Ted Estarija was expecting his cell phone bill to be higher this month after adding his Fremont son to his plan, but not by nearly $22,000.

"When I saw my Verizon bill, I was like, 'Wow!'" he said.

The Hayward resident said his monthly bill is normally $93.79. But somehow, over a month's time, his 13-year-old son managed to run up almost $22,000 in data usage charges — $21,917.59 to be exact.

"There is no way I could afford this," said Estarija, who lost his job as an accountant in October and is looking for work. "I will pay my monthly bill. That's all I can afford right now."

He called Verizon, but, "all they could tell me is that because it's such a huge (bill) to clear, it has to go to upper management."

He sent an e-mail to KTVU-TV hoping to get some advice from the station or its viewers on what to do. KTVU looked into the matter and ran a story Thursday night about his predicament. That led to further media inquiries and a call from "Good Morning America."

"I think that rattled their cages and got things cleared up," Estarija said. "They said they're going to credit the whole thing. It's a weight off my shoulders."

Heidi Flato, a spokeswoman for Verizon, said, "We want to do the right thing for our customers." She said Verizon investigates cases with bills this large to determine if fraud is a factor.


"That kind of overage is not common," she said. "I don't know the specifics on this case, but things that can run up a bill are watching streaming video — YouTube," she said. "Video is a huge amount of data usage."

Customers who decline a data package when they sign up for Verizon Wireless service are charged $1.99 per megabyte of data usage. Unbeknown to Estarija, his son apparently downloaded about 1.4 million kilobytes of data last month. The data usage was not covered under his plan, so he was charged by the megabyte.

Estarija said when he added his son to his plan last month, he signed him up for only phone and text. "If I would have paid $30 for unlimited access, it never would have happened," Estarija said. "It's a matter of pressing a few buttons to access the Internet."

His son lives with his mother, and Estarija has not had a chance to talk to him about the bill. He did hear from the boy's mother that "he's going through a lot of stress because of this whole thing."

Flato said Verizon offers several tools that customers can use to avoid the situation Estarija found himself in.

Parents with children can block data usage on their child's phone. Also, up-to-the-minute usage can be monitored by pressing "#bal" on the parent's phone. Flato recommended calling Verizon, visiting its Web site or going to any Verizon store to learn more about options.

With the issue resolved, "Good Morning America" canceled the interview.

Estarija said he has been a Verizon customer for 15 years and plans to stay with the company, but for the time being, he has suspended his son's account.

Jason Sweeney covers San Leandro. Reach him at 510-293-2469.