It might be hard to remember, but before Facebook existed, people would call each other on the phone to wish them a happy birthday. A woman who lives near Boston and was turning 84 waited for friends and family to call her, but the calls never came.
Verizon turned off the woman’s phone due to non-payment, reports the Boston Globe, despite rules that protect elderly people from having that happen.
The shutoff wasn’t due to a lack of funds on her part, or because she forgot to pay her bill. She was in the middle of a dispute with Verizon and refused to pay the bill until the telecom fixed problems with her line, like calls that went straight to voice mail and weird noises on the line.
On her birthday, she only learned that her phone was turned off and not just malfunctioning as usual because a relative came over and told her so.
The Elder Protection Form
Normally, people over 65 and living alone have special protection from having their phone service turned off. In Massachusetts, both sides submit their side of what happened to the Department of Telecommunications and Cable before the line is turned off.
This protection isn’t automatic. You have to sign up for it after turning 65, using a form that’s mailed along with phone bills once every year. (Again, the system may be different in your state: This is how it works in Massachusetts.) The 84-year-old whose line was cut off didn’t know this, and most other people probably don’t.
No one at Verizon knows how old you are
That became relevant because even when she mentioned her age and the importance of the LifeLine device that she carries and that uses her home phone line, this didn’t raise any flags to the phone company.
No matter how many complaint letters about the technical problems she began by mentioning her age and that she had been a customer of Verizon and its predecessor companies for more than 50 years, Verizon didn’t “know” that she was over 65 until she filed that form.
What she didn’t know is that she wasn’t completely stuck in an emergency. “The service was put into suspension, meaning the customer could still dial out to 911, or to Verizon to discuss the account,” Verizon said in a statement, taking issue with the Globe’s consumer affairs columnist saying that the service was disconnected.
In a happy ending for the 84-year-old woman near Boston, Verizon ultimately ultimately resolved the technical problem and granted her a bill credit once the line was turned back on.
You can still take home two useful lessons from this story: Don’t ignore shutoff notices even if you’re in a standoff with your phone company, and be sure that anyone you care about who is over 65 and lives alone files this form or a similar one.
Here’s the document [PDF] for Massachusetts residents who use Verizon that the Boston Globe distributed. For everyone else, contact your or your loved one’s phone carrier and request an “elder protection form.”
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.