Jeez, AT&T. Billing a pensioner $24,000 for dialup is pretty low

83-yr-old AOL subscriber panics when stupid bill hits mat

An 83-year-old man in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles saw the bill for using his AOL dial-up service rise from a regular $51 per month to an unbelievable $8,596, eventually rising to $24,289, with threats of further increases if he failed to pay up.

As a pensioner on Social Security, Ron Dorff receives a monthly income of just $1,530. "I was shocked [by the bill]," he told the LA Times. "What the hell was going on?"

After contacting a service representative at AT&T, who shared Dorff's confusion regarding the bill, the pensioner was told a technician would be dispatched to his house.

"Nobody ever showed up," Dorff recalled. "So I figured that everything must be OK."

At the height of its popularity, AOL's dial-up service had more than 25m subscribers. While its dial-up service has seen its subsrciption numbers consistently decrease in recent years, it still retains a large customer base of more than 2.2m users.

Ron Dorff may perhaps be considered a typical subscriber in that sense, although it has not been reported for how long he has been using the AOL service. After no technician arrived and he believed the March bill to be settled, Dorf received his bill for April – this time asking for $15,688.

It included a delayed payment fee on his outstanding March bill and brought the total AT&T were asking for to $24,298. Dorff was also told that if he did not pay the bill by May 8, it would rise again to at least $24,786.

Dorff again contacted AT&T, and again a technician was dispatched to his home.

"He said there must be something wrong with my modem," Dorff said. "And that was it."

The technician's verdict would seem like enough of a reason to reappraise the customer's bill. Dorff contacted AT&T - as the LA Times notes, "the same AT&T with a self-professed commitment to 'building strong customer relationships'."

"The woman said they couldn't make an adjustment," Dorff recalled. "I told her I couldn't possibly afford what they wanted. She just insisted that I had to pay it. She was very blunt about it."

Dorff then contacted David Lazarus of the LA Times, who strongly implies his own personal responsibility in saving the day: "After I got in touch, AT&T wasted little time in deciding it would waive the more than $24,000 in charges."

Georgia Taylor, an AT&T spokesperson, told Lazarus that Dorff's modem "somehow had started dialling a long-distance number when it accessed AOL, and the per-minute charges went into orbit, as he stayed connected for hours."

Lazarus records Taylor as saying it was just a coincidence that he called when he did, and suggested the company had been well on its way toward dropping the charges.

AOL is currently alerting its customers about a security breach which has seen a large number of email addresses and passwords stolen. AT&T is currently paying out $25m in damages to customers after its own staff stole subscribers' data and flogged it to other criminals. ®

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