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What Inept Billing Software Have You Encountered?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the you'd-think-they'd-be-smarter-than-this dept.


Chris asks: "I am a Sprint customer signed up for automatic payments, and over the past week I've found that Sprint has a computer system that does three ridiculously inept things from a programmers standpoint. First, they send a 'Do not send payment...this amount will be charged' bill then a 'Disconnection Imminent' notice for the same amount, within a week of each other. When customer service is called about this, everything appears fine to the customer service rep, and they assure the client that everything is fine. Finally, the computer system shuts down the customer's cell phone for lack of payment, even if the customer has a credit card on file and has given Sprint authorization to use it. What's the worst experience Slashdot users have found with billing systems that don't make any sense?"

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No charge.. (4, Funny)

rf0 (159958) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334539)

I had an account with a small local company and due to a payment / full refund I ended up owing them nothing however their billing system didn't accept that so they sent me a bill for £0.00. So I ignored it until I got a nasty gram saying they were taking me to court for literally nothing. Despite repeated rings they still said that I had a balance. I ended up sending a cheque for £0.00 and then heard nothing more on it..

automated "you owe us money" phone calls (2, Interesting)

sampas (256178) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334621)

I had a worse experience with's (used to be billing system. When my account came up for renewal, my credit card on file was declined. (Never signed up for auto-renew, anyway.) After getting a couple of automated email messages about it, I entered a new credit card number.

A week later, I still get phone calls at all hours of the night from some automated system identifying itself with an 800 number only. Some of these calls were between 3 and 4 in the morning. I assume the didn't check time zones.

A call with customer service (at the 800 number) went well -- they apologized and cleared my "support ticket" and said everything was paid up. The next night, I got another call.

Instead of screaming at customer service, I have started filing complaints.

Re:automated "you owe us money" phone calls (3, Funny)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336163)

My local library tried an automated phone system about 7 or 8 years ago. It would call you for overdue books and fine notices. A syntehsized voice would even attempt to pronounce your name in a call like: "John Smith, you have four library items due October 2nd. Return the items today to avoid additional fines."

They didn't call at inappropriate times, as far as I know. It's just that the combination of the syntha-voice and the demand sounded more like a TV show kidnapping ransom call than a librarian. I don't think the system lasted very long in practice. Probably alarmed too many people.

Re:No charge.. (5, Informative)

Alranor (472986) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334783)

Aha, fnorgby [] , so this is where you've been hiding.

Which one of these [] people are you claiming to be?

Re:No charge.. (3, Funny)

computational super (740265) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335371)

Actually, he got the story wrong - the $0.00 check was supposed to crash the billing system, too.

All Billers are Full of Surprises (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16334819)

I've had lots'o experience with telco billing SE & dev. All billers have what i'll charitably call odd quirks. since these systems have long life times & they are constantly being tweaked to add support for new offers they end up with tons of misfeatures. beyond that, there is always a cut line for what gets fixed & what doesn't. "minor annoyances" generally don't make it.

Re:No charge.. (1)

oyenstikker (536040) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334873)

A friend of mine had a similar thing happen. Except when he wrote the $0 check, they called him a few weeks later and asked him not to do it ever again, because it crashed their accounting system. Divide by zero.

Re:No charge.. (2, Insightful)

gfxguy (98788) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334973)

Nice story. Why on earth would they have to divide anything by the amount paid? Sounds like urban legend to me.

Re:No charge.. (1)

kinzillah (662884) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335047)

Programmer could have done amountPaid % 1 to get the cents...

Re:No charge.. (1)

Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335177)


Re:No charge.. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16335237)

Dish Network (2, Interesting)

lamberms (173980) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335079)

I had cancelled my Dish Network system and switched to Time Warner in March of 2005. The lady at Dish Network told me my account was cancelled. Fast forward 9 months later and I started receiving small bills every month. I went on the website and used their email support to ask what the deal was. No reply. I got another bill. I emailed. No reply. Finally, I ended up owing them $90. I told them there was no way I was going to pay it. Turns out they had just put my account "on hold" and then reactivated it after a certain amount of time.
I sent them 3 emails and got absolutely no response from their support. I should have picked up the phone but hey, when people put up email support I use it so I don't have to waste 30 minutes to an hour on the phone. They took me to collections and the dink to my credit was worth it to just not pay the money they tried to extort from me.
I was a Dish Network customer for 2.5 years and paid them thousands of dollars. I should have known better than to think those thousands of dollars would be put into having support people that answered their email. I will never pay Dish another dime as long as I live. Long live Direct TV.

Re:Dish Network (3, Informative)

LordKronos (470910) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336111)

They took me to collections and the dink to my credit was worth it to just not pay the money they tried to extort from me.
You let them dink your credit? You should have fought it. If it's still on your credit report, you still can get it removed. Sites like are always willing to help people learn how to remove crap like this.

Re:No charge.. (1)

bratwiz (635601) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335309)

Hell, you should'a let 'em sue you and gone to court... invite some of the local press along for company. That would have been fun. Even if you ended up with the court costs... would have been exceptionally cheap considering the high-quality entertainment you were about to receive.... Plus a lifetime of stories to tell...

Re:No charge.. (1)

neoform (551705) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335381)

I've also been getting Invoices for $0.00 from Bell for about 8 months now. They've wasted plenty on postage, but wtv, their loss.

Re:No charge.. (1)

6Yankee (597075) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335817)

Similar thing happened to me - I sent a cheque for £0.00, with "bugger-all" written in full, and got a very amused and apologetic phone-call. :)

Re:No charge.. (4, Interesting)

dheltzel (558802) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336097)

That honestly sounds too bizarre to be true . . .
Except for the fact that I've seen such similar things myself:

A telco company that was a vendor for one of my previous employers had the audacity to send us a bill for 8 cents for an account that was being closed out. Since the cost to cut them a check was a lot more than that (and obviously, the cost for them to print and mail the bill) we ignored it. Several nasty letters later (they must have spent at least $10 for supplies and postage to collect their precious 8 cents), the company controller taped a dime to the latest bill and mailed it back. We figured that would be the end of it, right? No way, a few weeks later, we received a nice computer generated check for 2 cents. The controller pinned it to his bulletin board as a reminder of how stupid a computer billing system could be. He was also quick to point out at the end of the story, that the telco's accountants would have to keep reconciling that 2 cent uncashed check for a very long time, until someone manually entered a transaction to clear it.

That dime was the best money he ever spent, at least in terms of "laughs per cent".

Don't blame the computer... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16334551)

...just because some idiot manager made decisions that someone else wrote into software. Blame the company.

And by the way, have you ever tried to write a phone billing system? There's a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Re:Don't blame the computer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16334699)


It's not the system itself, it's how it's used.
I've been involved in Sprint's billing systems (reason to post AC), and appart from the general comments a geek would give to any project of this scale, it is a prttey cool project.

Re:Don't blame the computer... (0)

bratwiz (635601) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335383)

Why Yes. Yes I have written a billing system for a phone company. And co-incidently enough, so has my girlfriend. And both projects were completely unrelated to each other as things (jobs we've had) in the past...


I think so.

You be the judge! :)

Re:Don't blame the computer... (2, Interesting)

Mattintosh (758112) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336601)

In fact, I have. I work for a company (name withheld on purpose, since I'm gonna slam our competition and some former employees) that makes billing software for ISP's and other telecom service companies (including phone companies).

And I would just like to take a moment to back up your assertion that it's not simple. Not in the least.

Also, more on the topic at hand (Sprint's crappy billing system), I would like to point out that they buy that system from Amdocs. We've hired several ex-Amdocs people in the last year (their local office imploded and dumped a bunch of workers into the job market) and we've fired them all (except for one guy who quit). They've been nearly universally incompetent, so it doesn't surprise me that the software is crap. Our system isn't all rosy, but it was actually getting worse under the direction of the ex-Amdocs guys.

Some places just make it hard to give them money (3, Insightful)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334591)

What do you think they make more money from, you paying your bill on time, or you paying your bill plus a reconnection fee?

Take a look at credit card company websites, if you're paying online, both of the ones I've used make you jump through extra hoops to reschedule your payment to transfer now instead of at the last second before the due date (that many more days of interest, plus the chance that something goes wrong at the last second, and bam! Late fees!).

Re:Some places just make it hard to give them mone (1)

gfxguy (98788) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334623)

Yeah, but these guys doing automatic billing don't get away with charging late fees due to their error, and they're not going to make it a problem because word will get out and people will stop using the automatic payments.

I've had a few things like this happen to me, but I've never had service disconnected. I think the worst was software that wouldn't allow me to prepay. I get discount gift cards through work for my termite control service, but they only sell in $50 and $100, and my bill is $75 every three months. So I just get $150 and pay twice a year instead. They have to make special note in my file. I've gotten billed after paying and had to call.

Re:Some places just make it hard to give them mone (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335091)

Never mind the fact that you can't schedule to pay the balance the same day each month -- I tried this (with a 5-day window for holidays, weekends, whatever) and Chase thoughtfully moved my due date up by 7 days, wuthout prior notice.

All my charges on that credit card are for fixed monthly amounts, so I had been just verifying the bill amount each month, knowing that my payment would go on time...

They were kind enough to waive the finance charges, but it took half an hour of my time.

Re:Some places just make it hard to give them mone (1)

TopShelf (92521) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335591)

That's an interesting point, which I just noted this morning while paying bills. Discover and Capital One assume same-day payment (as long as it's before a reasonable time like 5:00 p.m.) when you're entering a payment online, but MBNA (now Bank of America) schedules your payment for the due date, by default, and the earliest you can submit it for is the next business day. If you want it to post on the same day, they charge an extra $12.95! Talk about bull$hit fees...

Excel (3, Funny)

SomeoneGotMyNick (200685) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334595)

I've seen Excel being used as a billing system before.

It was a resourceful effort for a family owned business with a "smart teen", but it goes against my beliefs that Excel should be used only for number analysis, not data management. A billing system is data management.

Excuse me now, while I get back to my VHS tape collection worksheet. :)

Re:Excel (3, Interesting)

proverbialcow (177020) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334753)

but it goes against my beliefs that Excel should be used only for number analysis, not data management. A billing system is data management.

Which is the way it should be, but if something goes awry in the billing process and you have multiple charges and adjustments (like hotels, where your $10/hr front desk agent may have a great smile but the aptitude of the lobby plants), sometimes it's nice to mock up an invoice in Excel so you can make it look nice.

Incidentally, I do work in a hotel that handles a lot of business clients. Billing mistakes often aren't noticed until it's time to submit for reimbursement, and a lot of them have very strict rules about what can and cannot appear on their bills. It's not an everyday occurrence, but it happens enough that it's worth keeping a template around. It's not perfect, but after two years of tweaking, it looks pretty dang close.

they have plenty of aptitude (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16337135)

but why, pray tell, should they waste it doing anything for you? you sound like a condescending dickwad.
they save it for the weekends and after work, when they do important things.

Re:Excel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16334761)

excel for number analysis??? ooo, that's perfectly fine.

Re:Excel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16335099)

...Excel should be used only for number analysis, not data management.

Hah! You must not know much about corporate accounting work. I used to work in the IT department at a medium-sized manufacturing plant, and you would not believe the sheer volume of data that is kept in Excel files. It would blow your mind. And I don't think this was anything out of the ordinary.

Re:Excel (1)

K'Lyre (600056) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335593)

Funny, because my family business used a single spreadsheet in Lotus 1-2-3 for the entirety of their bookkeeping/billing/invoicing. It worked for about 10-15 years, up until we started having more than 4 orders a week (we dealt mainly with bulk shipments until recently, when we've moved more into retail).

Change of Address Form (1)

electronerdz (838825) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334625)

I just had a customer ask me yesterday if it is normal to pay $10,000 to have your address changed in your billing software. Apperently, another office that they deal with must have some custom software, and to get the address changed (that goes on every form they print), it is going to cost them that much. I told her that it was probably because it was a custom written program, and they no longer support it, and want to write another one. I don't think it would be a very good idea if the programmer made it that hard to change an address the first time around.

Re:Change of Address Form (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16334757)

That's just criminal. Have them send me the source, I'll do it for half as much :)

Re:Change of Address Form (2, Interesting)

Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335221)

You've obviously never seen The Daily WTF [] . I wouldn't touch that software with a 10-foot pole controlled 10,000 miles away through a SSH connection.

Re:Change of Address Form (1)

kalirion (728907) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335441)

I dunno, for $5000, and given decent requirements, you could probably write a basic no-frills billing system from scratch. Of course the "decent requirements" factor is a BIG assumption.

Verizon Wireless sucks too (1)

joshetc (955226) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334659)

I had an issue with automatic billpay and "paperless" billing with Verizon. Firstly every time I logged into my account in a given month it would NOT automatically pay my bill, without any warning. Second, I was "paperless" so I did not recieve a paper bill OR the guarunteed e-mail notifying me that a payment was due / had automatically been paid. After a late fee I returned to recieving a regular paper invoice with automatic billpay. I complained about the late fee but they did nothing, luckily it was only $5 (not worth more than the 30 minutes I had already spent complaining). Everything seems to be working fine now but I'm not sure I'll be renewing my contract in a year when it expires, even if it means I have to give up talking to my girlfriend for free.


Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16334979)

... give up talking to my girlfriend for free.
Mod parent funny!

Re:Verizon Wireless sucks too (1)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335231)

You can pay them through Checkfree instead I think.

Re:Verizon Wireless sucks too (1)

joshetc (955226) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335399)

Yeh, you can. Point is the automatic billpay was trash though. I haven't had any problems in a few months either. The issue was it wouldn't automatically make the deduction so I had to manually transfer the funds. One month they told me I must send payment and I did, the following day it automatically withdrew the same amount (double payment). Since then it has been fine.

Worthless dates (2, Interesting)

Mabonus (185893) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334675)

My recent favorite is Comcast. I got a bill stating that as of Sep 25th my account was overdue and would I please pay for two months? After checking around my accounts I found that yes in fact, I had paid them and they cashed the check on the 10th or so. After calling the customer service rep I determined that the billing department must be getting their data in advance, and that little 'as of the ________' line just sounded good. No real meaning.

Re:Worthless dates (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16336299)

Comcast offered me a promotion where I received digital cable and cable internet for a year for $80. I jumped on it because that's obviously a good deal.

After receiving $300 bills for three straight months, sitting on hold for close to eight hours over the course of 2 months, and being called stupid by a technician, I got it worked out (sort of). I finally discovered that "There was no such promotion ever", and I'm now paying $100 a month for my service, after having to then pay an additional $70 one month (this was due to the fact that they decided to pro-rate one month in the middle of May, 4 months into this promotion).

My only high-speed alternative is BellSouth, and while I'd jump on them in a heartbeat, they only offer the 768kb service here, and I can't get satellite service due to my lease requirements. When I move in a few months, I plan on rectifying this situation, and I will not EVER use Comcast's services again.

AT&T is the devil (5, Funny)

theMerovingian (722983) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334727)

I had a similar experience with AT&T Wireless when I changed my phone number to a new area code. They tried to charge me like I had two different phones, and when I called to correct them they charged me a $300 fee for early closure of the first account. Then, I got really mad and cancelled the new-area-code account also (another $300 fee). It was a nightmare dealing with those customer service people.

The whole experience made me so mad I quit my programming job and enrolled in law school. After my first semester classes, I sued them in small claims court. Of course, they promptly agreed to remove all the charges and fees in exchange for dismissing the lawsuit.

I guess that means I am stubborn, $60k in tuition just to get out of a $600 phone bill.

Re:AT&T is the devil (1, Flamebait)

rymes (183686) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334923)

I guess that means I am stubborn, $60k in tuition just to get out of a $600 phone bill.

What's even better is that you didn't need any special schooling to bring AT&T to small claims court. Anyone can do that, law school or not....

Re:AT&T is the devil (0)

penguinbrat (711309) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335245)

Heh, when I moved to Corpus Christi a few years back - I was told by AT&T that they didn't cover that area, mainly S. Padre Island. I was told that it would be $500 to break the contract, when I inquired how fair that was when they couldn't provide the services anymore - their responce back was literally "AT&T didn't tell you to move, sir."

Re:AT&T is the devil (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335495)

Um, seriously. That's the right answer. They didn't. And contract you signed had no 'move out of the area' clause. If you could break contracts with just anything that inconveniences you, they wouldn't be contracts.

And I'm willing to bet you got free or discounted phones with that contract, as well. They should just eat the cost of those phones because you decided to move?

Sure, they probably could have said it nicer, but they're correct. You broke the contract, not them.

Re:AT&T is the devil (1)

Kesshi (990960) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335713)

I was told by AT&T that they didn't cover that area ... I was told that it would be $500 to break the contract, when I inquired how fair that was when they couldn't provide the services anymore - their responce back was literally "AT&T didn't tell you to move, sir."

That sounds more like negligence in your part than any screwy billing or customer service. You are responsible to any contracts you sign and/or agree to. If it is fair or not does not matter. If it is legal or not does. While I have no knowledge about the contract you signed and/or agreed to, I will side with AT&T, given the information above.

I work retail, in a very heavy customer service industry, and I agree that the phrase "AT&T didn't tell you to move" is a little rude. However, given your attitude on the subject I can safely assume that this was after you had already talked to and been rude to customer service when they told you this.

My advice to you would to see if you can downgrade your service to the minimum available without breaking your contract. Hopefully only something like $5 / month, and then request to pay the balance in full to complete your contract. Perhaps you are only stuck for 10 more months, and can get out at under $100 rather than $500.

Re:AT&T is the devil, Aggreed (1)

ericspinder (146776) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335575)

I switched from Cingular to AT&T right when they were merging, worst service mistake of my life. AT&T was marginally cheaper and had the phone I wanted on special. I was happy with Cingular, but I figured that they just finished the merger, and I would end up with a Cingular contract (with roll over in a month or two). My first bill was for like $800 dollars, they charged for some 'no minutes' plan on all three phones (rather than the 1000 minute family plan I signed up for), It took me over two hours on the phone to straiten out that mess. The next month the bill was 'only' $400, which was also a screw up which cost me two hours on the phone, to fix what I thought was already fixed. The month after that the bill was still high, I called again to find out that the 'extra minutes' were calls between my three phones, apparently when I was 'roaming' on the cingular network (which I had no choice over) my 'free' calls between the phones where charged to the anytime minutes. Too top it all off I had for the first time signed up for a two year contract. I finally found a 'conversion' plan from AT&T to Cingular which could be done without penalty, and I took it. Since then I have been reasonably gruntled again.

Re:AT&T is the devil, Aggreed (1)

blugu64 (633729) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336689)

I sat on hold with AT&T wireless for six hours. No joke. I was driving from San Antonio to Dallas and simply routed the on hold music though the car stereo.

Sprint's Billing System (1)

bbroerman (715822) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334743)

If you get the chance, and if you're still a Sprint customer, could you please ask them *which* billing system you are running on... they currently have three that I am aware of. MacroCell, P2K, and an AmDocs solution (thier new one, post-merger) I wouldn't be surprised if these errors are on the new system... I've heard a lot of grumbling about it from several people...

You are not up-to-date... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16335009)

You are not up-to-date...

P2K has not been called P2K for a long time, at the moment I think Convergys calls it Atlys.
Amdocs has been kicked out about 2 years ago, they prolly have some legacy left tho....

You sound insightfull, but you don't have a clue!

Re:Sprint's Billing System (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16335321)

Only a small number of Sprint customers are on the Amdocs billing system, Ensemble(which is the nextel billing system). It'll be 2008 before all Sprint customers are migrated to the amdocs billing system. Posting as AC for obvious reasons.

Not a Billing Issue But Similiar (1)

rhartness (993048) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334841)

My wife and I have two accounts with Bank of America-- a checking and a savings. When we signed up for them, the deal was we would not have to pay any service fees if the combined value of our accounts was $800. My wife and I have kept considerably more than that in our accounts but for the first three months we had the $2.00 service fee for being under our balance.

Every time we would call the operator would tell us that 'every appears to be normal' and they would remove the service fee. It was very frustrating to have to sit on the phone for an hour over $2.00!

After about the third month they realized that there was still some type of policy rule being applied that stated that we needed to keep $2000 in our savings-- a statement that wasn't in our service agreement when we signed up.

Other than BOA, we've also had issues with TimeWarner of North Carolina. What amazes me the most is that all of my complaints, and it seems many of everyone elses, are for major corporations. You'd think that they would have the resources and knowledge to create systems that could prevent a lot of what we all see. I know that no system is flawless but just about everyone who has used auto-billing has a story.

What about hospital billing/HMOs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16334851)

I've had a nightmare with my billing for my health insurance. I received 3 different bills from my hospital for an emergency room visit (Case of Vertigo, so I had an MRI on my head to check for tumors, had the bed in the ER, and had some Valium and other IV fluids). I only received 2 at first, so I paid them, and then received a 3rd bill which was the same amount as one of the other bills. I called the hospital, asked for the billing department and asked them if my account was clear, as I received another bill for the same amount as one of the others. They checked my account and stated that everything was just fine.

Fast forward to 30 days later, when I receive the classic "Pay this bill immediately or it goes to collections". I look on the bill, and on the back there's a completely different number (but in the same exchange and area code) to contact, and it's in tiny print too. I call them and ask about the bill, and state that the hospital told me that my account was paid up. Turns out they have THREE DIFFERENT BILLING OFFICES, and due to HMO laws, they have to bill separately for different services. Even better, their billing offices don't share information. How the fuck are you supposed to know what's going on then?

SBC (1)

otacon (445694) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334881)

I was working for an IT firm and one of our customers had an SBC (prior to AT&T name change) ADSL circuit. Just a few office computers and a server. Somehow SBC started billing them for DSL circuits on both lines (Voice and Fax). The active DSL was on the FAX. I called the company exlained the situation. SBC said they would cancel the other one right away. They cancelled the wrong both. So that left them with no working DSL. It actually took them over a month to get it all squared away. They claimed the way their system worked was that it had to be readded at the beginning of the month for some billing reason. To this day I don't know why it happened and I try not to think about it. It was not only frustrating for the customer but myself for having to deal with SBC on their behalf.

More Sprint Billing (4, Funny)

spencerogden (49254) | more than 7 years ago | (#16334961)

I used to have a Sprint phone. I had electronic billing. I haven't had a Sprint phone for 3 years, but I still get an email every month helpfully letting me know that my SPrint bill is ready online. I've called Customer Service and they have said there is nothing they can do about it. Good thing for procmail.

Re:More Sprint Billing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16335085)

ditto -- same thing has been happening to me. dumb f*cks.

Re:More Sprint Billing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16335289)

There's always something they can do about it. They just need to get motivated enough. If you have asked them to stop sending emails, and no longer have a business relationship with them, and they still send them, depending on where you live, you may have the right to sue.

I know, it's overkill, but a strongly worded letter to this effect, citing the specific laws they have broken, and the specified penalties, is sure to get their attention.

Re:More Sprint Billing (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335541)

Brighthouse does the same thing, but with snailmail. I get a 'bill' every month, even though my credit card is in their computer and auto-billed. Idiots.

Not just billing, they all suck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16334999)

A UK one for you, but more down to their piss poor staff. Force9 internet (aka, plusnet etc.) continued billing my card after I had cancelled over the phone. 6 months later and it was doing it again. They say they never recieved that phonecall - but as one of the 3k+ users they ACCIDENTLY sent out customer details of (human error apparently) - I`d say they`re full of crap and this seems to be common with anything web based, it becomes an excuse to purposefully give cheap and poor service.

Amerigas gave me a surprise (1)

valhalla1980 (1009687) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335001)

When we moved into our house our Propane account with Amerigas got all transferred and happy into our names. They setup an auto debit from our checking account of $75 saying it was our expected monthly use. Any fees due at the end of the year would be billed or credited to us if we overpaid. At the end of the year they automatically pulled $1450 out of our checking account with no notice. Apparently they severely underestimated our propane use and never noticed the bill building up. And they never actually notified us of the pending charge. Fortunately we had just gotten paid so it cleared. But we had to do a fair amount of shuffling to keep the rest of the monthlies from bouncing.

Hands Down, TimelyBill. (5, Interesting)

DoctorDyna (828525) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335029)

Back when I worked at the callcenter for Sirius Satellite Radio, we used a web based solution called TimelyBill. It was absolutely terrible. I was one of the senior agents, that is we took calls from agents on the floor who needed help (or had a customer asking for a supervisor) and also ran the local intranet knowledgebase site. Half of the site was devoted to helping agents understand the software.

Ultimately, I was fired from the callcenter partially because of the way that the billing software worked. The service that they (Sirius) wanted us to push were the annual plans, which the customer could save a bit of money on in the long haul, but the terms dictated that the annual plans had a $75 cancellation fee. I'm sure if there are any Sirius customers that have been around for a while that read this, you probably know all about it. It worked like this:

1.) Customer calls to activate a satellite receiver of some kind, chooses annual plan to save a few bucks. Cost is about $143 bucks, at the time.

2.) Customer uses the service for a few months, and then something happens to the radio, I.E it breaks, it gets stolen, the customer decides to upgrade to a new radio.

3.) Customer calls in to the callcenter to inform us of the change in receiver, so they can get their plan transferred to the new unit.

4.) Agent stops the service on the new unit. Now, this is where the magic happens. If the agent is seasoned, and knows what they are doing (or, just plain gives a shit) they remember to credit the account for the $75 cancellation fee. The old service is terminated by TimelyBill. If the customer used the service for, let's say 6 months, they end up with a credit on their account for un-used service, about $70 bucks.

5.) TimelyBill waits until the customer's billing cycle date (the day of the month that they activated in) to make any adjustments to the account. On that date, the customer's account would be debited for a NEW annual plan $143 bucks, which collided with the credit for $70. The customer's credit card would be charged again, for the diffrence, about $70 bucks.

6.) Customer calls back. "What the fuck are you charging me for?" Asks for a supervisor.

7.) Senior agent spends, on average 30 minutes attempting to explain to the customer what the system did, with usually around a 30% acceptance rate. The other 70% of the time, the customer becomes infuriated, doesn't understand, and usually screams a few cuss words or an insult, and hangs up. I actually had a customer one time ask where we were located. When I told him we lived in New York, he proceeded to tell me "No wonder the terrorists attack you assholes, you all deserve to die. Im happy they keep choosing you."

8.) Customer (in my case) writes a letter to the corporate office, insisting something be done about the terrible supervisor who handled his call.

So, in my case, terrible software can actually cause you, even though you are not directly responsible for it, to loose your job. Especially with a company like Sirius, who at the time that I worked for their callcenter, was a fairly new company, and hadn't really set their policies in stone, so everything was always changing. We went back and forth several times about the billing system, and wether or not the customers should be refunded anything, and even if they should be given back cancellation fees when they cancelled. When in doubt, I guess, fire a peon.

Anyway, moral of the story: Avoid TimelyBill (OmniOSS).

Cable in the early days (1)

guruevi (827432) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335045)

In an undisclosed country I lived in, we got cable for home and since it was a startup it was ridden with problems.

Their billing software was totally automated, it didn't send us a single bill for 2 years long. They must have gotten wind of it and hosed their database or so since I started receiving bills afterwards but they were way off. The first one charged me around $180 (monthly was only $45) extra so I called them and they were going to update it. So I got a bill with $45 + 180 = $225 - $180 = $45. Next day the automated part of customer service sent me a bill again: $45 + $180 + $25 late fees. I wasn't even late for my normal payment and customer service had no idea what the extra $180 came up for everytime (neither did I). At one point I received every day another bill with different numbers so they did something to my account in the database (that's what the service rep. explained to me) and I got 2 months free Internet for all the trouble caused. But next month, it started all over again and so did the 3rd month. I ended up not paying anything for another 6 months thanks to that after which they changed billing systems and I got correct statements.

I think their machines had an improbability drive or a random number generator charging random people for stuff.

Bell Canada's OneBill system (4, Funny)

Mr. Shiny And New (525071) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335103)

Bell Canada's OneBill system takes the prize in my book. The idea is that the phone company gives you one bill for all of the services provided by their various sub-companies, i.e. television (ExpressVu), local phone, long distance, and internet (Sympatico).

The problem is "OneBill" is actually a separate company, which means that in order to send the bills on time they have to get the billing information so far in advance that bill payments, and credits, don't appear until the NEXT bill.

For example, ExpressVu was charging me for a PPV movie even though I had a credit for $50 of free PPV for signing up with them. Problem is, the credit wasn't being applied correctly, so when I received my bill it said there was a $5 charge for PPV. So I called ExpressVu and they credited my account, except that they aren't scheduled to send an update to OneBill for 30 days, so the credit doesn't reflect in my OneBill balance, and consequently if I don't pay the amount it says I owe I will be penalized and charged interest (and, theoretically, risk disconnection of service).

Not only that, but the system is even dumber when it comes to disconnecting features you don't want. I didn't want to pay for the movie channels that I'd had for free since joining (as a promotion), and I was told to give 30 days notice to terminate them. I called 32 days before my trial was up and explained that I didn't want the channels after the trial ended. So far so good. Well, I receieved my bill for the month after the trial (remember, TV service is paid in advance) and there was a charge for the movie channels. Even though my service was disconnected on time. So I called the OneBill people and they fixed my bill. But on the NEXT bill ExpressVu ALSO fixed my bill, so I got credited twice. Later on when speaking to a rep about the PPV problem, they explained that in their system, the "stop collecting the fee for Services" message isn't sent to OneBill until the service is disconnected, but the service isn't disconnected until the day it's supposed to be, except OneBill sent that bill out already, because they get their updates 30 days in advance. Dumbest thing ever. Needless to say, I never got around to calling them telling them of their second mistake in the billing.

Re:Bell Canada's OneBill system (2, Funny)

gregmac (629064) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335433)

Oh Bell..I have so many stories.

One of my friends' mother was in the hospital with cancer. He had a DSL line installed for her so she could use her laptop to use email, IM, etc. She unfortunately passed away several months later due to complications. He cancelled the DSL account, and then a month later, noticed that there was still a charge from Bell on his credit card. He called bell, and they told him they had no record of his account anymore, and no record of the charges, and he should take it up with his credit card company. Again the next month, the charge showed up again. He again called Bell and got the same story. Eventually, after talking to several people, he finally found someone that saw the charge going through, but couldn't do anything about it because there was no account to cancel the charge from. (He did eventually get it cancelled after getting his credit card company talking to Bell and going through a lot of hassle).


My favourite story of messed up billing systems is this:

I had a customer using a Bell dial-up line with an unlimited internet account (no high-speed available). They pretty much stayed connected all the time. After having this account for over a year, they noticed a $200 bill one month (for something that's supposed to be $22), which was because of several "over usage" per-minute charges. They had actually been getting these over usage charges for a few months, but only the $200 amount triggered someone to notice it (government organization..).

Now, apparently "unlimited" accounts actually give you 744 hours per month (24*31). So it IS actually possible to go over that, if you connect during say, the 31st day, and stay connected until the next day, which is what the rep on the phone explained was happening. Of course, you can only stay connected for 12 hours at a time. So the maximum overusage you should possibly be able to get is 12 hours. They were being charged several hours. I saw the usage for one month, it went something like this:

Disconnect time: 1/5 12:45 Minutes: 9999.99
Disconnect time: 1/5 12:46 Minutes: 9999.99
Disconnect time: 1/5 12:47 Minutes: 9999.99
Disconnect time: 1/6 12:03 Minutes: 634.2
Disconnect time: 1/7 8:34 Minutes: 9999.99
Disconnect time: 1/7 8:35 Minutes: 9999.99 ....

I should also mention that if you connect with a second modem while your account is already connected, your first account gets booted off - so it's not possible to have multiple simultaneous connections to the same account.

The reps explained this to them by telling them that they were being charged every time they "logged in" (which they either implied meant, logged in to any website on the internet, or my client took it as that) and because they had a few computers connected to this one connection, it meant that 3 or 4 people could all "log in" to websites at the same time, and be charged by bell for overusage on their dialup. I explained over and over that Bell could had no idea when they "logged in" to a website and either way that had NOTHING to do with connecting to the ISP, but the Bell reps stuck with their story. My final solution was "get another ISP" (even suggesting a few alternate local ones). This went on for months, I believe they got most of the charges reversed, but Bell would do the exact same thing the next month. As far as I know, they're STILL using Bell, and probably still being charged. What can you do.

The Mobile telecoms here are just as bad... (1)

Wizard052 (1003511) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335163)

We have only two Mobile telecom companies here and they suffer from such pathetic problems of them mints tons of money by hooking up customers at an exponential rate while not upgrading their facilities to match, obviously. With one of them, there was a serious problem of text messages not getting delivered, especially on Fridays, and of course you've been charged from them promptly. Even worse, you'd call them and they'd be like "Well, yeah you DID send the SMS and it's possible the SMS wasn't sent successfully but sorry we can't refund you your money because we charge automatically the moment WE receive your SMS- we take no liability as to what happens beyond that"...! I once lost quite a sum of money on an urgent message that I had to send to another country, at double rates of course. And of course, the message still didn't go through! It's a good thing I now have another account with the competing network, which is more reliable.

Grad school roomie (1)

edremy (36408) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335189)

My first year grad school roommate bought a computer by mail back in the days when this was not very common, nor cheap. It was a blazing 386SX-25 IIRC, nicely tricked out from some no-name box assembler you could find in the back of PC Shopper. He paid the bill via CC and everything was fine, until he got a bill for $0.01 two months later. He ignored it at first- it had to be a mistake. A month later, he got a "Please pay, bill is overdue" for $0.01. He called the company on their toll-free line and asked them "WTF?". They told him he was underbilled and to please pay the $0.01 ASAP. He asked if they really wanted to go through all the machinery for a single penny. They told him again that he had been underbilled and he needed to pay ASAP.

He sent them a penny in the mail. Let's see; printing and mailing costs for two letters + a ten minute toll-free long distance call to recover $0.01. That's a win.

He blew something like $500 for the math coprocessor a few months later. Bought it somewhere else...

Re:Grad school roomie (1)

Bandman (86149) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336263)

Something like that happened to my grandma. A medical bill came for $0.35. She sent them back a quarter and a dime, and never heard another word.

The devil is in the details (1)

Skord (605246) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335203)

I've found in my workings with billing systems, that the problem usually isn't in the billing system itself, but with extensions to it, like payments via an IVR, grafting on some sort of web interface to an old school AS/400 based billing system in a horrendous way, or any number of other "bad" ways of extending the system.

For instance, a friend of mine was signed up for automatic credit card billing for one of her bills. The credit card in this case was her debit card. Because of glitch in the switch of the core system some customers who had disconnected service during say a weeks time frame of the switch, those customers continued to have their accounts debited until the end of time. The company didn't have contracts with the old 3rd party automated debiting system, and the company said pretty much that to her. She had to manually stop payment on each months debit until she eventually got a hold of a 3rd party vendor to the credit card billing vendor.

Banks do it too! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16335211)

I'm not sure if this was a programming glitch or just bad policy

I had an overdraft account for a specific job with a bank
When the job was over, I zero'd the balance and told them to close the account, then forgot about the account
Between emptying the account at the ATM and going to the teller to close, I somehow got a $1.50 service charge, which went onto the overdraft.

After 6 months without payment of any kind, the charge was rolled over into a personal loan by the bank
6 months after that, I get a phone call asking why I would take out a loan and not make payments. When I ask for the detales of the loan (fearing identity theft) I was informed that the loan was for $1.50.

Naturally I went down to the bank, pleaded hardship and agreed to make 6 monthly payments of a quarter, once I had taken care of the intrest.

Another one in the UK (1)

karolo (595531) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335261)

A couple of years ago we moved and sold our house. We had all the paperwork from the solicitors saying that our mortgage was paid up and everything was finished.

Then, a few days later, we noticed that what would have been our next mortgage payment was marked to be taken from our account. We contacted our bank and stoped the payment, as well as the mortgage company to tell them what had happened. The mortgage company apologised for the error and said our account was clear and we didn't owe them anything. Still, a few more days later we got a letter from the mortgage company saying that we had missed a payment and could we please send them a cheque for the ammount. We phoned them again, they apologised again, and luckily we haven't heard about that account since.

The perils of auto-fill... (1)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335311)

One problem is with systems that automatically fill in forms from a postcode/zip code, customer number, email address... This is why it can be a lottery getting goods delivered in the UK: the postcode is accurate to within a "block" or smaller and, along with a house number, usually pinpoints your address. Except when it doesn't. In that case, however meticulously you provide your company, buidling name, department etc. it is liable to be translated to "Your Name Misspelt @ Random address sharing your postcode". Worse, if the company has other customers at your postcode and the operator mis-clicks the menu, the goods will be addressed to Real Person [Not you] @ Real Address [Not yours].

Software designers who produce forms which assumes that everybody's address is "House Number; Street; City; State; Country; Zip" are also culpable. (I've never worked out what people outside the US are meant to put for "state").

A more "billing" related example: While doing freelance work, I helped a client set up a website, for which they needed hosting. I didn't want to "own" the site myself (one less thing to worry about on the tax form), so I helped them fill out the forms for a hosting account with the ISP I was happily using at the time. The forms clearly gave the client's address for billing and included a purchase order from the client. However, I did include my email under "contact person for technical queries". Big mistake!

Some (probaby underpaid and overworked) keyboard operator just enters my email address and lets the computer fill out all the details, completely ignoring the rest of the form. I am now the unknowing owner of a nice new web hosting account.

Sure enough, along comes an invoice addressed to me. Simple mistake, I think, and call up the provider. Underpaid, overworked call centre droid assures me that it will be sorted. 30 days later, reminder (for me) arrives.

Repeat {Phone/write/fax again - "all sorted"; wait 2 weeks; new nastygram arrives} until (sick)

Just paying up and trying to recover the money from client would just open a new battlefront - they have no contract with me to supply web hosting.

Salvation actually arrives when the issue finally gets passed to the debt recovery department, at which point I get to talk to a human being paid enough to bring their brain to work.

Except when billing time rolls around next year and the whole sorry dance begins again...

Re:The perils of auto-fill... (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335751)

whenever i put in an address field for something, i also provide an option for N lines unmasked for any address which doesn't fit the template.

Re:The perils of auto-fill... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16335883)

-ongoing: I have a twin brother, living in the same city. And yes, we were born on the same day. We are not look-a-like's though. If some instances ask for my/his name and birthday, they just enter the data and usually don't bother to check the initials and pick the first that show up. And I am the first to show up in the list... I got a passport (!) in my brother's name, bill's from insurance companies for my brother, a police report about theft from 'my' car, etc.

-old story, but true: a large insurance company had a bug, so that if a customer's account number was unknown to the system, the account number of the previous customer was used. Created a lot of spurious wrongly automatic billed and very angry customers.

Cingular (1)

Spookticus (985296) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335313)

When I got my first bill a month later after signing up for cingular service, The bill I got was around $260. I knew it was going to be a bit more as I was paying the activation fee of 2 phones and my first month of service but yeah?...Turns out something wasnt processed correctly I guess on the sales man side at the store, that both of my phones were put on their own seperate plans. So a month later when I received my bill a quick call to cingular, maybe on hold for 5 minutes while the cs rep processed everything, I got the second phone put on my account like it should of been, but overall I was pleased at how the cs rep who was helping me handled things. I also use cingular's online payment to pay for my services and I havnt really ever had any problems with it.

Dell (1)

Stormcrow309 (590240) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335455)

Dell had a problem with multiple remit lines on a check. For those of you who do not know, remit lines are the break out of a check to pay multiple invoices. This way I could pay 300 invoices with one check. Dell tends to credit the whole amount to one lease structure (we have several hundred due to Dell's efficient billing scheme) and cut us a check for the remainder of the check. Following that, they send us a nasty gram about not paying on the other accounts.

This happened to me on two personnal DFS accounts. I had bought a laptop one year and another two years later. I had $34 left on the first and wrote a check for that amount and wrote one for $170 on the other laptop. A month later, I wrote a check for $170 on the second laptop and two days later, got a check for $170. Calling Dell, I pointed out the issue. Mr. English-is-probably-not-even-my-second-language had no clue what I was saying when I pointed out that they were applying my payment wrong. So, I figure they will get a clue. I send another check the next month for $170 and get one for $170. They also send a paid-in-full letter for the SECOND account. I call and get Mr. English-is-probably-not-even-my-second-language again and get told that this was not a mistake. I stop sending checks.

A year later, I get a letter from a collection agency, asking for the amount of the laptop. I send them a letter within 30 days and ask for proof of the debt and send the payment-in-full letter, asking for response in 60 days as required by law. I don't hear anything from that collection agency again; but six months later, I get another asking for the money. Wash, rise, repeat. Flash forward 3 years later. I am still getting letters every six months, which I challenge. By my state law, they can't collect. By federal law, they have refused a valid payment.

What is funny about this situation is that I am heading the team reviewing the vendor we use for PCs at work. The company I work for have 5,000+ desktops and laptops, plus servers. We already get our servers now from IBM. We have a final three for the PC decision. I can't tell you who they are, but I can tell you Michael Dell is not amoung them due to billing issues. Our PC Lease contract is for about $1,000,000 per year and Dell is losing it due to inability in their AR department. DUMB!

Re:Dell-Side Note (1)

Stormcrow309 (590240) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335491)

BTW, I have no problem with people who have English as a second or third language. I even don't have problem with non-english speakers. I do have a problem when they are not fluent in English at all and are put on Phone Support duty.

Re:Dell (1)

Bandman (86149) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336189)

Completely off topic, but what do you think of the IBM servers? We've been a mostly dell shop for a while, but we've recently gotten fed up with their lack of support, and are looking for other options. Thanks!


Credit card payment protector (1)

B1 (86803) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335497)

Many years ago, I got hoodwinked / pressured into signing up for the credit card "payment protector" plan. Essentially, they would bill me 1% of the previous month's balance for the program, and charge that to my card.

So after a few months of not using the card, I finally charged $169 to it and promptly paid it off. I got a bill in the mail the next month for $1.69, charged to my card. That was entirely 'payment protector premium. I was a bit steamed, but I paid that off anyway... ...the *NEXT* month, I get a bill for $0.02... the payment protector premium for the previous month's bill of $1.69. It's bad enough that they charged me a premium to protect the previous month's premium... but then on top of it they actually paid postage to mail out a bill for $0.02. Highly cost-effective :)

I proudly paid the $0.02 at an ATM, and then gave their customer service department a call. They took me off the program without any problem, and even paid me back the $1.71 I'd paid in premiums.

Virgin Mobil (1)

kalirion (728907) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335525)

Similar story as the thread's opening one about Sprint, except without the account being deactivated. I have a pay-as-you-go plan with Virgin Mobil where you have to "top-up" your balance by $20 every 90 days to keep your account active. I have auto-top-up configured which tops up by $20 (+$1 fee) from my paypal account whenever 90 days passes (or my balance runs low.) And I still get emails like "Better top up now or your account will be deactivated" and "90 days has passed without topping up, so your phone has stopped working." Auto-top-up works fine, as does my phone. This seems to be a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

Telstra Australia (1)

skurrier (643587) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335577)

Telstra is the (partially) government owned telco in Australia.

I get my phone through another telco with my ADSL, but I still had to get them to connect my phone line. (they own all the hardware)

All in all, this cost about AUD$80 and I received a bill (which was promptly paid) for this amount.

However, somewhere between receiving the bill and paying it, AUD$14.95 was deducted from the amount, meaning that Telstra now has AUD$14.95 of mine in credit on an account I don't use.

To make matters worse, their automated billing system sends me endless bills informing me that I have AUD$14.95 in credit with them.

I'm sure that with postage, paper, time and effort and all, it'd just be easier to send me a cheque for the amount. However, I'm fairly sure that the only human who handles the bill before it reaches me is the postie who puts it in my mailbox.

I suppose that when I move out of this place there will be some form of disconnection fee, so it can go towards that.

No Billing System Problems, But... (0, Offtopic)

sottitron (923868) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335607)

I do frequent this tech message board that puts up the stupidest questions and stories sometimes...

SBC Shinanigans (1)

Terminaldogma (765487) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335711)

I've got a fun one...
So I sign up for an SBC phone line when I moved into my first appartment last year. Being that I hate talking on the phone with people, I decided that I'd do it online. Punch in my address, and cool enough, they even give me a list of about half a dozen phone numbers to choose from. All is done and taken care of. About two months go by, and I then realize that to my knowledge, I had not gotten a bill yet. So, I hope online to see if I can sign into my account without an account number. Strangley enough, I can. I'm then shocked to discover that my bill is two months past due. I'm sitting there dumbfounded when I then see that the address they have listed for me is the completely wrong zipcode. When I signed up, I didn't have the option of giving them a seperate billing address, so they had to have had the correct address to enable my phone service. I was even more surprised to find out that the address they had for billing me in their system was completely non-existant. So, I call the issue in. Lady first tells me that I have to pay my bill, and when I explain to her that I'm not going to until the issue is resolved, and what my issue is, she then transfers me over to a technician. Unfortunately, at the time she transfers me, they close, and I'm greated by a "please call again" message. The next day I call and go through the same hoops (and I'm delighted to be told that there was no record of me calling in last night despite the CSR saying they'd log it). Finally I get to a technician and he goes to correct the error in their system. While I'm sitting there he elicits a, "hmmm that's odd," and then explains that the system had changed my number back to the invalid address after he fixed it. He then does something else and convinces me that he has indeed corrected the issue and after asking him to waive my late fees, he checks with his supervisor and does so.

To this day I have no idea what happened to my first two bills. Any slashdotters know if that's going to come back to haunt me?

Simple steps to avoid problems (4, Informative)

Stavr0 (35032) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335787)

Never. Let. Them. Get. At. Your. Money.

Push not pull: If automatic withdrawal or credit card billing is optional, do not opt in. If you don't want to deal with manual payment, you can setup your own transaction to send them a payment automatically.

Minimize the liability: If they insist on 'pull' transactions, opt for credit card billing, using an expendable credit card with a very low credit limit i.e. less than $500.

Paper billing: You can't accidentaly lose paper to a drive failure or virus/malware. Tangible stuff with big yellow highlighter that says "PAY ME" is easy to see on a kitchen fridge.

Re:Simple steps to avoid problems (1)

kin_korn_karn (466864) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336175)

I stopped doing any automatic payments last year. Paper billing forever.

It was mainly because I had trouble remembering when things were coming out, but it has the added goal of no automatic withdrawal SNAFUs like this thread is all about.

Sure, I have to sit down and write a bunch of checks a few times a month, but I need to plan my budget anyway.

Re:Simple steps to avoid problems (1)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336711)

Paper billing: You can't accidentaly lose paper to a drive failure or virus/malware.

No, but you can accidentally lose it to a fire or a coffee spill or letting it sit unopened beneath a stack of catalogs for a month and a half.

Pick whichever medium works best for you. Myself, I keep my email inbox a lot more organized than my physical desktop, so I choose electronic billing.

Re:Simple steps to avoid problems (2, Informative)

taustin (171655) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336981)

Minimize the liability: If they insist on 'pull' transactions

Then take your business elsewhere. I have never allowed someone to pull an automated payment, and not been ripped off. Not once.

Re:Simple steps to avoid problems-- ShopSafe (1)

raddan (519638) | more than 7 years ago | (#16337289)

Even better-- MBNA has a service attached to its credit card accounts called "ShopSafe". This allows you to generate a unique CC number for each purchase you make, set a maximum withdrawal amount, and set an expiration date for use. This way, if an employee of some vendor steals your number, he's out of luck. It won't work.

I mention this in connection to bill payments (pull payments, in your terminology) because you can also create something like an "open purchase order"-- that is, a vendor can withdraw from a card (which is a uniquely generated number) once a month up to a certain amount. I use it, e.g., to pay Netflix bills, and so on. Unfortunately you still have to trust the CC company-- but you have to trust someone, somewhere. I've been using ShopSafe for about 5 years, and I'm quite happy with it.

They have to do that to recover costs from: (1)

Mycroft_514 (701676) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335811)

In the summer of 2000, I did a short stint at the Sprint campus (KC), working in their DP.

One Monday, I was brought a problem to work on. Apparently, this one discount program could not handle duplicate records, and they wanted me to handle the program change to do it. Evan gave me a sample data file to use.

Cool, so I made the change, then after testing the sample file, went back to the manager and asked for a larger test file (the one I was given had 3 records in it, two of which were the dups). Didn't I understand? That was the production file! And the discount program was to last for the rest of the year, and they didn't really expect anymore records in the file to show up. They spent a week of my time just to handle three records! (Most of that time was spent writing the doc for the code review at the end of the week.)

I got out of there fast, and wasn't surprised when they laid off 2000 from their IT campus a year later.

I have two. (1)

SecurityGuy (217807) | more than 7 years ago | (#16335813)

Time Warner cable, the broadband service provider I cancelled over a year ago, sends me a bill notifying me of a $5 credit every month. Multiple calls to their hell desk and customer disservice inevitably result in 1) they can't find any such thing 2) Oh, there it is!

What happens next varies. Usually, they promise to get a refund check out. Once, they told me there's some form they have to fill out to get a refund sent, and promised to do so, or send it to me, whichever was the case. I suspect they've spent a largish multiple of that $5 credit not sending it to me. I finally decided, months ago, that it wasn't worth my time chasing it. Instead, I'll just tell anyone who cares to ask. :)

The second was Earthstink, back when I had dialup. I cancelled a credit card (credit cards bad!), notified them that I they shouldn't use the card anymore, and paid in advance for 6 months. For each of the next three months, they cancelled my service because the credit card charge was rejected. Each time I had to call them and point out their idiocy. Yes, I sent a check. Here's the number. Yes, it cleared my bank. Eventually, I even had the bank pull it off microfilm and send me a copy, which I sent to them. The next month, they cancelled my account for nonpayment again. Morons. I had done everything possible to get it *right*, including putting my account number on the check, which I don't usually do. Yes, it was the right account number. Remember, I had to get a copy of the check to prove it. I finally cancelled the service and asked for a refund of the unused portion, which they promised to send. Think I got it? Nope. Losers. I spent years recommending that anyone needing network service use someone else. Anyone else.

Verizon Billing Sucking... in my favor (1)

FraudulentTom (1010155) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336073)

After a fair amount of haggling with people on the phone, I eventually got Verizon to set up dry-loop DSL at my apartment (the sales reps refused to believe that they sold DSL without a regular phone line). This service was supposed to cost $35/mo. Right from the start, they were only billing me $30. Which was fine with me. This went on for several months, at which point they stopped charging me at all. They sent me a bill still, but for $0. This has gone on for 5 months now. Oh well.

Cingular (1)

pizza_milkshake (580452) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336153)

I've had an AT&T GoPhone for a couple of years; it's a pay-as-you-go deal. Then AT&T wireless was sold to Cingular. I was recently told that Cingular was "cancelling" the service, but it basically amounted to them forcing me to replace my AT&T SIM card with one from Cingular, fine. I was told to call a special 800# to get it sorted out, and I procrastinated a couple of days. Well, by the time I went to do it my monthly bill had come around and my phone was blocked from sending or receiving calls until I paid my bill. This had happened to me a few times in the past, no big deal. But, it means I can't call the 800#. So I try and pay my bill via phone and I can't because they're closing down the plans and won't allow me to pay my bill. So I can't sign up for the new plan because I can't make calls because I can't pay my bill because I have to sign up for a new plan. That was a fun one.

You owe us nothing, pay up now! (1)

twd (167101) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336159)

A couple of years ago, Verizon Wireless cut off my service, because I was past due on a balance of $0. I called, waited on hold, and got service re-established, only to have it cut off again the next day for the same reason.

It took two more days of escalating phone calls and waiting on hold to finally get it straightened out. I would have switched providers at that point if I could have gotten reception in my town on any other.

Verizon (1)

dlhm (739554) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336465)

I had Verizon for 4 years and decided to switch to nextel because all my freinds and co-workers have the direct connect feature. I went into the nextel store the day before my contract was to end for Verizon, and switch my phone number over and signed the nextel contract. My next Verizon bill had a $300.00 early termination fee which took about 3 hours and 4 people to dismiss. They told me I broke my contract by leaving Verizon a day ealry even though my last contract bill had been paid.

Trenitalia (1)

fph il quozientatore (971015) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336585)

Definitely, Trenitalia's (the Italian railroad system) one.
Their automated system generates a number of "solution" to go from station A to station B, and then only sells you ticket corresponding to the ones they have generated. You are smarter than them and you have spotted a different (cheaper) train combo that would get you from A to B faster? No way, you can't have it. You go to the ticket office and talk to an employee? No way. They use the same software to sell you tickets, and there is no way to generate another "solution".
And oh, I forgot, the "solutions" generated by their software always include the most expensive trains...

Water Bills (1)

jthayden (811997) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336613)

In the little farm town of 1000 people where I grew up in Wisconsin, the village clerk who was responsible for sending out the water bills. About seven or eight years ago, the clerk retired and a new one came in. The new clerk discovered that the old clerk hadn't been billing half the town for water for almost ten years. So she sent out bills to half the town for about $10,000. Of course they refused to pay. Meanwhile the other half was pissed because their bills had been artificially high for 9 years or whatever and now half the town still refused to pay. They ended up putting them on a 5 year payment plan but it caused a nice feud in town. What I could never believe is that the half that didn't get bills never questioned that.

Maybe the relational weenies got it right. (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336907)

Maybe ACID compliance *is* important. Maybe any programmer or DBA that designs a system that violates the 'once and only once' rule *should* be drawn and quartered. Maybe database design is a serious endeavor not to be left to amateurs.

Most of these problems can be attributed to 2 major causes:
1) Multiple databases used by different departments with no gauruntee of proper synchronization. This violates 'once and only once' and probably ACID, since multiple updates may not go as one transaction.

2) A badly normalized database which has multiple tables storing the same information. The problems are the same as above.

Yes, I know, this will probably start a flame war.

But as an excercise, let's discuss the implications for a person's credit rating and/or the impact on the Department of Fatherland Security's (Bias? I've heard of it) datamining efforts.

AT&T Wireless (1)

taustin (171655) | more than 7 years ago | (#16336927)

I recall when A&T Wireless moved their payment center from Los Angeles to somewhere in Arizona. And didn't update their billing software to put the new address on the payment coupons in the statements. For so long that payments started being returned as undeliverable (forwarding addresses are only good for a year). Got three months of free service, after the Public Utilities Commission got involved.

$0.04 tax bill (1)

jesup (8690) | more than 7 years ago | (#16337133)

For years, I'd get a $0.04 tax bill for a little sliver of land behind my house (long story short, there was a mis-surveying when my house was built, and to "fix" it while allowing enough space for a flag lot next to mine I was deeded a sliver about 2000 sq ft (my lot was 1 acre, ~40,000 sq ft). Every year, the county would send the 4 cent tax bill, and I'd pay $0.3x cents to mail in my 4 cent check. (School taxes actually were noticable, all of $4/year.)

30 years ago ... (3, Funny)

DrJimbo (594231) | more than 7 years ago | (#16337297)

30 years ago I was working in a physics lab at a major university. The man in charge of the support teams that were helping the scientists bought a set of tires on his gasoline company credit card. He paid the entire amount for the tires the next time he got a statement. But the tires had been put on an automatic payment plan stretched out over four months so the company only charged him for one tire that first month and gave him a positive balance for the other three tires. He didn't use the card for anything else and at the end of the four months he had an outstanding balance due to the interest that had accrued even though he had paid off the amount in full when he got the first statement.

Repeated phone calls to the company got him nowhere (which just goes to show we have no need to out-source customer service since we are perfectly capable of providing terrible customer service domestically). Back in those days the billing systems were just getting computerized which was why this mistake was made and also why this man was having a hard time getting his problem solved.

Back in those days the companies actually sent all of their customers a punched card [] in each monthly statement and the customers were supposed to send this card back with their payment. Well, this man knew all about punched cards since he was in charge of several computers that still used them. So he simply punched in an end-of-file on a blank card and sent that back instead of the card the company sent him.

A couple of weeks later he got a phone call from the company asking him what he did and why he did it. He explained and they said they would correct the problem as long as he promised not to tell anyone else about the trick he had pulled.

I wish they had disconnected me (1)

carpeweb (949895) | more than 7 years ago | (#16337305)

Sprint's billing system kept my account active for about six months, despite repeated cancellations by me. The software wasn't really the culprit, of course; they deliberately make it difficult to cancel an account. This wasn't a contractual obligation; I just wanted to cancel after several years of service.

I have Virgin Mobile now. Their software warns me when it's time to "top up", and I haven't had any problems.
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