AT&T needs to update its cancellation and billing policies to account for customers who have gone through natural disasters and similar circumstances, based on recent reports following its response to some victims after last November's major California wildfire. Dubbed the Camp Fire, the disaster killed dozens and destroyed tens of thousands of structures. That didn't stop AT&T from billing victims even after their homes were lost.
The most recent reports center around one-time AT&T customers Kim Comeau and Blair Maness. The pair lost their home in the Camp Fire. Despite informing AT&T that the fire had leveled their home, the customers continued to receive bills while living out of a hotel.
The carrier eventually dropped the bill and closed that account. However, it reportedly waited to do so until after a local news station established contact about the ordeal.
AT&T claims that it "canceled" the account once contacted about the matter in May and provided a full refund.
This is not a new problem with AT&T policies
Details about the cost of the bills have not been reported, but this isn't a new issue at AT&T. In a related incident in November, another victim of the same wildfire was told by the company that they needed to return Satellite equipment that belonged to AT&T.
According to the customer, that equipment had been destroyed in the fire.
The company later apologized for that mistake too but the problems don't end there. A glance at the company's customer forums seems to show that this isn't an isolated incident concerning AT&T's cancellation or billing policies.
Another similar incident happened in late 2017, among a plethora of others. In that case, highlighted at the company's community forums, a customer says that they had actually informed AT&T of an impending evacuation and suspended their account in advance. The carrier billed the customer for the use of services anyway once the disaster was over and the customer reactivated service in their new home.
In that case, the account was not only for the home phone. It included a bundle for other AT&T services related to DirecTV and AT&T U-verse. The customer complained via the forum that AT&T had not only tried to collect on the account, which had been paid in full before the suspension. It also allegedly attempted to collect extra money and removed discounts related to the bundled services.
Though not verifiably the 'norm' for AT&T, similar stories litter the AT&T Community Forums over the past several years. Worse still, it often takes customers several months to resolve the matters that do arise. And those aren't the only issues facing consumers. The company has more recently been hit with lawsuits for its billing practices, with claims alleging hidden charges leveled against postpaid customers.
How is AT&T responding and is it enough?
With the most recently reported cases, AT&T has said that its cancellation and billing policies don't enable it to cancel or suspend an account without a direct request from the consumer. In at least some of the reports, that doesn't seem to be the case.
The widespread nature of the reports and AT&T's scattered responses make it difficult to determine precisely where the problem lies. So it isn't immediately clear how the company might alter course.
It's not immediately clear whether or not customers using services from other carriers have lodged similar complaints. At least at the surface, this appears to mostly be an AT&T problem.