ALOHA, Ore. -- Cindy Buhler felt like she was doing the right thing by recycling her old phones to the Verizon Wireless program for women’s shelters.
"The manager reassured me that's not a problem. They wipe the phones clean of all the information and they make them only able to dial 9-1-1. So I felt really comfortable that my old cell phones were going to be used for a good thing,“ said Buhler.
But said last month, nearly a year after she donated the phone, Buhler said she discovered her cell phone bill was really high, more than $600. She said the excess charges were from her donated phone.
When I called Verizon Wireless, I expected to get some help from them, some compassion. Instead Buhler said, “The fault was mine for donating an active phone.”
Buhler finally got Verizon Wireless to drop the overage fees but they still charged her for the monthly use of the phone that a man in Atlanta, Georgia was apparently using.
Buhler called her old phone number and talked to the man. “He tried telling me he bought the phone off the street and it had been activated in a program which he would get 230 free minutes. I said 'yes you'll get 230 free minutes because I'm paying for them.'”
Angry and confused, Buhler contacted KGW Unit 8 Investigations. KGW talked with Verizon Wireless spokesperson Scott Charlston and all the charges were dropped. Eventually, they also admitted they made a mistake by not deactivating the phone.
“We have confirmed that the customer’s phone was received at our facility and cleared of all customer data. In the course of our investigation, we have identified additional account activity that is relevant. We do not publicly disclose such customer account activity, but we have addressed and resolved all issues to the customer’s satisfaction," said Charlston
Buhler feels satisfied now, but sorry the Verizon Wireless program to give phones to women’s shelters might be hurt.
“I really believe that it's a good program. It's just that the people managing that program for Verizon Wireless did a very poor job,” said Buhler.
Clackamas Women’s Services in Oregon City is one of the beneficiaries of the Verizon program called Hopeline.
“We have a lot of sympathy for that woman’s experience. It sounds really stressful but for the most part we've had really positive feedback,” said Executive Director Melissa Erlbaum.
“The program saves lives, it makes a huge difference when women can connect to law enforcement, or connect to a family member they've been isolated from because of the abuse," said Erlbaum.
Case manager for Clackamas Women’s Services Erin Henkelman said, “Victims of domestic violence may leave without their purse. They may leave while their kids are in school and we're able to help provide them with a phone so that they can get in contact with those safe people they need to get a hold of.”
While the Oregon City shelter has been receiving Hopeline phones from Verizon Wireless for several years, Erlbaum said they could use four times as many as they receive.
If you would like to donate, remember to deactivate the phone first and remove the SIM card, if it has one.