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AT&T bills Bears fan $27,000 to watch game

Wayne Burdick is a dedicated Chicago Bears fan. So much so that AT&T charged him $27,000 to watch a game using a wireless card. His tale of woe, as he wrote to the Chicago Sun-Times:

I was in Miami on Nov. 2 getting ready to go on a Caribbean cruise. I wanted to catch the Bears game before we left port. I have this wonderful Slingbox connected to my cable box, that feeds into my modem. It sends my cable signal through the Internet to my computer. I can then watch my cable package and DVR wherever I go. I just slide in my AT&T wireless card and click on Slingbox and up comes my cable TV.

So there I was at the Port of Miami. It was 1 p.m. Florida time. The Bears game was starting. The ship was not leaving Miami until 4 p.m., so I slid in my wireless card and brought up my Slingbox and watched the game on my computer.

I watched for about 2½ hours. Then I shut down my computer and cell phone, because it's expensive to use your Internet or phone when you sail out of the country.

Anyway, I got home from our cruise, and about two weeks later I got my cell phone/wireless card bill, which is usually about $220, and it said I owe $28,067.31.

I called AT&T and told them there was either a mistake or fraud and to please take this off the bill. That's where the fun starts. They told me that the bill was correct and somehow I was charged international rates for Internet use, and the cost is 2 cents per kb. That came out to $27,788.93.

I explained that I was not at sea but in port and my cell phone was still working without roaming, and that I should have still been on my unlimited wireless card. I have since been in contact with five or six different people at AT&T, and the best they could do, even though I am not at fault, is to bring the bill down to $6,000.

At wits end, Burdick contacted the Sun-Times, which has a consumer column called the Fixer, and his problem was solved:

Good thing you had the proof that you were still in port during the game. Team Fixer pleaded your case with AT&T, and the good news is they've agreed to credit your bill for $27,776.66.

Apparently, this was some sort of freak thing where your phone was picking up a signal it shouldn't have. After reading this, we're going to use our wireless equipment sparingly the next time we go on vacation.

I think anyone who has had a customer service problem with a company can relate to Burdick's plight (ever been on hold to India for a call with someone whom you know is clueless?). It's kind of scary to think that AT&T would only rectify his problem when the media was informed. I went to Indonesia in 2006 and my hotel for the week came to $500. But I was billed $6,600 and it took me three months and numerous phone calls and e-mails to finally get the charges reversed. I learned then to keep scrupulous records and save all receipts when traveling.

Burdick has to be a Bears' diehard. The Nov. 2 game featured the winless Detroit Lions at the Bears, and the three quarterbacks in the game were Dan Orlovsky, Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. They should have paid Burdick to watch.

Hat tip to Consumerist, hands down the best consumer blog. It is a must bookmark.