Illegal hidden fees could be blowing up your bills

Olympia, WA — A dollar here, a dollar there. Taxes and fees add up on your bills. But are all of them legal?

Some people’s bills may include hidden fees that could actually be viewed as unfair or deceptive by the courts. And that could lead to reimbursements.

“I can’t even understand the bill,” Alton Byrd told KIRO 7. “But I need my phone.”

Byrd’s family has five phones on his bill and a lot of different fees. He moved to Kent from Renton over a year ago and changed his address on the account. But some lines have Kent fees and others have Renton fees.

“Right here it says Renton City Sales Tax – Telecom,” he said. “Right there, eight cents.”

That includes phones that aren’t based there and weren’t bought there, like a 509 number in Yakima and a 360 used in Olympia.

“I tried to get an answer,” Byrd said. “I called Verizon and they sent me to different departments. I was placed on hold for 40 minutes to an hour.”

Kellie Klimczak in Shelton told KIRO 7 that she has some questions about her cable bill.

“I don’t have a sports package that I know of. I mean, ‘regional sports fee’ – what is that?” she asked.

Klimczak’s family cheers on the Seahawks but they’re on regular broadcast channels. And there’s another fee, too.

“I’m not sure if that one is real or not real, the ‘regulatory cost recovery fee,’” she said.

“Tell me the truth and I’m happy,” Bill Hazel said. “Mislead me, I’m not happy.”

Hazel has a bone to pick over his cable bill and prior advertising, which he says promised a much lower bill than he received.

“So my total bill, I was expecting around $68, $69,” he said. “And it’s $82. Which is not at all what I thought I was getting into.”

On Hazel’s online account, the website shows his “TV, 10+ channels” with a monthly total of $39.99.

He understands the cost of internet is added onto that. But there’s also a broadcast fee for $19.45, something he says wasn’t communicated to him.

Alton Byrd, Kellie Klimczak, and Bill Hazel all contacted KIRO 7 after seeing a Jesse Jones story about Wave crediting customers nearly a million dollars over a “local TV stations fee” the state says wasn’t in the advertised price, and a “regulatory recovery fee.”

That second one has the same name as the fee on Kellie Klimczak’s bill.

“They had something called the regulatory recovery fee for $1.40 in the fine print – $1.40,” Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “It literally was made up by Wave.”

Now Ferguson is looking for other cases. They could be hidden fees, even automatic renewals, on any kind of bill.

“Is the advertising unfair or deceptive?” he said. “So if you bury that full disclosure – what the consumer’s going to pay -- on page 29 of some form that no reasonable consumer would ever find, that’s going to be unfair or deceptive in the eyes of the judge.”

KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon showed him Alton Byrd’s bills.

“So that would be the kind of thing that strikes me as unusual,” he said.

She also showed him Kellie Klimczak’s.

“I would 100 percent double check on that,” he said of the fees she highlighted.

And when it comes to Bill Hazel’s?

“This says monthly total and there’s a price,” he said. “There’s not an asterisk on this.”

“Maybe in some cases they are legitimate,” reporter Linzi Sheldon said.

“Absolutely,” Ferguson said.

“But in some cases not, so how does a customer know?” she asked.

“So that’s tricky,” Ferguson said. “It’s not easy.”

Ferguson said his team can look into all three cases, as well as anyone else’s if they contact his office and file a complaint.

They can figure out if fees aren’t fair. They can get recordings of customer service conversations and even dig up old advertisements if you don’t still have them.

It may be worth it, because every little fee adds up.

“I’m going to start looking over every one of my bills now,” Kellie Klimczak said.

KIRO 7 reached out to Verizon and it said it would contact Alton Byrd about his bill, though the company spokesperson did not answer KIRO 7′s questions about why he was being charged taxes for two different cities. Verizon also directed us to its Tax and Surcharge Estimator | Verizon and Verizon mobile bill statement FAQs.

Comcast did not answer our questions about the issues highlighted in Kellie Klimczak’s or Bill Hazel’s cases. A spokesperson referred KIRO 7 to a section of its website about common taxes, fees, and surcharges.

As part of his “Honest Fees” initiative, Ferguson has secured repayments or credits from companies including online travel agency Rocketmiles, Charter Communications, Frontier Communications Northwest, and Century Link, as well as Wave.