Thursday, April 9, 2009

Enhanced Services Billing, Residential Email LLC and AT&T

I was originally going to title this blog "you're sh**ting in my mouth and telling me it's a sundae" (thank you Mr. Show), but I wanted to ensure that Enhanced Services Billing Inc, Residential Email LLC and AT&T show up on Google searches. Before I go any further, I want to encourage all who read this to contact your phone service provider and ask them what the procedure is for "third party billing charges" blocking.

So what is this all about? Last week we received our monthly statement from AT&T. I always dread reading our statement because often there are rate increases of some sort. This bill did not disappoint in that department. We had a whopping increase of $14.95!

It was not actually a rate increase though. It was a charge from a company called Enhanced Services Billing for an email account from a company called Residential Email LLC. I called AT&T to question this charge and was told by the AT&T customer rep "Fernando" that it was not their problem. I would have to call the "third party" billing to dispute the charge.

So I called Enhanced Services Billing Inc. and was routed to Residential Email LLC where I talked to "Jennie". "Jennie" told me that perhaps someone in my household had set up the account. When I explained that this was not the case she changed her story and said that a person by the name of "Gary Stevens" had set up the account and mistakenly entered our phone number. She then asked me for my home address and email address so she could send an account cancellation notice.

I called AT&T back and got "Fernando" again (lucky me). I asked him how I should handle the third party charge since it had been a mistake on Residential Email LLC's part. Would AT&T send a new bill minus the amount or should we just deduct it?

I was informed that I would still be responsible for the charge. What?!!!

Yes that is what I was told by "Fernando" and at least three other AT&T representatives over the course of two days. The charges are the responsibility of the customer to dispute. And this gets even better.

Turns out Enhanced Services Billing Inc. (hereafter known as ESBI) has a long record of fraudulent billing, and Residential Email LLC is just one of the many "companies" that use ESBI to submit fraudulent charges. Topping this off is that AT&T knows all about this. Two of their agents that I spoke with confirmed that they regularly handled complaints about ESBI and Residential Email LLC, but they along with the other agents I spoke with recited the mantra "the FCC forces us to do this".

So can we the customers that pay these companies on a monthly basis block fraudulent businesses from charging us for bogus accounts and services? Depends on who you talk with.

"Yes Mr. Gilberts, you can block third party charges from appearing on your bill. But it can only be done by filling out forms which we will mail to you. Would you like us to mail you these forms?" This is what I heard from three different reps on April 2. "Yes", I replied, " by all means send me the forms".

The following day I called to see if there was a way to find out if there are any new charges on our account for the April billing cycle. The first rep, Eric, said he would put me on hold while he checked on this, then hung up me. The second rep (you would not believe me if I told you his name) I talked with seemed to be hosting a raucous party. As the cacophony raged in the background of his apartment, the AT&T rep told me " I'm not allowed to access your billing records until the 25th of April, but I can send you forms to fill out to block third party charges". Pretty interesting response since I did not mention the situation of the previous day. Maybe one of his guests were privy to my situation. Anyway, I told the fellow a request had already been made for the forms, but asked if he could verify that they had been mailed. He told me " No they have not, but they will be mailed out first thing on Monday, April 6 and I should receive them by Thursday.

I think you can see where this is going.

Here we are on Thursday. No forms in the mail. I call AT&T to inquire about the tardy documents. After getting the usual runaround I finally talk with "Walkell". She puts me on hold for about five minutes, than informs me that they might have been mailed yesterday ( April 8th). She confirms that I did request the forms on April 2nd. And no, I will not have "Third Party Blocking" until those forms are signed, mailed back, and processed, end of story!

Now unbeknownst to "Walkell" I had alerted other AT&T (and related companies) customers to my situation. Some of these folks called AT&T to inquire about this problem and were told that by simply making the call they now had third party blocking. Now why was I not given that same assurance? Perhaps, and I know this is pure speculation, but perhaps this most noblest of phone companies did not give me the same deal because they had already fed my account to the jackals. And perhaps, and again this is speculation, they have already allowed new charges to be added to our account. Blocking applied last week would have prevented charges from being added on April 6th, a month after the first charges were applied. That would have proven to be a sticky situation for them come May when our next statement arrives with an even larger charge.

Well, sorry for this long posting. I admit it is a bit of a rant to purge my anger, a catharses for a man who tends to be quiet and unassuming. But friends I have discussed this problem with have thanked me for alerting them and advised that I pass the word along so that others can protect themselves. It is not just a simple $14.95 problem. This can damage a person's credit rating. Bad enough in a stable economy, but under the current conditions this can mean a financial disaster.

The criminals that applied the charges were just doing what you expect criminals to do. They steal. But a company that should know better not only allowed this to happen, but also made the victim of the crime contact the perpetrators himself thereby opening himself for further damage. My email is now known to them, and there are possibly recordings of me saying "yes" to various prompts and questions (a favorite tele-marketer trick). I didn't know these companies were crooked until after I had looked them up on a Google search. Because surely AT&T would not put a loyal customer in danger, now would they?

It has been a long week of worry, and I don't imagine things are going to get any better given AT&T's behavior. Have any of you ever seen Terry Gilliam's movie Brazil?

And please go over your monthly phone statements with a fine toothed comb.


Morbideus said...

Whoa! That's sad... it reminds me of the Lily Tomlin skit: "We're the phone company. We don't care, because we don't have to."

I'd probably drop them. I tend to be kind of a hot-head when dealing with Co.s like that.

Steven Gilberts said...

Yes, Lily Tomlin's operator character's comment has been ringing in my ears since last week.

I've never encountered such terrible customer service in all my life. Ironically the individuals at the fraudulent company were much easier to talk to than at AT&T.

Be sure to check over you phone statements real good. The bogus companies hope that folks won't notice the charges. Fortunately our bill is small enough that the charge stood out like an oil slick on snow.

Lacey said...

"We don't have to. we're the phone company" is actually how it went. Love Lily.

Anyway, same thing happened here except it wasn't AT%T, it was our local phone company and the fraudulant charges were for "voicemail". Got the same run-around that you did. My phone company said that I could block the third party charges for a monthly fee. Yes, you read that right. I would have to pay them a monthly fee to ensure that I got no fraudulent third party billing. I know. There's a George Carlin routine in here somewhere. So blah blah blah I ended up sending a registered letter to phone company, copying in the NYS Attorney General, stating that I would NOT pay any third party billing added to my phone bill and that if the matter was not taken care of immediately, I would cancel my phone service. Voila. Charge disappeared, never to return. Yet. Knock wood.

Steven Gilberts said...

Our AT&T ordeal became such an exercise in frustration that we finally had to drop them . We signed up with Insight Cable and got the full bundle (telephone, internet and television). That in of itself has opened up a barrel of monkeys, but at least I get to watch The Daily Show and Ghost Hunters now. :-)

I'll eventually post a blog about our final phone company misadventures. I might write it as a story, maybe in the vein of a George Carlin meets H.P. Lovecraft. It was just that weird.

Honus X Heppablatte said...

Have you got a 27b stroke 6 ? I'm a bit of a stickler for paperwork!

Mia said...

I'm going through this right now! I just received my email statement showing the unauthorized charge from Enhanced Services Billing Inc, and I was given the same "California laws allow third party billing" BS from AT&T.

When I called Enhanced Services Billing Inc, right away they told me that the account was set up by a woman named Rowanda, and that they will issue me a credit/refund, but that it will show up in 2-3 billing cycles. The ESBI customer service reps anticipate these cancellation calls; it's an obvious scam.

Once this is resolved, I am canceling my account altogether. If AT&T will allow this type of security breech on my account, I will have nothing to do with them.

Steven Gilberts said...

Sorry to hear about that Mia. We're still getting junk mail for the fictitious character Enhanced Billing Services came up with.

The threat of legal action finally motivated AT&T to remove the illegal charges from our account. We subsequently dropped them and switched to the local cable affiliate.

Anonymous said...

Just had the same thing happen to us. AT&T voided the charges and blocked 3rd party billing on our account but we still had to contact each company to dispute the charges with them. The rip off asshats are
-Enhanced Services Billing Inc.
-the Billing Resource
-OAN Services Inc.

August E. Brunsman IV said...

They are still at it.

I got charged $9.25 by Residential Services, LLC on my AT&T bill. I called AT&T to ask what was up and they said that this was a separate company and they could do nothing about it. I thought to ask if I could have 3rd party billing turned off on my account. The operator said yes and was able to do it. If it's so easy to block 3rd party billing, why isn't that the default? Does AT&T not care about its customers?

I called the number of the service and waited on hold for about ten minutes before being sent to voicemail. I left a message but then called back at another number offered in the greeting (866.474.1256) and after about five minutes on hold spoke to an operator. I started off just by asking for an explanation of the service and how I got signed up for it. I never got an explanation of the service, but was eventually told that someone named "Lona" signed me up for the service. I don't know anyone named Lona. But before I even learned about Lona, the operator started off saying that the service had already been canceled and that I wouldn't be billed again. This was before I even asked her to cancel it. Creepy.

I also had to ask her three times about the $9.25 I'd already been billed and was I responsible for that amount? The first two times she just told me I wouldn't be billed again. Finally she said that a credit would be issued next month. We'll see.

Don said...

OCt 10th, 2009 as I opened my phone bill I noticed that the total amount do came to 73 dollars. I spent the past three months working it down to just under 50 dollars. It seems that I to was being charged for this email service plus taxes. Of which I shell never see the nearly 3 dollars of fees accompanying this bill... either-way frontier told me they could block the bill but I would need to call and cancel myself. So I did... and i finally get Jennie, that's right Jennie... and unless the have a super computer answering the phone Jennie is quite dense. Every time I answered a question I would hear a very low hummmm and quiet... Followed by Jennie saying I'm sorry I didn't quiet get that... did you say 328? NO 338! I'm sorry i didn't quite get that did u say 238? NO! Either way she told me someone in my house added it... I told her someone in the phone book added it please remove. So thank you Jason Gomazland whoever you are... though I think that's just a cover name. 3rd party blocking was free but now they have my name, my address, my email and my phone number. :-(

Corey Gibson said...

I just spent the last 30 min writing up a complaint for the Attorney General's office but after reading your situation I could have just copied and forwarded. Same MO The original charges were on my Sep bill. I contacted Enhanced Services Billing to have the service removed. I just got my Oct bill and they are still on it as well as a new charge from OAN Service. When I googled them it turns out both Enhanced and OAN share the same office space in San Antonio. I guess I must have kick me pinned to my a**. It would be nice if someone in a position of power felt an urge to deal with these types of scams.

Anonymous said...

I think, I am the new ESBI scam victim. Today I opened my at&t bill and there was a 14.95 unauthorized charge from ESBI. After reading all other customer complaints about ESBI, it is obvious that, this is a company scamming people since 1988 and at&t well is aware of their scam and don't give a rat A. about their customers. BYE BYE at&t

Anonymous said...

I looked at my ATT bill yesterday and found a charge from Enhanced Services Billing Inc for $14.95. My first reaction was "Who is ESBI?" My second reaction was "It's a good thing I looked at my bill." I hardly ever see it because it's set up to be paid automatically from my checking account. I called ESBI and was told it was for unlimited voice mail, whatever the heck that is. That's what I call an answering machine. I called ESBI and they asked if I wanted to cancel. I said yes, because I never ordered it in the first place. They said they cancelled it. I called ATT and talked with a very nice lady who very readily explained they would cancel the service and bill it back to ESBI. I told her I had already done that and she said that 9 times out of 10 ESBI says they'll remove it but don't. She was on my side saying that she wished these charges weren't allowed, but they are. With her taking care of it, I don't have to take any other action (other than the formal complaint I am filing with the FCC (888-225-5322).

Greg said...

I mysteriously had ESBI charges on my phone bill, but hadn't noticed until 7 months of charges had been collected. I called ESBI (Residential Email LLC) and the person told me they could only reimburse me 3 months of past charges. After complaining a bit more, they came back and said they could reimburse me for 6 months, but no more than that. Of course, I called At&T also to complain, but they said it was not their responsibility.

Unknown said...

I am an AT&T customer, and have fraudently been charged $14.95/month for several months and I am denying those charges. i am a single Mother and cannot afford Enhanced Services Billing and also did not order it. I am a AT&T customer, and called AT&T today to find out that I was getting charged and that is why my bill was so big....

My name is Darlene Lile and I find it peculiar I can't find a telephone or fax number to call enhanced services....

Darlene Lile
AT&T Customer

Lisa said...

ESBI and OAN are part of BSG Clearing. The are a billing center; they do not create the charges. They are like the Fed Ex delivery guy. If someone sends you a package by Fed Ex that you don't remember don't call Fed call the company who sent the package. So in this case, while BSG can help remove a charge, your issue should be addressed with the vendor. It is rare that an erroneous charge will show up on a phone bill because they require 3rd party verification, 4 digits of social security #, etc. before a charge can be processed. But from time to time it can happen. BSG while not responsible for the charge can help research the situation and credit your account.

Anonymous said...

I've got all of you beat. They have charged my boss $39.95 for two years!!!!

Anonymous said...

Sickening. Where is the class action lawsuit where they send out email/postcard and verify we ordered the service? Didn't any attorneys get scammed? If its a real scam shouldn't someone from that company be fined. I'm not even sure a the umbrella of a corporation really protect someone acting in such a criminal manner.

Yes, I received the "Enhanced Services Billing" charnge also, and I think this might be the second time this has happened.

Anonymous said...

A recovery attempt for 2010 charges at least.

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