AT&T Mobility Agrees To Refund Money To Florida Customers & Pay $2.5 Million To State's CyberFraud Task Force

Florida’s Attorney General scored a victory for consumers last week, when AT&T Mobility agreed to refund fees that third-party vendors snuck onto thousands of accounts under the guise of “free” ringtones, wallpapers, and text content. They also agreed to hand over $2.5 million to help fund the state’s recently-created CyberFraud Task Force, to spend $500,000 for “consumer education on safe Internet use,” and to start policing third-party vendors better and make sure all billed items are clearly described.

McCollum said the main culprits are third-party companies that advertise ringtones and other services on the Internet, often promising that the service will be free. When customers–often teenagers–sign up, they or their parents are then surprised to find charges on their wireless bill.

“They will download this thinking it’s free because the advertising on the Internet says it’s free,” McCollum said. And when the charge shows up on the bill, it’s not always clear what it is, either, he added.

“This advertising is wrong, it’s deceptive … and it’s all over the Internet,” he said.

AT&T (T: 35.06, +0.23, +0.66%) Mobility has agreed in the settlement to police such agreements with third-party providers and make it clear what the charges are for.

“It’s going to say ‘ringtones,’ and it’s going to give them an opportunity to cancel,” McCollum said.

“AT&T to repay Florida customers” [Orlando Business Journal]
“AT&T Mobility Agrees to Pay Consumers for ‘Free’ Ringtones” [Fox Business]

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  1. socalrob of the 24 and a half century says:

    And now here comes a new surcharge recovery fee onto my bill.

  2. Bay State Darren says:

    So this is kinda like those pennies I dropped on the sidewalk today, relatively speaking.

  3. deepsprint says:

    Free ringtone scams require a certain amount of stupidity on the part of the sucker falling for the rip-off. All you have to do is scroll down the web page and read what it says in the small print to see what you are going to be charged for your “free ringtone”. After you request the ringtone a text message is sent to your phone and you have to respond with a YES or a pin code to finalize the transaction. So the scam requires not one, but two acts of stupidity on the part of the end user to be completed. Then when the user calls in to complain and ask for the charge to be adjusted at least 95% of the time they will deny all knowledge of how the charge got on their bill.

    The phone companies know what’s going on and they are in on the con because they get their cut of the action.

  4. missdona says:

    But they admit no wrongdoing, right? Right?

  5. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    I hope they are at least taking it very seriously.
    I have AT&T, in Florida…where’s my check?

  6. jamar0303 says:

    @deepsprint: You have it good in America, relatively speaking. Where I live you can sign up for cellphone spam simply by providing a phone number when asked for surveys and stuff. Whenever I want the free stuff I sign up using the cell number of a classmate that happens to be rubbing me the wrong way at the time.

  7. SeaKaySea says:

    Buyer beware. The idiots that are not reading the website ALL THE WAY and just glancing are really at fault. A little personal responsibility would help. I have been on these sites, and because I don’t think anything is actually free, read the conditions and at some point they do all say they will charge you. READ!

  8. Parting says:

    @deepsprint: That’s why they target kids, teens and people who do not know anything about technology/internet.

    My aunt would never figured it out on the web, and my teen cousin is not mature enough yet to read small script on TV advertisements.

    What the most despicable, that these 3rd party advertise on TV channels for kids/teens.

  9. CornwallBlank says:

    Better to spend that $2.5M on something worthwhile; the Florida “Cybersecurity Task Force” are laughably incompetent, as in:

    [www.techdirt.com]

    If they actually manage to catch any actual “cyberfraud”, it’s only because either (a) the fraudster is just as stupid as they are or (b) someone led them by the hand, did all the work, and spoon-fed them the results. They are utterly disposable buffoons, and it’s really a pity that so much money will be wasted on them.

  10. econobiker says:

    @chouchou: A person under age 18 is not able/qualified to enter (or change) a contract legally. Therefore these companies cannot hold the phone owner to the fees/costs.

  11. Orv says:

    …vendors snuck onto…

    The word is “sneaked.”

  12. Chris Walters says:

    @Orv: “snuck” is winning, at least in the U.S.

  13. consumerd says:

    @missdona:

    But they admit no wrongdoing, right? Right?

    Yes, because it took two parties to tango. That’s like the shocked father saying “My daughter doesn’t do these things! How dare you!!” and the gynocologist says “Well it takes two to tango. I am sure she is not the virgin mary!!”

    Scammers will try anything (including this) to get the greens in your wallet. The scammy website/company in question probably billed at&t and at&t billed you. So they were just along for the completion of the transaction not along for the ride. Like a deaf person relay call (ya know the one where the person tells you she/he is not part of the conversation)

    They are just there passing the buck.

    These people are or are as bad as website phishers.

  14. rhombopteryx says:

    @econobiker:
    Good luck on that little bit of legal advice…
    Almost everywhere in the US people pay lip service to the idea that minors can’t contract, but almost everywhere there are also rules obligating the parents anyway, or preventing the minor from making that argument if they received a benefit, or presuming “re-agreement” the moment the kid turns 18, or somesuch.

    Moral of the story – don’t run too far or two fast with that little legal scissor, it’s got some sharp exceptions.

  15. NotATool says:

    I’m usually for personal responsibility and all, but IMHO if it says FREE in big letters all over the web page, it better be free. This FREE* crap that marketers are using has to stop.

  16. LLH says:

    this company called jamster, who in the EU had a HUGE legal action filed again them, has come over here. somehow they blanket numbers, text people then charge them 19.99 per text that they just sent you. it happened to me until i researched and called cingular (they were just changing over to AT&T in LA,CA at the time). turns out that the cell providers are getting like 3 bucks as well per text hoping you don’t read your bill and just pay it. total scammers. i had a password put on my account so that i would have to enter it to buy or add anything to my bill. i still get these txts and i just had to call today to make sure nothing has been added “extra”. bastards.

  17. cbear says:

    to be fair, im an ATT rep and I’ve seen multiple instances of accounts being billed the instant a number is entered, regardless of an actual “agreemen”. Ive seen it happen in real time, and even though IMO most of these cases are a matter of caveat emptor, there are most definitely times when the user is not at fault.