Monthly Archives November 2015

Police Victims of Huge Phone Billing Error

phone billing errorThe North Wales Police Service is in the news this week and taxpayers are up in arms after the force paid tons of cash for mobile phone service it hadn’t used for years. Many seem shocked a phone billing error like this could happen. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ocean, I’m only barely surprised. Wait, I’m not surprised at all.

All in all, the cops are in the hole for over $840,000 USD for the unused service, which went on for two years before it was spotted. The BBC reports the force has been in touch with the unnamed mobile carrier and is ironing out repayment terms. The company has admitted there was “a likely issue” though I’m not sure that’s what I’d call a billing error that was steadily climbing toward $1 million – I might use slightly stronger language.

Welsh Conservative Assembly Member Darren Millar seemed bewildered by the incident, telling the BBC that taxpayers will want to know how police didn’t pick up on the mistake.

“If this means that local taxpayers have paid more on their police precept than is necessary then it is unacceptable,” Millar was quoted as saying. “Taking two years to discover this brings into question the checks and balances in their internal audits, and at a time when every penny counts.”

On the flip side, the force and crime commissioner Winston Roddick took a more positive spin, pointing out the error was eventually discovered and the police service’s financial department was taking steps to rectify the matter.

“I was made aware of the situation in September and have been monitoring the force’s negotiations with their mobile phone service provider,” Roddick said, in a statement. “As it was only identified in the current financial year it hadn’t appeared in annual accounts but it does underline the need for vigilance in financial affairs, particularly when they involve the public purse.”

He said something pretty important there, in case you didn’t pick up on it: we need to be vigilant when it comes to our finances. Too often people subscribe to the “weigh it and pay it mentality” where as long as their telecom bill is roughly the same amount of money as the month before, they will pay it without second thought. There’s a good chance that is what was going on in North Wales.

Sadly, some studies show up to 80 percent of our communications bills contain errors. Because it’s a confusing marketplace and we’re often not well-versed in the technology, telecom statements can be difficult to decipher, making it easy to miss a mistake. Sometimes we just don’t have the time to devote to scouring our bills and spending hours on the phone with our providers to make the necessary adjustments. And even if you do, you’re left wondering if you’ve gotten the best deal as soon as you hang up.

I feel confident identifying these issues because it’s what our consultants encounter on a daily basis. We have an advantage with our best-in-class pricing databases, specialized software and benchmarking tools, but at the end of the day, it boils down to hard work: it’s tough to navigate through a web of services. It takes time to pick it apart on a line-by-line basis. It takes experience to make sense of it all.

If you haven’t reviewed your business’s telecom or merchant services thoroughly, or have relied on an outside commissioned rep to do so, consider an additional review with an independent audit professional. It won’t cost you anything, but you could end up with a lot more money in your bank account in return.

Is Verizon Data This Season’s Hot Gift?

verizon dataIf you’re looking for something unique to put under the tree this year, Verizon data may be what you need. The United States’ largest carrier has just announced its subscribers can send 1 GB of data as a gift this holiday season. It’s like giving your friend or family member 3,000 web pages, 13,000 emails or three hours of content streaming for just $10.

Verizon is updating its Messages app for Android to include a way to send data to your contacts. If you’re not a user of Verizon Messages, you can also purchase the data through the carrier’s website. Before sending the gift, it can be personalized with a message.

Verizon has not yet said whether this is a limited offer for the holiday season, or if it will extend into the new year.

*Source: CNET

T-Mobile Credit for Sprint Customers

T-MobileT-Mobile is ramping up its efforts to snatch customers from Sprint, offering a $200 T-Mobile credit to anyone switching from Sprint or its subsidiaries Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. Additionally, T-Mobile will cover up to $650 in early termination fees and additional payments for anyone making the transition from its competitors. No device turn-in is required.

This is a time sensitive offer and part of the holiday deal season. The decision to target Sprint isn’t surprising, considering the company was previously America’s third largest carrier before T-Mobile supplanted it earlier this year. The feud is not one sided either. Sprint has recently introduced a plan that would give customers a 50 percent discount on their current rate plan to switch from many carriers, including T-Mobile. T-Mobile CEO John Legere called the promotion a sign of desperation on Sprint’s part.

“I cannot think of any wireless customers in more desperate need of some holiday cheer than those Sprint customers still hanging on over there,” Legere was quoted as saying. “Those poor people have put up with the nation’s slowest and smallest LTE network.”

Dell Addresses Built-In Security Flaw

dell-logoTech giant Dell is working to fix the “eDellRoot” certificate that comes pre-installed on PCs after it was discovered the certificate “unintentionally introduced a security vulnerability” to customers.

News of the security flaw initially spread on Reddit. The certificate potentially leaves information such as user communication, passwords, and usernames open to “man-in-the-middle” hackers. Security experts interviewed on the BBC about “eDellRoot stated it has two main flaws:

“It would allow traffic to be intercepted, potentially exposing sensitive information; secondly, the key could be used to make a user’s computer misidentify unsafe connections as safe.”

Dell has released instructions for how to remove the certificates, as well as promising it will be removed from all future Dell systems. An update was made available yesterday that will check for and remove the certificate if detected.

*Source: Fox News

Schooley Mitchell Lawsuit Watch: Verizon’s Big Tax Bill

verizonIn this week’s Schooley Mitchell lawsuit watch we take a look at a case that Verizon recently lost in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, forcing the telco to pay taxes on fees collected for installing phone lines, performing repairs and providing directory assistance.

According to the Daily Journal, the issue started 11 years ago when the Department of Revenue delivered Verizon a bill for an additional $48 million in taxes. The amount was lowered by its board of appeals to just $10 million. A subsequent ruling in 2013 by the Commonwealth Court put Verizon on the hook for revenues associated with installing lines and directory assistance, but said it didn’t have to pay for moving or changing lines, or any repairs.

But that’s all changed since the Supreme Court ruled that yes, Verizon does owe taxes on all of it. And others could be impacted by the decision – the Pennsylvania Telephone Association has warned the precedent means other companies may face hefty back tax bills related to other matters before the courts.

Chief Justice Thomas Saylor noted it has been over 70 years since the scope of gross tax receipts has been clarified by the Legislature.

“I find this state of affairs an unhappy one and would welcome a decision by the legislative branch to enter the field and provide guidance,” said Saylor, in his dissent.

Verizon refused to comment on the matter, as did the Department of Revenue, citing confidentiality.

Man facing prison in Verizon phone scam

In criminal news, a Los Angeles man is facing eight years in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud. According to the Associated Press, Karen Galstian told Verizon he needed phones for drivers in his expanding business. He managed to purchase thousands of iPhones for 99 cents each under contract. He then sold them to companies who shipped them to emerging markets overseas. Galstian pocketed $13 million as a result of the scam. Considering he was also convicted of bank fraud in an earlier case, we suspect he’ll be spending lots of time behind bars.

Rogers Fined for Violating Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation

crtc_logoRogers is the latest company to be nailed for violating Canada’s anti-spam legislation (CASL) for issues surrounding its email unsubscribe mechanism.

According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), emails sent by Rogers during a one-year period starting July 2014 – the same month CASL came into effect – had a faulty unsubscribe mechanism.

“During this period, the company allegedly sent commercial emails containing an unsubscribe mechanism that did not function properly or which could not be readily performed by the recipient,” states a CRTC press release. “In addition, in some instances, the electronic address used to unsubscribe was allegedly not valid for the required minimum of 60 days following the sent message.”

The CRTC also said that Rogers failed to unsubscribe recipients from commercial emails within 10 days of receiving notice. All in all, the violations have set Rogers back $200,000 in a voluntary undertaking to resolve the offences. Efforts include improvements to an existing internal program to ensure compliance with CASL, which is probably a good thing since it doesn’t seem it was doing a very effective job from the start.

“Companies must respect the choices of Canadians who do not wish to receive commercial emails, and must make it easy for them to unsubscribe from their mailing lists,” said Manon Bombardier, CRTC chief compliance and enforcement officer, in the press release. “We are satisfied that Rogers Media Inc. made the necessary changes to comply with Canada’s anti-spam law.

Today’s announcement is a direct result of the information provided by Canadians and we continue to encourage them to report suspected violations to the Spam Reporting Centre.”

And it appears Canadians have been doing just that. Since 2014, $400,000 in undertakings and $1.1 million in fines have been collected for violations of the legislation.

CRTC options to protect against unwanted calls

Stepping up in its fight against unwanted and spoofed calls, the CRTC recently published a thorough summary of options Canadians have to protect themselves from the nuisance communications. The list, which outlines the method of blocking and filtering calls by provider, was compiled from information provided to the CRTC direct from the telecom companies.

It is the first step on the CRTC’s quest to discover “new and innovative solutions” to combat unsolicited telemarketing and spoofed calls. Now the agency is asking any interested parties to review the summary of options and submit comments by Dec. 4.

The CRTC estimates up to 40 percent of unwanted marketing calls come from spoofed numbers.

Amazon Storywriter Officially Launched

amazon_logo_RGBAmazon has launched its new Storywriter program, offering free, cloud-based screenwriting software. It’s the media giant’s latest effort to expand its original video and TV content. It will now also accept drama series submissions, in addition to the comedy and children series submissions.

This is part of Amazon Studios, which launched in 2010 as a way to crowdsource the process of finding new material for film and television programs. Writers can upload and make their works public, gain feedback, and ultimately have the opportunity to have their script purchased from Amazon. The children’s show Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street came to Amazon through this medium.

The software is aimed at newcomers who haven’t made a name for themselves in the screenwriting world. It coheres to the strict screenwriting form that some might not know despite their interest in getting into the craft. Amazon Storywriter auto-formats, supports the import and export of PDF files, FDX files, and Fountain formats. It saves work online, and includes an app for Chrome on both Mac and PC.

*Source: TechCrunch

Kid Starts Secure Password Business

secure passwordWhile most kids are content to play, 11-year-old Mira Modi has proven to be both business savvy and security conscious in her recent e-commerce effort. After the Grade 6 from New York City began creating passwords for her friends and family, for fun, by rolling dice, the idea grew into an online business.

Last month, Modi created, where users can buy guaranteed secure passwords that she creates. Not sold? Here’s the pitch:

“Buying a password seems crazy. But trying to make your own passwords is even crazier. C’mon – admit it, your passwords could be better. Instead of 12345 or password, your passwords could be longer, stronger, and more unique.

That’s where I come in. Using a proven methodology, I build long, strong, memorable passwords using strings of words from the dictionary that I select using dice. This method has been endorsed by no less an authority than the XKCD comic.”

In an impressively short amount of time, Modi’s online shop has exploded and attracted plenty of media attention. Two weeks after her launch, Modi had sold about 30 passwords according to an interview with Ars Technica. Two days after the piece was published, Modi had processed 500 orders.

“Any plans on my weekends have now been canceled,” Modi told the New York Daily News. She has disclosed that each password takes about 10 minutes to generate and complete. “My entire weekends go to this. During the weekdays I really don’t have much time since I have to do homework.”

Modi’s Diceware system, initially developed by Anrold Reinhold, uses a pair of baby blue six-sided dice 30 times. The numbers she generates correspond with letter and word patterns from the official Diceware word list. From this, Modi creates a random, six word password that she claims in “very secure” and “not easy for the computer to hack.”

Mira Modi’s interest in password safety is fitting, considering her mother is Julia Angwin, a Pultizer Prize-winning veteran reporter and author of Dragnet Nation, which explores computer and network surveillance.

Apple Pay Available in Canada

Apple PayAmerican Express users in Canada can now access Apple Pay on their iPhones. The service allows users to upload their credit card information into their phone and use it for tap-to-pay purchases.

Apple requires cooperation of banks and card issuers for the service to work, and unfortunately for them Canada’s financial institutions have not been eager to jump on board. That’s why at this time only American Express cardholders issued by Amex Bank of Canada can activate Apple Pay. There is no word on whether it will expand to others.

Apple Pay is compatible with near-field communication while using the iPhone 6 and 6S models and the Apple Watch. It can also be used to make in-app purchases.


Comcast Customer Falls to Internet Billing Errors

comcast complaintsMistakes happen. Whether it’s your personal life or business dealings, we’re all human and no one is perfect. However, it seems certain screw ups are more apt to happen in certain industries and no matter how many times they rear their ugly head, nothing seems to change. Internet billing errors fall into this category.

We know that studies show up to 80 percent of telecom bills contain errors: we recover tens of thousands of dollars a year for our clients because of it. It’s something that usually flies under the radar – the vast majority of people and companies being overbilled never realize it – but every once and awhile an example makes the news.

ArsTechnica shared an outrageous story this week about an IT consultant who was sent to collections after dutifully paying his Comcast bills. You read that right. He had collection agencies sicced on him even though he wasn’t in arrears.

Ken Mueller has spent the last year and a half trying to deal with the mistakes, which happened after he moved twice in three months. During one of those moves, Comcast didn’t link his account with the new location and continued billing him for the disconnected service at his old address.

Because Mueller paid his bills through automatic withdrawal, Comcast happily took money out of his account to cover the phantom costs. He disabled the payments and was told by a customer service rep that all would be well and the issue would be fixed. This sounded great, until Mueller started getting the collection notices.

He estimates he’s spent over 10 hours on the phone with Comcast reps trying to resolve the problem. It’s finally been made right after the recent media intervention. And even though Mueller knew something was wrong and had all the documentation (and smarts) to back it up, he was still unable to clear it up on his own.

“One time someone said, ‘you didn’t fill out a move form,’ and I said, ‘yes I did, in fact I have a copy and here it is,’” Mueller told ArsTechnica. “It would be one thing if I had made a mistake, but I didn’t. It’s frustrating that the onus is on me to fix their mistake, the bug in their system that they can’t figure out.”

Comcast’s customer service is notoriously poor, so much so that a senior vice president of customer experience was appointed last year. It has pledged a $300 million investment, and the hiring of 5,500 new employees, in an effort to improve its interactions with subscribers.

The billing error in this case isn’t uncommon. We frequently encounter similar situations where our clients are still paying for services that were disconnected years ago. It can be difficult to keep tabs on your communications inventory, especially when you’re busy focusing on other areas of your business. It’s worth having someone do a thorough audit – it can save you plenty of money, and some big headaches, down the road.