Verizon to pay for 'mystery' data fees

People walk by a Verizon store in New York City.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

BILL RADKE: Attention Verizon customers: If you complained about strange fees for data use on your cell phone bill, the company can hear you now. Verizon announced this morning it owes millions of customers a refund. Marketplace's Eve Troeh is here to tell us why. Good morning.

EVE TROEH: Good morning.

RADKE: Verizon admits it was overcharging customers. What for?

TROEH: About two years ago Verizon customers started to complain about "mystery" fees on their bills. A few dollars here, a few dollars there. These were data charges, but the people doing the complaining didn't have data plans. They weren't set up to search the Internet or check e-mail on their phones. So, they shouldn't have had to pay those charges. But Verizon refused to take them off the bill. The Federal Communication Commission started looking into it last year. Now Verizon says: Oh yeah, we messed up.

RADKE: Messed up -- What happened?

TROEH: Well they says software that was built into people's phones automatically accessed the Internet when they touched this one button. And that triggered the charges. Maybe someone got online even though they didn't have a data plan, and the phone let them watch a video or something. And they got charged. But people who closed the program right away, say oh oops -- they also got charged. Verizon says: That wasn't supposed to happen. It won't happen anymore. And we're going to give you your money back.

RADKE: And how much money is that?

TROEH: Quite a bit. Verizon expects to give back up to $90 million -- that's divided between 15 million customers. Most of the refunds are just in the $2-6 range, but the FCC is still looking into this. They are looking at how wireless companies are getting a lot more money from going online and watching it more closely.

RADKE: That's Marketplace's Eve Troeh. Eve, thank you.

TROEH: Thanks.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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