Michael Pratt couldn’t believe his eyes when he opened his Verizon bill shortly after arriving home from a two-week long family vacation in Aruba last October.
The monthly charges, which typically hovered around $400 for his home and business phones, soared to more than $2,690. Inspecting page three of the bill, the Gloucester County, N.J. grandfather found charges for a marathon phone call lasting 17 hours and 44 minutes.
"You can’t talk on the phone for 17 hours," said the 68-year-old laundromat owner from Elk Township, N.J.
Pratt said his daughter, who along with her two kids was on vacation with he and his wife, had mistakenly left her credit card and cell phone back in the States. She used his phone to call her bank and have a replacement card shipped to the Caribbean island.
He says she hung the Samsung Galaxy 4 smartphone right up, but when that phone call ended, the charges kept on coming.
"She borrowed my phone. She made one phone call and that’s when everything started," he said. "She finally got the cards, but when I got home, I got this horrendous bill," he said.
On Pratt’s bill, which he provided to NBC10.com, there were 36 charges tied to a toll-free number stretching from 3:38 p.m. on Saturday Oct. 26, 2013 until 9:22 a.m. the following day. Thirty-four of the charges were billed in 30-minute increments, all to the same number, each time stamped at either 22 minutes or 52 minutes past every hour. At $1.99 a minute, that one phone call totaled $2,073.58.
Figuring there was a mistake, Pratt says he called Verizon to dispute the charges. A case was created, but after four months of back-and-forth conversations about the issue, earlier this month a company representative said he was on the hook for the charges.
"Basically the end comment was, 'Well, we can’t do nothing; it was your problem; you used the phone.' Well I didn’t use it for 17 hours," he said.
A call to the 800 number listed on the bill is met with an automated system for mobile phone carrier Sprint. Pratt believes someone else handled the international call and billed Verizon for the roaming, who in turn billed him.
"They talked to the roaming carrier and said I used the phone. Well, I didn’t use the phone. My daughter used it one time and once the connection broke, the roaming charges should have stopped," he said.
Pratt’s bill shows he also made nearly three dozen other phone calls to the U.S. from Aruba on his phone without experiencing the same issue.
NBC10.com reached out to Verizon about the issue. After several days of investigation, spokesman Sheldon Jones said late Tuesday that the company would be removing the charges, taxes and fees from Pratt’s bill.
"I think at the end of the day, it just looked like the calls were irregular and that led us to decide to refund the customer the charges," Jones said.
Asked whether a wireless phone call could stay connected continuously for more than 17 hours, Jones said it is unlikely, citing either the phone’s battery dying if it wasn’t plugged in, or the call timing out.
Verizon is still looking into what happened with the call. Jones said the company’s customer care team is investigating whether Pratt was the victim of some sort of scam, but could not elaborate as to what type it might be.
A spokesperson for Sprint, whose automated system a call to the 800 number listed on the bill is directed, said the carrier believes it may have been a scam as well.
Questioned why it took Pratt so long to get a resolution to his billing issue, Jones said it takes time to get bills and responses from their third-party roaming partners. He said the company does not disclose who those partners are.
"In a scenario when it’s roaming, it’s not uncommon for it to take a couple of months because we have to get the bills back from the roaming carrier," he said.
Jones said customers need to be vigilant at checking their bills and be persistent when fighting charges they believe to be wrong.