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Feds Say T-Mobile Tucked Bogus Charges Into Bills, Hid Them From Customers

Mark Lennihan
AP Photo
File image

Federal regulators are taking Bellevue-based T-Mobile to court, accusing the company of billing customers for services they never signed up for.

Those services might include flirting tips, horoscopes or celebrity gossip.

Those are a few of the so-called “premium” text messaging services tucked into people’s bills, buried in a section called “use charges.” The trouble is, many if not most customers never intended to sign up, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

FTC investigators said third parties either deceived consumers into signing up, or, in some cases, just bought lists of phone numbers and started charging those users. T-Mobile did little to stop it, said FTC’s Jessica Rich, and in fact helped to obscure the truth from consumers.

“We brought this lawsuit because it’s wrong for T-Mobile to profit from these charges when there were clear signs these charges were fraudulent,” Rich said.  

Rich said T-Mobile intentionally hid the charges from consumers, did little to verify customers wanted the services and has been slow to offer refunds.

The company calls the complaint “unfounded and without merit.”They say they stopped accepting those premium text services last year, and blamed the third-party companies for any deceptive practices.

The FTC said T-Mobile collected hundreds of millions of dollars from these charges since 2009, and the commission wants the company to return much of that money to customers. It also wants the company to swear off such practices in the future.

T-Mobile is in merger talks with wireless carrier Sprint. Its stock took a mild downturn after the news broke.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.