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Delay hampers Washington County phone directory recall

gift card offer extended

July 24, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- An effort to recall thousands of local phone directories with private listings has been delayed.

As a result, residents who want to return a directory for a $5 gift card will have until Aug. 30, one month longer than first announced.

Julie Kruger, a sales manager for Ogden Directories, said it's taken longer than expected to get residents prepaid envelopes to mail back directories.

Kruger said Verizon promised her that prepaid envelopes were mailed by June 28.

However, she said she found out through postal statements in mid-July that about half of the envelopes weren't mailed until July 7, 8 and 9, slowing the recall effort.

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"That's been extremely frustrating for us," she said.

About 11,000 unlisted and nonpublished numbers were printed in Ogden's 2008-09 Washington County EZ To Use Big Book.

As legally required, Verizon provided listings to Ogden - inadvertently including private addresses and phone numbers.

A May 31 Herald-Mail story made the mistake public. People in law enforcement, victims of domestic violence and others have complained that their privacy was violated.

Verizon, which apologized and blamed a computer glitch, was called before the Maryland Public Service Commission for a hearing in Baltimore on June 5.

Seven weeks later, though, the PSC hasn't indicated when or if it might take action.

In January, when Allegheny Energy was called before the PSC to answer questions about its failed light-bulb distribution program, a solution was crafted the same day.

Asked Wednesday about the time contrast, PSC spokeswoman LaWanda Edwards said the PSC was flooded with more than 1,000 calls about the light bulbs, but got far fewer complaints about the phone directory problem.

Verizon has promised to credit affected customers $25, about a year's worth of charges for having an unlisted or nonpublished number, and to change customers' phone numbers at no charge, if they want.

It also has offered up to $1,000 per customer to cover the cost of a security system for certain people whose safety might be at risk because of the mistake, but the company won't say how many customers it has approved for payment.

Verizon is paying to reprint and mail a new Ogden directory and for $5 Visa gift cards for people who return the old directory.

Verizon spokeswoman Sandra Arnette provided basic details about the directory recall on Wednesday, but later didn't return an e-mail and a call asking for comment about the delay in mailing prepaid envelopes.

A woman who answered the phone at The Voom Group, a Texas printing and design business that mailed the prepaid envelopes, said the company won't comment.

Kruger said about 90,000 prepaid envelopes were sent to people in Ogden's territory of Washington County and Southern Pennsylvania in hopes of getting back the old directories.

The return address area of the plain white envelopes says "Get Green. Get Cash" in place of a sender's name and lists a Plano, Texas, address.

Kruger said residents should recognize the slogan from postcards mailed a few weeks earlier to announce the directory collection.

Verizon and Ogden used the slogan to frame the drive as a recycling effort, with proceeds going to a Washington County charity. An accompanying letter and a Web site don't mention that private information in the directory is the reason for the recall.

Hagerstown Postmaster Craig Miner said many new Ogden directories have been delivered and he expects the rest to reach homes this week.

Many old directories now are reaching the post office in prepaid envelopes, he said.

Originally, residents had a deadline of July 30 for the old phone books to reach Texas to be eligible for $5 gift cards.

But in early July, as it became clear many people hadn't received prepaid envelopes, the deadline was pushed back to Aug. 30, Kruger said.

People who haven't received a prepaid envelope to return the phone book containing private information can get one at Ogden Directories' office at 645 E. 1st St. in Hagerstown weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Information about the recall is posted at www.getgreengetcash.com.

Julie Kruger, a sales manager for Ogden, said Verizon promised to set up a toll-free number for questions about the $5 Visa gift cards people get for returning directories, but hasn't done so yet. She said Ogden doesn't have information about the gift cards.

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