My house burned down and now my phone company won’t answer my calls

Aftermath of forest fire. / Photo by Ken Schwarz – Flickr Creative Commons
Question: My house in Fort Collins, Colo., burned to the ground during this summer’s wildfires, and I’m having some trouble with my phone company that I could use your help with.

I live in Sweden and have to do most of my communication by e-mail because of the time difference and international phone rates. I have been trying since the fire to reach someone at CenturyLink to discuss my situation. The people who answer the “customer service” phones do not have the authority to listen to my story and decide if they can or will help me.

I don’t know enough about the structure of CenturyLink to know what level I need to appeal to. My house and phone were located in northern Colorado. I called while I was still in Colorado and now have sent several e-mails asking to have direct contact with the person responsible for customer service in Colorado or someone in the corporate office.

Most of the “responses” have been automatically generated. Today I got one saying that I needed to call. They had obviously not even read my message.

I need a direct contact with someone who can listen to my story and possibly help me. I have no house, no phone and no possibility for service until I rebuild my house. In order to keep my number, I must pay vacation rate which is $15 to $20 per month for nothing. Any help you can give me will be greatly appreciated. — Kacy Thompson, Fort Collins, Colo.

Answer: CenturyLink should have connected you with someone who could listen to your story and fix your problem quickly. CenturyLink is the third-largest telecommunications provider in the country, with a presence from Washington State to (ahem) Florida, where yes, it is my high-speed Internet provider.

The CenturyLink we know today is the result of several phone company mergers, and I only mention that because its phone company DNA is apparent when you deal with it.

My own experiences include being placed in lengthy “hold” queues where I’m subjected to the worst elevator music soundtrack ever, and finally being connected to employees who can’t really help me, and have to transfer me to another department that can. My emails are answered with form emails — or not at all.

Once I reach someone who I think can assist, they won’t give me their full name or an email address, only a nondescript station number and a first name. (Remind me again, what century is this?) It can be massively frustrating, even when your house is still standing.

Perhaps the worst part of all this is that often, you don’t have a real choice in a telecom provider. If you want phone service, you’re often stuck with CenturyLink.

Finding the contact information for someone at CenturyLink can be maddeningly difficult, too. The company doesn’t list anyone as a vice president or manager of customer care at the regional or national level. I would have tried shooting an email over to Maxine Moreau, CenturyLink’s senior vice president of network services. All email addresses at CenturyLink are or, so Maxine’s is

CenturyLink should have offered a fast way to get in touch with it after the wildfires instead of giving you the runaround. From Sweden, I would have escalated your request to a higher level as soon as you felt as if you were on a wild goose chase. You were entitled to a clear, fast answer about your phone line.

I contacted the CenturyLink on your behalf. It put you in touch with the right person in Colorado, and the company offered you a $170 credit to cover the fee to keep your number for the next 10 months. Best of luck rebuilding your home.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Next time, could you make sure it’s clear what the OP is asking for in the intro? I had to read halfway through the story to figure out she wanted to keep her number without paying (is that right?) I don’t know who CenturyLink is and for the first few paragraphs, I assumed they were an insurance company.
    Keep up the good work!

  • backprop

    CenturyLink might be tough to contact, but:

    “I… have to do most of my communication by e-mail because of the time difference and international phone rates.”

    Really? Echoing your earlier question…What century is this? A phone card (or Skype) and a few minutes later in the day could have taken care of it. (Sweden’s not that far ahead).

    CenturyTel might stink (I have no idea) but it’s not unreasonable for a phone company in the U.S. to conduct a lot of its business with its U.S. customers….by phone. The house was in Colorado, after all.

    I’m curious if he’s handling business with the insurance company and others by e-mail. My financial guy and insurance agent always, always have to be contacted by phone.

    I don’t think the OP tried very hard, but glad to see it settled for the long road to rebuilding.

  • BillCCC

    I guess their call center could only give scripted answers to the questions being asked. There is the possibility that the OP was not as clear with her request as she could have been.

    There is no way they should be charging someone who lost their house a fee for keeping their number.

  • sdir1

    Kind of a tangent, but I don’t blame employees for providing only their first name. I would expect them to provide an operator number or something similar, however. There are a lot of angry and crazy people out there. I, for example, have a unique name and anyone with google-fu could learn where I live, where I work, etc. Not all customers are reasonable and some are downright scary.

  • MarkKelling

    First, sorry about the loss of the house. Being in Colorado during the fires was a scary time and I know many who lost their homes. Luckily no one I know lost their life.

    Not knowing why the OP needs or wants to keep the specific phone number makes it difficult to understand why the complaint about the charge to keep it. The phone company has every right to charge a fee if you want to reserve a phone number. Also, not knowing when the house will be rebuilt, is the credit given going to be enough to keep the OP happy or will there be another story later about how since the phone company gave a credit why can’t they give another one because the house is not yet rebuilt.

  • emanon256

    I voted yes.

    I voted this way because I worked for a client once who was receiving more phone calls than they could answer. This was good, as business was good, but they did not have the capacity to take so many calls. They brought in a few companies to propose phone response systems.

    All of these companies offered priorities based on the type of all, i.e. new business got top priority, then current customers, then people wishing to cancel got lowest priority. One of these companies even offered what they called a “Maze” which was designed to get the customer off the phone before they ever spoke to a real person. Of course, all three companies said you could disable the “Press 0 for a person.” And the maze feature made it almost impossible to ever get a real person.

    My client never went with any of these systems as we all agreed they were disgusting.

  • TonyA_says

    Chris, with number portability, couldn’t she have transferred (port) her old number (first to mobile carrier and then) to a free service like google voice (or something similar)?
    I know she wanted to keep her old phone number and there should be a way to HOLD it without paying an arm and a leg (for NO SERVICE).

  • NakinaAce

    I have tried to deal with these clowns in the past and it was useless. I finally just got fed up and stopped my service. They kept billing for me months afterward but I just threw the bills in the trash. Completely useless compost heap of old phone companies.

  • TonyA_says

    CenturyLink is the third largest phone company in the USA (after AT&T and Verizon) when CenturyTel merged with Qwest (which was the old US West, a former “Baby Bell”). You must be too young to remember the breakup of Ma Bell and the rebirth of Baby Bells becoming Long Distance companies. The entry of wireless and internet changed all that later.

    Anyway, CenturyLink is the local phone company for many folks in Colorado area.

  • EvilEmpryss

    I see no reason why people should expect to get the full names of customer service reps. Upper management, maybe, but the general phone jockeys? You certainly wouldn’t demand the full name of the person dealing with your refund at Walmart. These aren’t professionals who make a living by name recognition so there is no benefit to them to use it and in fact a good reason not to.

    In this century, it’s too easy to track people down on their Facebook, Twitter, or other social media, not to mention finding their home addresses and phone numbers. Disgruntled customers can and have become stalkers, and it’s bad enough when they keep calling back to the customer service lines and requesting a particular rep just so they can harass them (yes, it does happen!). Giving them the opportunity to turn work telephone harassment into face-to-face is unnecessary.

    A first name and an employee number work just fine for accountability and allow the reps to keep their privacy intact.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Centurylink is our telephone provider, too, and it makes me wonder how they can be such a monopoly. Isn’t this what caused the breakup of Ma Bell?

    This is a REALLY frustrating company to work with but I’m left wondering why the OP thinks he/she should be able to hold on to the number for free?

    We had a similar situation when the pole outside our house was hit by lightning last year, We had no phone service because the pole was fried (along with pretty much anything electronic in our house, including our cordless phones) and all the underground lines leading from it. The downtime was going to be four to six weeks while things were repaired/replaced/worked on, etc. I merely reduced our home phone service to it’s most basic level, local calling only, which is about $14 a month. Problem solved.

    Wouldn’t it have saved the OP a great deal of trouble to just pay to reserve the phone number rather than play the sympathy card? It wasn’t CenturyLink’s fault the OP’s house burned (or that our pole was hit by lightning) so why should they incur the loss? Insurance covers a great number of expenses when it’s part of a larger claim. I was surprised at what our homeowner’s covered while we were getting squared away after taking the hit. Did the Op even talk to them about them covering the expense while the house was being re-built?

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    CenturyLink can be a real “gem” to deal with. I had to call 3 separate times to straighten out my mother’s phone service after she added “high-speed” Internet to her account. Each time was as if it were the first time that CenturyLink had been made aware of the problem. Qwest (which CenturyLink bought out) wasn’t much better, but most of the people I had to talk to were fairly local – Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska. Saturday, a friend of mine told me that CenturyLink is now outsourcing service calls to an overseas call center. Oh, joy.
    I’m not sure who these 17 people are that have never experienced any glitches to their service that have required interaction with their phone company (they voted “No”).

  • Rebecca

    A company I worked for had a policy that you provide your full name. Until an irate customer began stalking an employee. First he showed up at the office, and later her home. Seriously.

  • Terri Lundberg

    Besides the house burning down (which is truly horrible, I’m so sorry), what is the problem besides crappy service from CenturyLink? The OP sounds kinda lazy and wants someone to (1) get her a sympathy break on and (2) play secretary.

    I’m an American residing in Saudi Arabia. I fly back and forth between the states and the middle east regularly, and I’m conducting business regularly over the phone. I call foul on the whiny line “I live in Sweden and have to do most of my communication by e-mail because of the time difference and international phone rates.” Huh? The OP doesn’t have Skype? Never heard of anything related to VoIP? Vonage? The OP is traveling between Sweden and the US and keeping two households and wants the phone company to give her a $20 a month break? I say if the op wants to keep the number, she has to pay for it.

    I’ve also lived in Stockholm and continue o go there regularly. They have some of the best internet service around. If I can stay on the phone with Delta 1 – 2 hours every time I have to make international reservations, using miles to upgrade, and checking several dates regarding availability from Saudi Arabia using VoIP where the internet connection is 2 steps above 3rd world slow, she certainly can work her issues out from Sweden.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I can understand why they’d want to keep their old number, certainly if it was their full-time residence. But it’s a bit harder to understand in this day and age why they’d choose to pay for land line 365 days a year in a house they obviously don’t inhabit full-time. Fort Collins has good cell coverage. But, to each his own. In an odd way, the credit is a sort of windfall since they’ve apparently been used to paying for a phone line and getting no use out of it.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I was wondering the same thing. Going even further, transferring the number they like to a cell phone would have made a lot of sense even when the house was still standing since they’re apparently not there all the time.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I don’t agree. While tragic, the fire wasn’t the phone company’s fault and holding the number is still a service they are providing. I don’t see why a reasonable fee to hold the number is out of line. If the OP doesn’t want to pay, they could just get a new number to go along with the new house once it is rebuilt. Or, they could possibly transfer that number to a cell phone.

  • Guest

    We had so much trouble with CenturyLink after we had had Qwest for years that we cancelled the service and switched to cell phones only.


    We had so much trouble with our phone service (constant buzz on the line and frequent outages) and customer service trying to get these things fixed after Qwest became CenturyLink that we cancelled our service.

  • BillCCC

    Holding a number would cost the company $0.00. What would be the problem with that. How would transferring or changing numbers be easier than keeping the same number?

  • MarkKelling

    Thinking more about it, they probably had an alarm system since they were not at the house full time. Many of those require a connection out of the house. A phone line would be the most cost effective way to achieve that.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Agreed. But a specific phone number isn’t required for that. Maybe they’re just attached to the number because they know it, but I’m not really understanding the importance of it. Since they’re not there all that often, obviously friends and family weren’t using it regularly. Possibly they don’t own a cell phone?

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Nothing wrong with that at all. It’d be nice of them to do that. But should they be EXPECTED to do it for free? It would cost something because somebody would need to enter it in their system to hold that number. Then there’d be some policy questions to address. It can take months or years for people to rebuild and some never do so. Would they be bound to locking up that number forever? Would it be okay if they released it after a year or two? It’s not as simple an issue as it initially sounds.

    And it’s not a matter of what is “easier” it’s a matter of the customer having other viable options. If there was no other option than holding the number, I’d be more inclined to think the phone company should be nice and hold the number for them. But there are other options available to the OP. Their choice is to have the number held, thus I don’t see a problem with a charge for that service.

  • flutiefan

    count me as one of those who understands the no-full-name thing. i will never give my last name out. you all know (or most of you do) that i work for an airline, which inspires some hatred in some people. i am only authorized to give my 1st name and my employee number, by which anyone at the company can track me down. we have had stalkers in the past (our last names are on the badges we’re required to wear… makes not a lick of sense, so i turn my around). and not too long ago, when i gave an irate lady my name and she demanded my last name, i gave her the explanation that she may have my employee number, i am the only ______ there, and i would not give my last name. her response was, “oh don’t worry, i’ll find you out.” it was very ominous and scary.

  • Guest

    Hello Kacy, and any other CenturyLink
    customers who are reading this post, We did receive Kacy’s request for
    assistance and it is has been resolved. If anyone else needs assistance with
    their CenturyLink account or services, please feel free to email us at
    or via this submission form _ Thank

  • CenturyLinkHelp

    Hello Kacy, and any other CenturyLink
    customers who are reading this post, We did receive Kacy’s request for
    assistance and it has been resolved. If anyone else needs assistance with
    their CenturyLink account or services, please feel free to email us at
    or via this submission form _ Thank

  • flutiefan

    wow i got a “dislike” on this? is it the fact that i’m an airline employee?!

  • jpp42

    Definitely agree with this. I live in Australia which is an even further time zone than Sweden. With Skype, calls to US 1-800 numbers are free, and CenturyTel most likely has a 1800 number. Even calls to regular numbers less than $0.02/minute which is pretty darn cheap.

    I also am not sure what’s so important about keeping one’s number in this day and age, espeically with it “parked” in an unusable way. It doesn’t seem like something to get all hot and bothered about. OP should look into Google Voice or similar services if she wants a permanent number. That can even be used in Sweden!

  • Jessica Smith

    If out of the country is their primary residence, I would guess they do not have a US based cell phone and therefore anyone who would need to reach them when they are here already has the number that they had hooked up in CO…..

  • Lindabator

    Can’t believe it! I don’t blame you at all – working with the public is fraught with dangers most folks seem to ignore – including the stalkers who can be pretty scary!

  • Binky90210

    You know cell phones from outside the US work here, right? In fact the US is the only country that put up roadblocks to international usage. Most other countries have cell plans that assume travel. It’s only the US that gets screwed when you cross the border.

  • Binky90210

    they are sophisticated enough to own property on another continent and they don’t own a cell? really.

  • Big Horn Kid

    About airline employees identifying themselves: I would be happy if flight attendants, in particular, wore ANY identification at all, rather than trying to hide it from the customers! A nameplate showing only an employee number would be fine! Unfortunately, flutiefan, some of your colleagues will say, with a straight face, that providing nothing more than an employee number places them in “danger.” I suspect these are the same people who will have a kid, with downs syndrome, thrown off the plane because the kid is making them “uncomfortable” and also delight in turning the cabin into a flying police state!

  • Big Horn Kid

    Dear “Talk To Us:” If your customer call/e-mail center is now overseas are your customers, now, supposed to be fluent in Hindustani (India)???

  • Debra Beasley

    If you ever visit this area west of Fort Collins, you’ll understand the need for a landline. As to the need to keep one’s number, I can only guess that it is the primary way for people to reach her. As mentioned by Jessica above, it would be very expensive for US contacts to phone her on a non-US number. Social media works fine for people who use it but many people shun these sites because they value their privacy. Fort Collins is still one of the areas where area codes are not required and some people still “memorize” the seven digits required to call people or enter them as speed dials on their land lines. I imagine this is even more common in an area with no cell service.

  • James Penrose

    “I see no reason why people should expect to get the full names of customer service reps.”
    Because, later when you tell the next level drone you spoke to “Jack”, he or she may well say “We have 175 people named “Jack” or “We don’t have anyone named “Jack” and there is no lack of third party “customer service” companies where they simply use a particular name for anyone sitting at that desk. Or their name is no more likely to actually *be* jack than yours is to be Mohandas Gahndi.

    it is also civilized: I am old enough to remember both finding out I was speaking to a “Ms. Jones” and being called “Mr. Penrose” by staff at a place where I was doing business.

    I do not like being on a first name basis with total strangers and I certainly do not like them calling *me* by my given name.

  • flutiefan

    um, at least at every single airline i have ever seen and flown on, the employee F/A is REQUIRED to wear a nametag on the front of their uniform. when i don’t (i forget it, or it’s giving me a rash—true story), i get written up and i am forced to wear a name sticker. and it is required by law that they have their airline ID (badge) on. however, that contains their last name, so i don’t blame anyone for not prominently displaying that.
    may i ask, why is it such a big deal to know someone’s name?

  • Big Horn Kid

    Again, flutiefan, a badge with nothing more than an employee number would be fine—like something you see inside a NY City taxicab. Also again, flutiefan, some of your colleagues put up the bogus argument that showing an employee number places them in “danger.” In danger of what??? Having your supervisors find-out that you have a s****y personality with the customers??

  • Bill___A

    I am sorry you lost your house, but really, what a lot of whining over nothing. That’s what the vacation disconnect rate is. And that’s the mechanism for keeping your phone number with the phone company when you don’t have phone service. It isn’t the phone company’s fault that there was a wildfire. If you don’t like to pay the fee, talk to your insurance company – it is part of the expenses of your losss.
    If you travel between the US and Sweden a lot, you should have by now figured out how to deal with the time zone difference and how to call for next to nothing between the two places.
    If you can afford to travel between the US and Sweden, maintain two houses, etc, do you really think it is worthwhile to get the phone company to cover their legitimate charges for your situation?
    I’m willing to bet that the phone company lost a lot more in those wildfires than you did. You don’t see them asking you to help pay to replace their phone poles, wiring, etc. Why do you think they should eat the charges for the vacation disconnect?