Calling all current and former AT&T Mobility customers: If you have a wireless phone, you may have paid $2.99 per month without your knowledge for a program called Roadside Assistance. The Washington Attorney General's Office says that if you didn't use the service and didn't authorize the addition of the service to your wireless account, you may qualify for a refund under a new settlement filed today in Thurston County Superior Court.
The Attorney General's Office reached an agreement with AT&T Mobility, LLC, and Asurion Roadside Assistance Services, LLC, in which AT&T Mobility agrees to provide at least partial refunds to qualifying current and former customers – including some previous Cingular Wireless subscribers. An eligible consumer may receive up to $26.91, nine months' worth of those $2.99 charges.
"AT&T Mobility's efforts to promote Roadside Assistance hit a roadblock when consumers complained that Roadside Assistance was added to their accounts without their knowledge and that they were charged without their authorization," Assistant Attorney General Katherine Tassi said.
The state's investigation looked into allegations of "cramming," a deceptive practice where businesses stuff fees for services consumers never authorized onto their bills, and into allegations that AT&T Mobility failed to disclose material terms about its free trial offer of Roadside Assistance.
AT&T Mobility and Asurion denied any wrongdoing but have agreed to restrictions on how they market Roadside Assistance in the future. In addition, AT&T Mobility agreed to provide restitution to qualifying consumers and to pay $500,000 to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division to be used for attorneys' fees, consumer education or other purposes determined by the office.
The Attorney General's Office believes that Cingular Wireless began selling Roadside Assistance to its customers in August 2004 through the use of an initial free trial, followed by automatic billing. Cingular was acquired by AT&T, Inc., in December 2006, and was rebranded as AT&T Mobility. AT&T Mobility continued enrolling customers in Asurion's Roadside Assistance program using a free trial offer.
Under the agreement, AT&T Mobility and Asurion must stop selling Roadside Assistance using free trial offers. AT&T Mobility and Asurion will disclose all material terms, including the cost of Roadside Assistance and the method and frequency of payments, at the time Roadside Assistance is offered and in a purchase confirmation following a sale. AT&T Mobility may not add Roadside Assistance to consumers' accounts without consumers affirmatively choosing to purchase the service.
The AT&T Mobility will randomly review telephone calls when Roadside Assistance is offered and conduct random on-site audits at stores and kiosks to ensure employees are properly disclosing all material terms and conditions when promoting Asurion's program.
"Small fees on your phone bill can be easily overlooked," Tassi said. "But when many people are paying a few extra dollars per month, that can add up to big profits."
"Businesses need to be upfront when marketing optional services," she said. "They must make clear and complete disclosures when offering a free trial that will automatically convert to a paid subscription unless the consumer cancels."
Consumers who are eligible for refunds will be contacted by AT&T Mobility by mail or e-mail within 90 days. Consumers qualify for restitution if they 1) were enrolled in and paid for Roadside Assistance service between Aug. 1, 2004, and Feb. 26, 2009, 2) did not use the roadside assistance service, 3) did not authorize the addition of Roadside Assistance to their account; 4) did not already receive a refund for Roadside Assistance; and 5) wish to cancel, if they haven't already.
Eligible consumers must submit a timely and valid claim form requesting a refund. Claim forms are due within 45 days of receiving notice.
Refund amounts depend on when consumers were first enrolled in Roadside Assistance program and how long they paid for the service.
Eligible consumers who were first enrolled in the program between Aug. 1, 2004, and Oct. 1, 2006, will be reimbursed for a maximum of nine payments.
Eligible consumers who were enrolled in the program after Oct. 1, 2006, will be reimbursed for a maximum of six payments.
Current AT&T Mobility customers entitled to a refund will receive a credit on their account; former customers will be paid by check.