Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch has sued AT&T, alleging that the company violated Minnesota consumer protection laws by charging thousands of Minnesotans for long distance calling plans and related charges that were never ordered.
The Attorney General's lawsuit echoes a class action filed last month in California.
Hatch said he received complaints from consumers throughout Minnesota about erroneous AT&T; long distance charges appearing on their local telephone bills. The investigation revealed that an estimated 16,675 Minnesotans who are not AT&T; customers were assessed long distance calling plan charges by the company.
The erroneous telephone charges apparently began in January 2004, when AT&T; started assessing a $3.95 monthly recurring charge to its long distance Basic Rate Plan customers. However, the $3.95 monthly recurring charge was assessed not only to AT&T; customers on its Basic Rate Plan, but also to consumers who did not obtain services from AT&T;, or who had other AT&T; calling plans.
Attorney General Hatch says that AT&T;'s billing problems are only part of the story.
AT&T; claims they made a mistake. Yet, when consumers called AT&T; seeking a refund, they were not helped, said Attorney General Hatch. Instead, they were placed on hold for extensive periods of time and then transferred to customer service representatives who tried to hard-sell them AT&T; services. Some consumers were even told they had to sign up with AT&T; to get their money back.
Another problem is that AT&T; states they have credited consumer's accounts for the charges, said Hatch. In fact, our office is still receiving complaints from consumers who state they have not received their credit.
The lawsuit seeks to stop AT&T; from wrongfully billing consumers for unsolicited services and from coercively marketing its services to consumers who call to contest or inquire about the charges. It also seeks an injunction, consumer restitution and civil penalties.
Consumers should carefully check their telephone bills to make sure they are not paying for services they did not order. Because the amount in question is relatively small, consumers may not notice any added charges. In addition, many consumers also use automatic bill pay arrangements with their local telephone company so that the local telephone company deducts payment for charges automatically from their checking accounts. In this case, consumers should still carefully review their billing statement that comes in the mail for accuracy.