear.

      And why does the fact that her husband died mean that she shouldn't have to pay for her cellphone bill? I'd understand if it was HIS phone that she was deactivating (they aren't allowed to charge an ETF for cancelling the service of someone who's dead), but it was HER phone she was cancelling because she chose to move to a place where she wouldn't get service.

      Her husband dying is completely irrelevant to the issue with Verizon charging her an ETF as was stated in her contract. The issue here is a woman decided of her own volition to move to a place where she wouldn't get service with Verizon and as such, she canceled her contract early. Instead of paying the ETF as she should, she uses a sob story about how her husband died (which had no impact on the phone bill, since we're only talking about canceling HER phone) and as such, she shouldn't be expected to pay her bills and fulfill her legal obligations.

      I accidentally broke my phone and decided to change carriers when I got a new one - I paid the ETF without complaint. Paying an ETF on a broken phone is much more ridiculous than paying an ETF because you decide to move where you know you won't get service.

      I know, I'll get modded down because people want to say "But her husband died!" - yes, he did, and that sucks for her big time. I'd hate to have something like that happen to me. However, it doesn't change the fact that she still has to pay her bills and uphold her end of the contract.

  • by BlueKitties ( 1541613 ) <bluekitties616@gmail.com> 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 PPalmgren ( 1009823 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @04:53PM (#32710874)

    This is why its bad to give zero authority to the peons at the bottom of your organization. In an effort to restrict decisions to higher-ups and make low-level decisions 95% predictable, you get bit in the ass with bad PR that can cost millions in damages, only because the first two or three people closest to the customer aren't allowed to make braindead obvious decisions.

    You can almost always tell a corporate culture by calling their customer support.

  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @04:54PM (#32710886) Journal
    Talk about playing the sympathy card.

    Now, I'm sure Verizon should have been more flexible here, but not because she was a widow. Because the early termination fee is unfair in this circumstance. Do others get to be treated unfairly because they haven't had a bereavement?
    • by copponex ( 13876 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:14PM (#32711048) Homepage

      Yeah man, this is America. Pay up.

      No, no, I don't care if your husband just died defending my freedom, and the loss of his income changed your lifestyle. Hell, I don't care if you're homeless and struggling to make ends meet. I don't give a shit if the taxes you or your parents paid in 10 years ago helped fund the infrastructure that enabled me to make this money in the first place.

      This is America. I am a corporation with infinite rights. You're just a speck on my quarterly report.

      Pay up.

      • 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?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by zippthorne ( 748122 )

          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!)

        • by copponex ( 13876 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:34PM (#32711214) Homepage

          First of all, she shouldn't need a fucking dime. Why are we paying $300,000 for a Blackwater mercenary and paying every real soldier a tenth of that? Why aren't we providing end of life payouts to widowed military wives? If we can't do that for people who have literally died for the country, what chance does anyone have? This is like when McCain fought education benefits for veterans. It's appalling, regardless of what I think about the true purpose of the war.

          We have literally got to the point in this country where even the immediate families of dead soldiers are treated like shit if they haven't got money. Visa and Verizon are raking in record profits, and the could afford to forgive debts to dead soldiers if they wanted to. But it's far more important to bonus their board of directors for continuing to shit on the population at large.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by SETIGuy ( 33768 )

            First of all, she shouldn't need a fucking dime. Why are we paying $300,000 for a Blackwater mercenary and paying every real soldier a tenth of that? Why aren't we providing end of life payouts to widowed military wives? If we can't do that for people who have literally died for the country, what chance does anyone have? This is like when McCain fought education benefits for veterans. It's appalling, regardless of what I think about the true purpose of the war.

            Yes, but why should we expect Verizon to be responsible for providing benefits to veterans if we can't get our own fucking government to do the right thing? You think that Verizon should somehow grow the conscience that the Senate doesn't have?

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Nikkos ( 544004 )
            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 fuck
          • 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]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by the_raptor ( 652941 )

        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

      • 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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          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 o

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sjames ( 1099 )

      Yes, verizon should be more reasonable in general, especially when the contract is being cancelled because they provide no coverage where it's needed.

      The fact that they would be such bastards even to the widow of a veteran just demonstrates the extent of their inhumanity.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by trogdor8667 ( 817114 )

      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 p

  • by techmuse ( 160085 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @04:54PM (#32710888)

    Death is a form of early termination. Doesn't death let you out of any contracts you are in by law?

  • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:02PM (#32710944)

    "She should have predicted this when she signed up for Verizon"


  • 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 OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:22PM (#32711108)

      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.

      Someone made an observation last week that I thought was especially telling (wish I could credit the source). I'm basically paraphrasing here ..

      I get through the 2 year contract which pays for the phone. So how come my rates don't go down in the third year if I keep the same phone?

  • I'm with Verizon (Score:4, Insightful)

    by O('_')O_Bush ( 1162487 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:08PM (#32710996)
    The issue isn't that the guy died and the widow wanted to cancel the contract. If that were so, I'd totally be with her.

    It's that she decided to up and move and canceled the contract because where she decided to move didn't have service. That, is her fault only.
  • 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..

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sqrt(2) ( 786011 )

      Can I get a smart phone (iPhone or an Android phone) that's prepaid in the US? I don't think that's currently possible. There's a lot about our cellphone industry that needs to change, from text message rates and the absurd markup on wireless data plans, to predatory contracts and schemes to hide their price gouging on handsets. Unfortunately, they have the money, which means we'll never get sane regulation of this industry which has proven that it is incapable of acting fairly and honestly. Just another ex

  • 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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by careysb ( 566113 )
      "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.
  • by glwtta ( 532858 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @05:56PM (#32711406) Homepage
    So, should everyone whose spouse dies be let out of such contract, or only the spouses of Marines?

    Maybe only those who died serving the public - firefighters, police, military, etc? What about private "military contractors"? They kinda do the same thing (you know, defend Freedom, Justice, and the American Way), just for more money.

    Maybe only those who were married to someone who's nice?

    I'm fine with it either way, really, I just need to know what the rules are.
  • 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.

  • by genican1 ( 1150855 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @07:01PM (#32711858)
    I think the issue here is the fact that she's having to pay the fee even though she's now living in an area with no service. This has nothing to do with the fact that she is a widow, this is just asshattery on VZW's part. I know certain other carriers allow you to cancel under similar circumstances without paying the ETF (AT&T).
  • 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.

  • So ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by daveime ( 1253762 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @12:26AM (#32713354)

    She lost her husband, who was a marine, and probably served his country in some respect during one of their pointless overseas "conquests" (if you can call soldiers dying and spending trillions of dollars for 10 years without achieving fuck all a "conquest"). Yes, very sad.

    But just because her husband died does not magically make her debts and responsibilities go away.

    How can you blame the service provider for sending a demand letter at a possibly "stressful" time for her ? What should they do during the billing cycle ? Hold every damn bill until they've verified no immediate relative has recently died ?

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."