Archives for Schooley Mitchell Original

FCC Hands Down $51M Fine in Lifeline Scam

FCCThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is handing down a massive fine to a telecom company that defrauded the government of nearly $10 million. The FCC announced the $51 million fine against Total Call Mobile in a press release last week, alleging the company signed up tens of thousands of duplicate and ineligible consumers to the Lifeline program.

“We reserve the strongest sanctions for those who defraud or abuse federal programs,” said Enforcement Bureau chief Travis LeBlanc, in the press release. “Any waste, fraud, or abuse in the Lifeline program diverts scarce funds from the consumers they are meant to serve and undermines the public’s trust in the program and its stewardship.”

The Lifeline program offers phone service to low-income consumers at a reduced rate, allowing them to connect with jobs, family and emergency services. Eligible phone service providers receive $9.25 per month for each consumer receiving the service, with the intent of passing on the reimbursement to the customer. The Total Call Mobile fine is the largest ever handed down for Lifeline infractions.

“The Commission alleges that since 2014, Total Call has requested and received an estimated $9.7 million dollars in improper payments from the Universal Service Fund for duplicate or ineligible consumers despite repeated and explicit warnings from its own employees, in some cases compliance specialists, that company sales agents were engaged in widespread enrollment fraud,” states the release.

Total Call Mobile offered the service in at least 19 states. An Enforcement Bureau investigation found the company was aware of issues surrounding duplicate enrollments up to a year before authorities raised the issue with Total Call. In late 2014, there is evidence as many as 99.8 percent of the company’s enrollments were made by overriding the third-party verification system designed to catch duplicates.

One sales agent was arrested and charged with identity theft after they allegedly used ID from a stolen wallet to register 10 Lifeline cell phones. When the agent was taken into custody they had 12 additional Lifeline cell phones and the stolen wallet in their possession.

In addition to the fine, the FCC says it may take action to strip Total Call’s authorizations to operate as a common carrier and Lifeline provider.

Canadian Commissioner to Hear Television Service Complaints

Schooley Mitchell complaintsCanadian consumers with television service complaints will soon be able to turn to the Commission for Complaints for Telecommunication Services (CCTS) for help. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced last week that television service providers would have until Sept. 1, 2017 to become members of the CCTS.

This means the CCTS is now the single point of contact for complaints about all major services, including television, Internet, wireless and landline telephone. Consumers concerned with things such as billing and service delivery are asked to first contact their provider for attempted resolution before filing to the CCTS.

“Since 2007, the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services has been providing a valuable service to Canadian consumers of telecommunications services by helping them resolve their complaints,” said CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais, in a press release. “With an increasing number of Canadians taking advantage of bundled offers including local voice, wireless, Internet, and television services offered by the same communications service provider, ensuring a single point of contact to deal with their complaints has never been more important.”

Read the full press release on the CRTC website.

What is Your Communications Contingency Plan?

contingency planForty-two degrees, no electricity, the slightly audible hum of a hard drive on a fully charged laptop, and – thanks to my camping stove – a hot cup of coffee in an otherwise dark and quiet home office. Cell phone? Check. Internet connectivity? Through the cell phone hot spot, check.

Office phone lines and fax available? Because of unified communications, check. Can clients and associates reach me? Yes, but only if they have a contingency plan for their communications needs when systems fail. A week of power loss due to the most damaging windstorm on record in the greater Spokane area has left a dent for businesses in productivity and revenue.

Contingency or catastrophe? Most businesses’ plans depend on the support of a few key players in each market, mainly the utility providers. What if….? When asked early enough, this is the start of a contingency plan. Redundancy or regret? Fail safe or failure? Does your business have a contingency plan to keep in touch with clients and key personnel? Or will you scramble to just get some form – any form – of communications up and running if you even can?

What are the costs to your business? Revenue? Some for sure. Customer loyalty? Definitely. In today’s connected world, if your communications are down and your customers can’t get in touch with you, it’s your fault. And your clients may not understand why, or even care.

Do you want your business to take a hit, or worse another one, because your company can’t be contacted by customers? Great solutions in the telecommunications marketplace are available and some can even save your company monthly. It’s time to take a look before you have to reacquaint yourself with your camping stove for a cup of coffee. By then, it will be too late.

Pat Arguinchona is a Schooley Mitchell Business Optimization Specialist based in Spokane, Washington. He delivers objective telecommunications and merchant services advice to his clients, offering a broad range of services including analysis of existing and future needs, assessment of best alternatives, implementation of cost-effective solutions and billing error recovery.

Here’s to a Great 2016!

A new year is upon us! Here at Schooley Mitchell, we’re excited about what 2016 has in store. We’ve got fantastic momentum propelling us forward and the past year has been incredible for us. We worked hard to save our clients millions of dollars on telecom and merchant services. We grew considerably and welcomed more consultants to our team. Simply put, 2015 was great.

But one of the things we enjoyed most is giving back. It makes us proud that our franchisees are engaged and involved in their communities, volunteering at events and helping raise funds for local charities. Here at Schooley Mitchell head office, we were busy as well.

Schooley Mitchell Franchisee Success Manager Jessica Fritzley and Franchise and Business Development Specialist Julia Allum present our donation to Dianne Mohr, manager of the local branch of the Canadian Cancer SocietyWe continued our annual tradition by participating in Movember. Dennis Schooley put forth another valiant attempt to grow a moustache and Schooley Mitchell consultants came together to support (and snicker!). Together, we raised $1,500, which Schooley Mitchell Franchisee Success Manager Jessica Fritzley and Franchise and Business Development Specialist Julia Allum presented to Dianne Mohr, manager of the local branch of the Canadian Cancer Society. The money will go to support prostate cancer research.

 

Schooley Mitchell Attawapiskat Another major project was our Christmas donation to Grade 1 students in Attawapiskat First Nation, a remote community in Northern Ontario. We filled stockings with books, toys, socks, toothbrushes and other goodies, and shipped it off in a giant box. Their teacher teased them by keeping it at the back of the room for a few days before they were allowed to open it. She reports the students were brimming with excitement when the contents were finally revealed. We truly hope we helped make their holiday a bit more special. They deserve it! Check out more photographs on the Schooley Mitchell Facebook page.

Schooley Mitchell Attawapiskat Donation

We’re working on wrapping up one final initiative: a donation to support several families of Syrian refugees who are locating in the community of Stratford, Ontario, Canada, where Schooley Mitchell Head Office is located. Before Christmas, employees came together and donated hundreds of dollars to the cause. We will soon be presenting a gift card to the first family to arrive, which will allow them to purchase groceries and other personal items of daily living they may still require.

January is a time when many people set goals for the coming year, so here is a challenge to all of you: we want you to go the extra mile to make a difference this year. Find a new cause and open your heart. Spend time volunteering to help those who need it most. Continue your support of your favourite charity by stepping up your game. No gesture is insignificant. We can make our communities, and the world, a better place.

Looking forward to working with you all in 2016!

 

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.

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.

Schooley Mitchell Lawsuit Watch: Fake Calls Plague Consumers

Schooley Mitchell lawsuitThe phone rings and you pick it up. On the other end, a recording tells you the IRS is filing a lawsuit against you. You’re given a phone number to call to get more information about your case. Your heart beats a little bit faster and anxiety rises. The IRS? Lawsuit?

Take a deep breath, exhale and relax. Resist the urge to dial your lawyer. You’ve got nothing to worry about: this phone call is currently being received by people across America. And it’s fake.

There are a few versions of this scam currently circulating. But the essence of the call is the same: the robocaller will say the IRS has made multiple attempts to contact you and a lawsuit is being filed. The voice will advise you to call back – sometimes a number is left, other times it is not. Then a second call often follows, this time with more urgency, threatening to place a lien on assets.

Those who call the scammers back usually end up talking to someone who tries to elicit sensitive personal information, such as your Social Security Number. Sometimes they’ll even know the last few digits already, or offer to send you an email decked out with fake IRS branding to trick you into thinking it’s the real thing. They’ll ask you to wire money or send prepaid debit or credit cards to pay back your debt.

Though the majority of us see through these scams, there are people who fall victim. According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), over 3,000 people have been bilked out of over $14 million over the last few years. Nearly 300,000 complaints have been registered with the TIGTA.

The IRS says the scammers have preyed on immigrants – people with less knowledge about the U.S. tax system – in the past. Activity often picks up during the income tax filing season. The agency reminds consumers it never asks for credit or debit card information over the phone. If you receive such a call, you are encouraged to report it to the TIGTA via this online form.

BYOD on the Decline?

BYOD costFor the last few years people have been pumping up Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs as the best solution for employees and businesses alike. However, those same people weren’t always quick to acknowledge the well-documented issues often surrounding it.

It appears the tide may be turning. The results of a 2015 CompTIA Information Technology Association survey of American IT professionals show over half work at companies that have banned BYOD.

In total, 53 percent of the 375 respondents said their company does not allow the use of personal devices in the workplace, a significant increase from 34 percent just two years before. Contrast that with the just seven percent whose companies allow full BYOD. Forty percent reported working in a partial-BYOD environment, where some devices were provided by the employer but personal devices were still permitted on the network. That’s a significant drop from the 2013 survey, when 58 percent identified their workplace as partially BYOD.

“Companies are finding that they can pursue mobility initiatives just as well by providing mobile devices, and employees are often happy enough to take a corporate device if it is the same thing they would choose on their own,” states the CompTIA report.

“A small percentage of companies—mostly small firms—elect to completely avoid device distribution. This can reduce the overhead required for device support, but it also raises issues for security and productivity. Many firms are clearly choosing to solve those issues by avoiding BYOD.”

But a ban on personal devices doesn’t solve all problems, the report warns. Strong-willed employees determined to use their own devices will try to find ways to do so, making it important for companies to ensure they are monitoring for any unauthorized usage.

Though CompTIA’s survey shows a shift, another undertaken this year by Tyntec – a European company that offers BYOD program support – shows it continues to rise. Their poll of over 1,300 workers found just over 60 percent reported using their own device for work. But what is really startling is the majority of all respondents whose companies are full BYOD said there is no formal mobile-use policy in place: 66 percent of workplaces in America don’t have one, 75 percent in Spain go without and a whopping 82 percent in the United Kingdom have yet to draft and implement a policy.

If we had to wager a bet, we’d say many of those companies aren’t doing anything to manage their employees’ personal devices at all, a risky move when it comes to corporate security. And those that are have discovered it’s not as cheap as they may initially think. An Aberdeen study from 2012 still holds true: savings between a corporate-liable and BYOD device is often mitigated by the cost to process expense reports and offer multi-device support. In fact, it costs six times more to manage than if companies just purchased and handed out phones.

One trend that continues – and perhaps has the most staying power – is the COPE method (corporate-owned, personally enabled) or the Choose Your Own Device (CYOD) phenomenon, where employers are pre-selecting a variety of devices under a corporate liability model and allowing their workers final say on which one they’d like to use.

Sometimes the happy medium is the best one of all.

Complaints Lead to $170,000 Fine

CRTC Wireless CodeHere at Schooley Mitchell complaints are nothing new. We hear them about poor telecom services and vendors all the time! One of the most annoying things that continues to plague families is receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls. They always seem to come at the most inopportune time, like when you are sitting down to dinner or have your hands full.

In Canada, two home improvement companies are facing hefty fines for doing just that – calling residents who had registered their phone numbers on the national Do Not Call List (DNCL). The rules state that once someone signs up on the list, all unsolicited communications must cease, except for calls from a few groups including charities, political parties, and businesses you’ve worked with within the last 18 months. However, Canadian Choice Home Improvements Inc. and Le Groupe Hydro Hvac Inc. ignored all of that, resulting in $170,000 in fines.

According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), neither company registered or subscribed to the DNCL. Both called residential numbers on the list, and Le Groupe Hydro Hvac also called existing customers who had registered on its own internal do not call list.

Canadian Choice Improvements faced the heftiest fine, paying $140,000. The company has now decided to cease all telemarketing efforts in the future. Le Groupe Hydro’s portion was $30,000 and it has agreed to institute a compliance program moving forward to ensure history does not repeat itself.

Hundreds of complaints

Since the DNCL launched in 2008, nearly 13 million phone numbers have been added, with over $6.5 million in fines collected in violations to date. It doesn’t matter if the company itself or a third-party firm is making the calls on its behalf, or if the calls originate in Canada.

“Canadians play an important role in our investigations of unwanted telemarketing calls by providing clear and complete information when filing a complaint. In this case, their information assisted us in bringing these two companies to conform to the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules,” said Manon Bombardier, CRTC chief compliance and enforcement officer, in a press release. “Today’s announcement is another reminder to all telemarketers that compliance with the rules is not optional.”

The CRTC will continue to enhance its monitoring program and encourages consumers to report any nuisance calls they may receive.