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BBB Tip of the Week: AT&T cramming settlement

Customers of AT&T Mobility who had their cellphone bills crammed with illegal third-party charges may be eligible to receive a refund.

The federal government, all 50 states and the District of Columbia reached a $105 million settlement with AT&T.

The allegations included the finding that third-party charges were lumped under the “AT&T Monthly Subscription” section, making it near impossible for consumers to correctly identify. As part of the settlement, the company must make a best effort to ensure that only authorized charges are billed by:

• Obtaining customers’ expressed consent before billing third-party charges.

• Ensuring consumers are informed of all material terms and conditions of payment before they are charged.

• Providing a full refund or credit to any customer billed for “crammed” charges going forward.

• Informing new customers of the options to block third-party charges or use their mobile phone to pay third-party charges.

• Labeling and consolidating third-party charges in a dedicated section of mobile phone bills, so that they are clearly distinguished from AT&T Mobility’s charges.

• Providing information about how to block third-party charges within the third-party charges section of the bill.

To receive a refund under this settlement, consumers must file their claims by May 1, 2015. Claims can be filed online at www.ftc.gov/att or by requesting a form by mail by calling (877) 819-9692.

In fall 2013, AT&T Mobility, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile agreed to completely stop billing customers for premium text services. However, other mobile providers may not have adopted this policy yet.

To be safe, check your bill for cramming every month. If you find crammed charges, the Better Business Bureau suggests quick action: Call your cell service provider for details about questionable charges and the company associated with them and dispute crammed charges with your provider.

Even if you get a refund or credit, write to the company that crammed the charge. Request a return receipt as proof of your correspondence, by sending an email with a return response or a letter by certified mail.

Consider blocking all third-party services, if your provider will do so and file a complaint with local, state and federal authorities.

You can file complaints with the BBB at www.bbb.org, the FTC at www.ftc.gov/complaint, and the Washington State Attorney General’s Office at www.atg.wa.gov/FileAComplaint.aspx.

By Erin T. Dodge, BBB editor

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

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