Verizon Wireless: Taking account security too far

Customer security is important, but my recent experience with Verizon Wireless shows that when the effort interferes with the ability to use the service properly, it has been taken too far.

I am a security-conscious guy, I do what I can to protect my information online and I appreciate the efforts of companies I deal with that do the same. But my recent experience with Verizon Wireless shows that when the security effort interferes with the customer's ability to use the service properly, it has been taken too far.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot from Verizon and signed up for the monthly data plan. Since the transaction, enough time has passed for me to review the device on ZDNet, take it back when it started failing and replace it with a new one, and chronicle that experience. During the time that passed since starting the service I've already received the first monthly bill via snail mail from Verizon. What I can't do is go online and track my data usage due to the insane security process the carrier uses for online account activation.

The instructions that accompanied the Samsung device and data service made it clear that the only way to track data usage is through a My Verizon account online. This data tracking is important as my monthly plan ($50) gets me 5GB of data usage, after which a hefty $10/GB overage fee kicks in. It is only prudent for me to keep a watchful eye on my data consumption through the My Verizon account. The problem is I can't do that.

Following the instructions laid out by Verizon on the day my service was activated, I went online to set up and activate the My Verizon account. It stepped me through a process of entering my personal information, including the all-important email address that Verizon will use to warn me when I start getting close to hitting my monthly data cap, and then it asked me for the phone number associated with my mobile hotspot service. I entered the number and was greeted with a screen that informed me Verizon would send a text message to the "phone" I was registering that included a temporary password to get the My Verizon account up and running.

The problem is the Samsung device is not a phone, and is not capable of receiving text messages, much less displaying them. The account activation process gave me a link to click for information about the process if that was the case, which told me that for security reasons the temporary password would be snail mailed to me. This would happen after spending 24 hours attempting to send a text message to the device. There was no other way forward, I would have to wait for the postman to bring me a letter from Verizon containing the temporary account password to finish create my online account. So not only can I not go online to pay my bill, I can't track my data usage which is what I really want to do. Little did I know it was only going to get worse.

It's in the mail, NOT »

Two weeks later I finally received a letter from Verizon that I was confident contained my password. I ripped it open, only to discover to my horror that not only was there no password indicated, it was my first monthly bill from the carrier. I only signed up two weeks ago, but I already received the first bill. It seems my monthly billing cycle ended the day after I signed up, so it was time to send me a bill. I could live with that, but there was still no password in the letter to go online. There was an instruction in the bill telling me to activate the My Verizon account as I had failed to do so yet.

I went online as instructed and repeated the personal information I had entered two weeks ago, only to hit the same screen asking for the device telephone number. I duly entered it in and was informed once again that the password would be send via text message, and if that failed for 24 hours they would mail me the temporary password. I was back to square one, and not happy about that.

I decided to call Verizon directly to get this account going, so I dialed the customer service number provided in the monthly bill. I spent 5 minutes going through the menu loop, and then finally a live person answered the call. After going through an account of what I was trying to do, the rep (who was very cordial) informed me that she was sorry but there was no way to bypass the mailing of the password. She also warned me that no matter what I did, I should not go back online and enter the device phone number again as that would start the whole password generation process all over again.

I explained that I had just done that, and her response was that since it takes Verizon 2-3 weeks to generate and mail the first password to me, I had just started the process all over again. Basically when the password finally appears in my mailbox, it was going to be useless as the second attempt to register online had reset the temporary password and started the whole process all over again. What she was telling me was that I was now going to likely receive a second monthly bill before I was going to receive the letter with the password inside.

I admit it was a big effort to keep from losing my temper with her, as I realized she wasn't responsible for the insane process designed to protect the security of an account that had not even been opened yet. She admitted this procedure annoys many new account holders who call in. Then she informed me there was a way to get past the snail mail requirement after all, if I was willing to go through a "little bit of an effort." I was in no way prepared for what she was about to tell me to do.

Take someone else's phone and you're all set! »

Since the problem of getting my account activated was due to the inability to receive a text message on the mobile hotspot device, all I needed to do according to the customer service rep was to enlist the aid of a friend or family member with a Verizon phone. Once I had a surrogate phone lined up, I simply needed to call Verizon customer support again and have my confederate's phone transferred to my new data account. This would let Verizon send a text message to my "new" phone, and get my online account activated.

Once that had been successfully verified, all I would have to do is call Verizon back and have the phone transferred back to the original account holder. Sure it would take about half an hour, and she couldn't verify if there would be any transfer fees or not, but it would sure get me what I wanted.

I admit that I was near speechless at this point in the conversation with Verizon. That they would recommend moving existing phones around, creating lots more work for both the customer and the carrier, just blew me away. It would have been far easier for Verizon to simply let its representative set up my online account over the phone. By the time I was talking to a real person on this call, I had verified my phone number, account number, address and social security number. That's not good enough; Verizon is concerned about my account security, and since I refused to dupe the carrier into sending me a password as suggested, I am now waiting another few weeks for a letter with my password inside. That's assuming Verizon really sends it as they say they will, but I haven't seen one yet, even the one the carrier tells me won't be any good when it arrives. This is security taken too far, and as I can't track data usage I'm postponing any trips to Canada with the $2,100/GB roaming charge.

Image credit: Flickr user extended.epiphany