Vt. settles phone line charges case for $1.6M
By LISA RATHKE
The Associated Press | November 13,2013
Attorney General Bill Sorrell speaks at a news conference Tuesday in Montpelier announcing his office has settled two lawsuits over the practice of inserting third-party charges into phone bills sometimes without the consumer authorizing them.
MONTPELIER — Vermont has settled two lawsuits that will refund more than $900,000 to 12,500 residents in the state’s fight against third-party charges added to phone bills, sometimes without the consumer authorizing them, Attorney General William Sorrell said Tuesday.
The cases involved landlines and were against 25 vendors of voicemail, email and other services, 11 principals of the companies and two other companies accused of facilitating the marketing or placement of the charges.
The charges from third-party vendors could be listed as “usage charges,” “monthly subscription,” “premium messaging” or simply “charges.” The charges range from a one-time charge of $24.99 a month to monthly fees of $9.99.
Vermont banned nearly all third-party charges on landline phone bills in 2010, Sorrell said.
His office is now investigating the practice, called cramming, on cellphone bills. The office is leading a 45-state series of negotiations with cellphone companies, not the third-party vendors, to get a handle on how widespread the problem is, he said.
Sixty percent of third-party charges on Vermont mobile phone bills were unauthorized, the University of Vermont found in a survey conducted this year and commissioned by the attorney general’s office.
“If you’ve got a cellphone, be concerned that you’re being crammed or you will be crammed and be vigilant about that,” he said.
Sorrell, who announced last month that he is running for re-election, advises Vermonters to review their cellphone bills, ask their carriers about questionable charges and seek full refunds for unauthorized fees. He also recommends being careful about giving out cellphone numbers and not responding to spam text messages.
With the latest cramming settlement, the attorney general’s office has returned nearly $2.3 million to more than 25,000 Vermonters. Checks from this settlement will go out to consumers in early December.
The companies also must pay $725,000 to the state.