Help me WalletPop: I overpaid a bill and can't get my money back!

Dear WalletPop:

I'm writing to let you know of a battle that I've been fighting since late June. I am owed a credit of $275 for an overpayment on my AT&T Dish Network account. Neither AT&T nor Dish disputes that I am owed the money; however, due to massive, persistent communication failures between Dish and AT&T and poor customer service toward me by both parties, I still have not received my credit.

Here are the details: Prior to leaving AT&T DIsh Network for AT&T U-Verse, I was sent a replacement Dish receiver that I did not request. It took me a while to return it. In the interim, I was charged $275 for the equipment. Complicating things, my online bank account was set to autopay any AT&T bill, so it did, prior to my returning the equipment. The bill was paid in full. That includes the $275. I then returned the equipment, as Dish acknowledges. Because I returned the equipment, that $275 charge should be removed, as Dish also acknowledges. Dish Network has said on multiple occasions that they have informed AT&T through their systems that I am owed the money. Dish has also said on multiple occasions that they have credited AT&T the $275 so they can pay me. AT&T has had repeated problems seeing that confirmation in their systems. This has happened multiple times since June.

I have been so disillusioned by this process that I have canceled my AT&T U-Verse service, which I actually enjoyed, and have moved all of my services -- TV, phone and Internet.

Matt Schulz
Austin, Texas

Well, Matt, it took a little while -- not as long as you've been dealing with this -- but I was assured today by AT&T that your $275 is finally on its way back to you.

"We apologize for this inconvenience," a spokeswoman for AT&T told the ConsumerAlly. "Thanks for flagging this with us so we could get it worked out."

That's good news -- sort of.

The state of customer service in America today is such that even if you're well-connected to someone in a call center in Bangalore you still can't get a simple solution to a simple problem. Here at the vortex of consumer complaint land you hear a lot of stories quite similar to Matt's.

Recently, I heard a story about someone trying to buy a gift card from Lane Bryant and getting caught in a seemingly never-ending tangle of people who made misstep after misstep until the situation finally landed in the corporate offices. After consistent blundering, Lane Bryant then did the right thing.

The executive who finally ended the cycle of mistakes realized that in order to erase the frustration over the situation and stop the potential loss of a customer (and the others who might be swayed by her story) he had to do something extra. So he had the gift card send by overnight mail and picked up the $200 tab and delivered a sincere-sounding apology.

Why was that the right thing to do? Look at the message that sends: The company acknowledged it was wrong and for the minimal investment of a $200 store credit bought a lot more in goodwill.

So, what AT&T did is better than what it could have done. Matt got back his money. But making a customer get lost for months in a sea of red tape should have been worth a bit more. Comp the guy a year's TV service and maybe he comes back as a customer and stops telling the story about the $275 he couldn't get back. Now he remains a lost customer still exasperated he had to go the extra mile and a half to get his due.

If you run into a situation like Matt did, involve a third party as soon as it becomes clear a satisfactory resolution is not going to be happening anytime soon. Either file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or contact your local or state consumer affairs office. Often, getting a mediator involved will escalate the situation high enough to bring resolution.

Or, if you're still confused about where to go for help, talk to us: "Help me WalletPop!"
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