From extra, unexpected fees, Broadcast TV charges, or a completely different base price for your service of choice, it’s not uncommon to open your cable or internet bill to find the amount higher than you anticipated. One state is taking on these surprise bills by suing CenturyLink, accusing the cable and phone provider of frequently billing customers at higher rates than sales agents quoted.
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed the lawsuit [PDF] against Louisiana-based CenturyLink this week, accusing the company of committing consumer fraud and engaging in deceptive trade practices.
Swanson’s office filed the lawsuit following an investigation into the company’s practices after receiving hundreds of reports from CenturyLink customers who claim their bills reflected charges they never agreed to.
According to the lawsuit, CenturyLink fraudulently charged some Minnesota consumers more than the price they company quoted them at the time of the sale.
To make matters worse, when customers reported the pricing issue, CenturyLink reps also allegedly refuse to honor the originally quoted prices.
A Known Issue
Investigators for the AG’s office claim that CenturyLink’s internal documents and employees acknowledged the pricing issues.
A CenturyLink employee told the AG’s office that of the sales recordings she reviews, “maybe one in five are quoted correctly or close enough.”
In fact, just that day she said she heard from a customer who had been quoted $39 but received a bill over $100 each month.
“In many cases, the customer calls in for several months and is promised callback, passed around, or cut off before” filing a complaint with the AG’s office or business groups.
Wrong Prices, No Help
The employee’s experience echoes complaints the AG’s office received from customers. For instance, a CenturyLink customer tells the AG’s office that he was told by a rep that service would cost $14.95/month for the first 12 months of his contract.
However, when he received a bill it was for $29.95/month. When he contacted CenturyLink about the discrepancy a rep allegedly told him he’d have to pay $200 to get out of the contract, even though the company confirmed that he’d been quoted a different price than he was actually charged.
A recording of the call, obtained by the AG’s office, revealed that the rep told the customer he “cannot get that price. No one at CenturyLink can get you that price.”
In another case, a customer tells the AG’s office that she decided to keep her basic CenturyLink plan after the company promised her the same rate for another year. But when she received her bill, it had increased more than 50%.
When the woman contacted the company, providing her confirmation number, a rep repeatedly refused to honor the offer, claiming that CenturyLink can “give you all the confirmation numbers in the world,” but if you’re quoted a rate not available “it’s going to get denied.”
The rep claimed that employee who quoted her the lower price didn’t “even know what offers we have to offer in the first place,” and that the promised price was “irrelevant.”
While the lawsuit lists 37 specific cases in which people were overbilled and denied quoted prices, Swanson says her office is unsure how many Minnesota customers are affected by CenturyLink’s practices, estimating it could “very, very significant.”
The AG’s office urges customers to be diligent in reading their bills and get any offers in writing.