As Denise Petras of Kent and her sisters have been cleaning out their 90-year-old dad’s files, they discovered some old bills they thought surely had to be a mistake — bills for a leased telephone.
“I thought, ‘This really can’t be’ because you know, I’m old enough to know about the days where you had to lease a phone. We’ve bought my dad phones — one for the kitchen, one for the living room. He has two corded phones and a cell phone,” Petras said. “We thought we had turned in the leased phone decades ago.”
When Petras asked her dad if he was still renting a phone, in her words, “he was clueless.” Her dad has all of his faculties, but is the type who doesn’t question bills and just pays them, she said. Then Petras and her sisters found the old phone — a brown Trimline Western Electric model that Petras said might have come from the 1960s or ’70s — still working and plugged in the basement, but not used.
Petras called the company that has been billing him, QLT Consumer Lease Services, to cancel the service. Once she returned the phone in the mail, her father received $2.86. She suspected the amount was pro-rated for the next quarter he paid.
Petras and her siblings shudder to think how much their dad has spent over decades for the rented phone.
“You can go and buy a corded Trimline phone for $8. He purchased that phone years and years and years ago technically speaking,” she said.
Based on information Petras received from QLT, which traces its roots to the old Ma Bell days before the AT&T divestiture, and is now an employee-owned company out of New Jersey, Petras’ dad has been renting his phone from QLT since 2009 and Lucent Technologies before that since Jan. 1, 1984.
That’s a staggering $2,320 he likely paid for that phone in 29 years, according to my calculations, based on the approximately $20 he was paying per quarter. QLT President Kathy Sullivan Matlesky said the prices for leased phones range from $4 to $6.25 per month for specialty designs. Even at $4 a month, that’s still $1,392 over 29 years.
“Think of what he could have done?” says Petras.
“He could have bought a computer and Skyped!” she said, referring to the free video chatting service online.
In an interview, Sullivan Matlesky defended her company’s practices, saying “in general, our customers do not like the cheap $8 phones at Walmart, if that exists. Many of our customers do own phones, but they’ll typically lease at least one phone for the quality of the service that we provide and the qualities of the phone itself.”
She said many of them have the old style bell ringers that can be heard better throughout a house. Modern phones have an electronic ringer that is not as easy to hear, she said.
In customer surveys, QLT customers want real bell ringers and classic styles, she said.
Asked whether QLT’s clientele was mostly senior citizens who perhaps had lost track that they still were paying for leased phones, she said the company did not track the age of accounts, “but our customers from our surveys tend to be slightly older than the population and slightly more educated and slightly more affluent.”
Sullivan Matlesky said three-quarters of her 200,000 residential and business customers also own phones in addition to having a leased phone. (The leased phones from QLT are not new; they are refurbished, she said.)
She said quarterly bills are clearly marked that they are for a leased phone.
Petras said her dad doesn’t have dementia, though his system of filing was “putting things in boxes.” The sisters also found an annual World Book update from the old encyclopedia company, including the science yearbook and Christmas edition — still wrapped, and bills for $44 for some of those. They are working at stopping those subscriptions.
Petras’ dad’s saga is a good reminder to senior citizens and their adult children or relatives to examine all bills to ensure everything being paid for is still needed.
Two weeks ago, I warned of annoying robocalls from an unknown company trying to sign people up for natural gas contracts. Utility and state authorities are on guard since the calls are not only breaking federal laws by contacting people on the national Do Not Call List, but also give the impression they are calling on behalf of the regulated utility, Dominion East Ohio, which is not true.
There have been a few promising tips from readers who have signed up through the calls (and many have since canceled). Others who have details on such calls should file a complaint with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (the number is 800-686-7826). The PUCO is coordinating with the Ohio Attorney General’s office.
While the companies may not be scamming people and are selling a legitimate product (though perhaps not at the cheapest price, in my opinion), the problem is the deceptive way the sales pitch is made.
I have also received questions and alerts from readers about similar calls and door-to-door pitches from companies giving the impression they represent the electric company — Ohio Edison or FirstEnergy.
FirstEnergy/Ohio Edison spokesman Mark Durbin said the utility and its subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions do not go door-to-door selling electricity. FirstEnergy Solutions does make outbound calls, but clearly identifies itself, he said.
The utility put an alert out in its Toledo Edison territory recently about potential door-to-door fraud.
The sales people claim to be from the utility and ask to see the customer’s bills. The utility urges customers to be vigilant about letting anyone in their house or sharing any information about accounts.
Natural gas and electric marketers are free to solicit business and will use different means, including phone calls, mailers and door-to-door sales people. But no one should be pressured to make a decision based on a sales call.
As a reminder, for natural gas, I believe the Standard Choice Offer (SCO), through an approved supplier who follows a state-approved formula for the monthly price is the way to go. The SCO changes monthly and starting tomorrow is $4.18 per thousand cubic feet, down from $4.75/mcf for June.
For electricity, you need to look at the “price to compare” on the notes portion of your bill to see the price calculated based on your usage that you would need to get to save money. You can see all of the competing offers online at www.puco.ohio.gov or get one mailed to you by calling the PUCO at 800-686-7826.