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AT&T’s $105 million “cramming” settlement leads to refunds

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Ongoing efforts by the FTC and its federal and state partners to stop mobile cramming have resulted in a whopping $105 million dollar settlement with AT&T — the biggest to date with a prominent mobile phone carrier. Even better news for affected AT&T customers? They might be eligible for a refund. 

According to the FTC, AT&T Mobility, LLC allegedly charged consumers’ mobile phone bills for third-party subscriptions or services that they never ordered or authorized. Many consumers weren’t aware they had been paying — up to $9.99 per month — for seemingly random horoscope text messages, flirting tips, celebrity gossip, wallpaper or ringtones that showed up on their phones.

How were consumers supposed to know about the charges? According to the FTC, AT&T didn’t make it easy. The complaint alleges the phone bills sent to consumers were deceptive because the company lumped together all the charges to make it look like everything was related to AT&T’s mobile phone services. So when a consumer saw the overall balance due, the hidden charges were hard to detect. Even consumers who regularly checked their phone bill line by line every month missed them.

So what’s the bottom line for AT&T consumers affected by the settlement?

  • AT&T will make sure from now on that they have your consent before billing you for third-party charges. 
  • If you contact AT&T about unauthorized third-party charges on your bill, they will provide a refund unless the company has information you consented to the charge.
  • AT&T will continue offering consumers the option to block all third-party charges. Other phone carriers, not just AT&T, offer third-party blocking service for free. Ask your phone carrier about services to block these charges.

Consumers can find out more information about the refund process and submit claims by visiting FTC.gov/att. Unsure if you are eligible for a refund? Contact the FTC’s refund contractor at 1-877-819-9692 for more information. And remember, the FTC never requires consumers to pay money or give financial information to get a refund check.

Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit

Comments

try deleteing the facebook app then re down loading it.. my son had the same problem with always going over, and some rep told him it was fb

I have had the same problems. I had 3people on my plan with 4S phones share 3GB of Data...no problem. I now have 4 people with 5S and 10 GB sharing 10GB of Data...I am going over my data every month!!! This is crazy!!! The AT&T customer service told us to turn off all our data and only turn it on when you need it... What a pain!!! There is a problem here!!! The customer service people are like... $15 extra for 1 more GB...no big deal!! It is a big deal!!! Go from 3GB and never have a problem. Somebody needs to figure this out!!! Big money maker for AT&T!!!!!

So what do we have to do to file a claim?

Visit ftc.gov/att, click "Apply for a Refund," and complete the refund form.

I have been with AT&T for 9 years. I did have these unauthorized charges happen to me as well back in 2008 and again in 2009-2010. In each instance I noticed the charges on the subsequent bill and called AT&T customer care. In all cases I had the charges refunded or reversed. The biggest pain was in a couple cases I was told when I called that I would see another charge the next bill since the unauthorized subscription renewed prior to my call and since the bill wasn't out for that current period they couldn't apply a refund/offset until the cycle ended. They told me they noted my account and that I just had to call after I got my next bill and they would then make the adjustment. I did and they honored as well as terminated the subscription and blocked any further billing from the unauthorized party. My wife and I are the only users and we do not subscribe to any premium services outside those offered directly through AT&T on their website under services. I know neither of us approved these charges.

That said, AT&T is not the villain everyone is trying to make them out to be. [Disclaimer: I do not work for AT&T, I am disabled, and I do not have any other fiduciary interest in AT&T or any competitor offering any similar products and or services.] Most of the problems complained about here ranging from the cramming charges to data charges are due to improper phone settings, apps used and device usage habits. Some of the cramming charges resulted from people falling victim to offers made in ads found in free apps, either in exchange for "free" in-app credits or the old "free iPhone or free iPad giveaway" scams that required you to "sign up" for a site and complete a basic survey which merely was bait for you to authorize these crammed charges through deception. The data overages are in many cases likely due to location-based services. Even if on Wi-Fi if location detection is permitted (helpful in the case of a weather app for example since it allows the weather app to automatically show the weather for where your phone is at that time rather than where you live or work). How much data gets used depends on how often you have set for refresh intervals. Facebook is a major offender in this area since it will access your location both while using it and when sending notifications. Another thing that needs to be checked is the cell-data enabled section in your settings. Look to see which apps are being allowed to use cell data. Ask yourself which apps truly NEED cell data enabled as well as location based services. Your email may need cell data but do they really need your location? Facebook can offer convenience having location based services but if you only use it on WiFi (home, work, hotels, places like McDonald's and Starbucks that offer free WiFi) then turn off cell data. Only navigation services really need to have both enabled to function properly. Try shutting off everything. Most apps will tell you next time you open them if one of those services is needed or requested. From there decide if you are willing to pay for the usage. I monitor this regularly and I rarely exceed 1 GB per device (I have 4 phones and an iPad on a 10GB plan) except for when I travel and use cell data as a convenience.

Wireless devices can be a great tool for work or personal enjoyment. They do need to be used responsible however just like anything else. Use parental controls if you have kids to avoid them from running up charges. Use a lock screen password/PIN to avoid unauthorized physical access to your device. Monitor your devices usage counter often and check your carriers website to confirm usage regularly (at least every few days if you think you are being billed too much and weekly otherwise). If you have concerns about your device settings then go into a brick and mortar corporate store for assistance. They can help you set your device to avoid hassles. I've called AT&T and on the phone their reps are mostly useless. I can reason with my 2 year old easier than most phone reps. In my local store I have almost always received exceptional service. I did have one occasion when a rep failed to take care of something for me but when I noticed it and went back to inform them I had the problem corrected and received a refund for all charges that I was billed for due to their error. AT&T isn't perfect but they are as good or better than most other major companies. If you think AT&T is bad, go to Verizon and let me know what you think after you have your first problem with them. Same goes for Time Warner for Cable and Internet (I hear Cox is just as bad). Yes, these companies try to make as much money off their customers as they can. As a customer we all have some responsibility to mitigate what we allow them to charge us. Just keep in mind that many here complaining of all these phantom excess data charges probably had some responsibility for incurring them. It may have been without knowledge due to device settings, app settings, malicious apps, or hardware/firmware defects but companies like AT&T can't just arbitrarily charge customers various amounts of data usage without something on the customer side initiating the usage.

FYI - I am not trolling here. I posted this to try to balance things as well as offer some advice on what to check on your devices to help avoid being charged for unintended or unnecessary usage.

I have not had a problem with ATT they have done every thing they said they would do for me they lowed my bill for all of my accounts

Can I get off the contract with all this that they did to us and not be charge.

Never understood n.e . of it just kept paying but about had to sell all I owned n take out a second mortgage on my home over a phone total stupid but everything is paid n they always seem to be able to get there money but when it come to fixing the problem takes day...months and whole time paying 1thousand n 2thousand dollar bill didn't get then n still don't

I was sleep, and all of a sudden my phone started lighting up like a Christmas tree. I saw all of these data charges mounting- AND I was ASLEEP! My phone is connected to wifi. I have family plan, so I saw this multiply by 6. I would ask them to explain, but they couldn't. I'm glad somebody caught them!

I just got off the line with AT&T customer support. Tried to retrieve electronic copies of all my bills back to 2009 but they wanted to charge me $275 for the privilege of looking at my own statements. I know I've been falsely charged previously so I wanted copies. But, thankfully, the FTC agent said that those statements aren't required to submit a claim against AT&T. Don't be bullied by your phone company!!

Long time AT&t consumer, before the were AT&t. there were months where my bill will double, the over charges were outrageous, I took the kids phones from them for about two weeks and bills were still astronomical, called, disputed, but every other bill after was always a little higher. We did nothing different? and every month our charges were higher no bill was the same. finally left them for T-Mobile and my last bill was over ONE THOUSAND dollars, I know about early termination fees but this was ridiculous all fee jumped the little $00.49 cents and $1.07 ect increased to $29.00, and $50.00 and so on. I called to dispute the charges on various occasions and NOTHING, fed up, I decided to do nothing. Let them get frustrated and tired from chasing me dowm.

Ive been with AT&T for many many years having up to 3 and 4 accounts. I now have 3 and have to go over my phone with a fine tooth comb nearly every month. It gets old. I truly would hate to think how much month they owe me. My son is the one that really runs it up. I even paid $5.99 a month and got something for parental control to cut his data off when he reached a certain amount because they charge me $15.00 for every gig he went over a month. I really don't know what this is all about but I'm sure they owe me something.

Every new smart phone is programmed with EVERYTHING to sync continuously with the network. EVERY APP should be checked on moment 1 of a new phone, and settings will have to be changed. Your email syncing continuously will drive a ton of data, and combine that with Facebook, games, etc...you are over on the first week. Even the phone "system apps" have settings to help moderate when they update (on mobile, wi-fi, or if they need to ask you before update). All of these things are initially set to cost the consumer. Once you change all of these things, your data should be more normal. The AT&T "data sweeps" is something I am sure is one of many things big brother does and will continue to do. We cannot control that, but we can better control the apps on our phones.

I've never had a problem and I've been a customer for close to 11 years. I'm pretty tech savvy though and have owned iPhones since they came out. No issues with mysterious third party items... Knock on wood. And no issues with data.

I don't believe this refund has anything to do with data usage. Or overages on anything. It has to do with third party charges. Those can be a variety of services like ringtones, horoscopes, etc... as the article stated. I just feel that people seem to think this has to do with getting refunds on overages and it does not. That's probably a different case in the years to come.

I want to point out 2 things

1) You say you're in a contract and can't get out? Guess what, they're in a contract too. Did the contract include bogus charges? No. This means they broke the contract first. Even if THEIR contract does not explicitly state they will only charge you for valid use, this is implied. This is why you can leave the contract. Go somewhere else. If you don't do this, don't complain, it is your right as a consumer. Guess what they'll do? Bill you early termination fee. First you don't pay it. If it would go on your 'credit report' (who really cares?) you can argue that with the credit bureau. So you don't pay that, and you don't pay the bogus charges. And you start billing AT&T for the time each month you have to spend on the phone.

2) I cannot believe this company can do this 'over and over' again, and yet people sign onto the service and allow it. Money talks. If everyone quit AT&T, they would stop doing it. Force them to be honest. Money talks.

Get with it people. You actually do have 'rights' ok?

FYI att owns tmobile. look it up.

Es verdad que hay dinero oculto

The reason people are charged extra and that AT&T was allowed to get away with this is because people don't look at their Bills! Look at your bills every month and don't say you don't have time because you do have time or you need to make time to do it. It's YOUR HARD EARNED MONEY. Why are you just throwing it away!

when you decide to leave, call and tell them. When I did that they offered and gave me a $404.00 CREDIT TO STAY. Take the money and run.

I had a problem with my data and I had to pay so must that I change my plan two time.

I have unlimited data been having it for years at&t denies everything i ask for because they want me to drop my unlimited. Smh! Thanks to this loyal customer!!

I applied for the refund, how do I know if I qualificatied

I always felt that AT&T was over charging us to much money each month.

How do I follow up status of claim filed?

give me my money

I'm sorry I just purchased a new phone on ATT, the customer service is so rude, I knew I should have changed carriers but I've been a customer for over 20 yrs they don't help you at all.
As far as being over charged, the same happened to me & my husband 3 yrs back. We are always connected to wifi & the overages were outrageous.

I may be required, but it doesn't have to be meaningful ;)

At long last! I had to call AT&T ever single month and spend hours explaining these charges. I hope they consider our lost time and frustration when settling this.

please check if I have money coming back.

I have had a couple instances where I was charged several hundred dollars.

I SAW A HOROSCOPE TYPE ON MY BILL AND CALLED AT&T AND THEY REMOVED IT.THAT WAS YEARS AGO AND I HAD ACCIDENTALLY ENABLE THAT SERVICE.

THANK YOU AT&T.

I call 5 times on the last 2 months for something they did wrong .. no one cant help me no even the supervisor I try to cancel the 3rd line I dont need it no more and I find out it was under 2 years contract when I didn't sing nothing and now im fricking stuck with the line I dont have time to be calling they take for ever to help you and they didn't help me. The suck.. hope the CEO. Do something about all this because we all are paying for something that we don't authorize...

Customer service they so rude. Even the supevisors. But when you bought something new or call for upgrades they treat you so good ..

AT&T/Big Banks all the same; too big to fail: This $105 Mil settlement is a drop in the bucket for them. Customers will keep coming, AT&T plans will be just as confusing, Uncle Sam will still have bigtime contracts and profit will keep coming in. Why?... AT&T and Sam is getting there share one way or the other, and folks are complacent (meaning they won’t drop AT&T and seek another carrier) and majority of the populous are like cattle. Just feed them, lead them, tax them, they know better.

My bill has always seemed high. ATT is the only mobile company I've ever used. So, needless to say I would like any monies that are due me.

Thank you

Yes... I have two overages on data on two bills, I have my laptop on the hotspot as well as an old flip phone that is not even connected to the internet..
When I received these bills I said to myself "no way " ... I thought something was up.. Goodluck to all !!!

I couldn't read through all the comments to see if this is a familiar issue but just found out that AT&T charged me for an added phone to my plan before I even got it. I was told that as soon as you order a new phone(not an upgrade) they start charging for that phone. So for 6 days I was charged for a phone that I was unable to use because I had not even received it yet. Now it wasn't a lot of money but imagine if that happens to 1000s of new customers. Well I guess we just found out how they are going to recoupe thier money. If someone reviews these comments I really feel that should be looked into. I can't see how you can be charged for something when it's impossible to use.

You can file a complaint with the FTC. Just scroll down to the bottom and click the link in the lower right hand corner “File a Complaint with the FTC”…

Bring criminal charges against those responsible and pay off the customers affected with a fair assessment of fraudulent charges. $105.000.000 is pocket change for AT&T divided among 107,000,000 customers comes to 98¢. Dissolve them and use the assets to pay the customers they cheated!

i been with att for over 10 years..i always though they over charged me..now with another carrier and pay half of what i used to pay with more options...hope att owes me alot of $$$

My wife's phone allegedly racked up something like---6 extra gigs of data charges for over 6 months. I called ATT countless times. All they said was that the data charges were valid and my wife must be using the phone that much. How? She's a stay at home mom with two kids. ATT has most likely installed proprietary software that allows background processes to run and run all day long. I wouldn't be surprised if they were somehow tethering connections up stream to make data more fluid. Imagine that FTC? All of the ATT phones working as one--like SETTI. Only the data is flowing up and not downstream like a constant huge sattelite uplink paid for by ATT customers.

I placed a call with AT&T because I continued to receive alerts that I was reaching my data limit. As someone mentioned above, about 90% of the time I am connected to my home wifi. AT&T stated, "if you are using an iphone and you search the web from your home wifi and decide to put your phone down for a few minutes and decide to return to surfing the web, the iphone automatically switches to your personal data plan because it's in SLEEP MODE and I have to disable this feature if I want to avoid these charges...NOW, does that make any sense to the consumer?

Send me my refund

I had some of these charges a few years ago. I went to my local AT&T store to ask about them. The guy there said that they couldn't do anything about it, but if I wanted them to stop charging me, I had to send a text back to the messages that said "STOP". I asked him what could be done about all the past charges, and he said "Nothing, they already got their money." I said "Wasn't it AT&T that got my money, when I paid my bill?" He had nothing to say to that. I hope everyone gets their money back!

what ever the overcharge is!

About nine months ago I was contacted several
times about switching my Internet service to
the new Uverse. I was assured that the rate
I was paying $25.95 would carry over. I finally
agreed an the first bill came for $52.00 or so. I
called, received an apology and they took the
extra fee off and said the problem was then
CORRECTED. Well this happened for the next
thee months. Then I spoke to a lady that said that
This coul not be don, BUT she now had a
special going for the lower rat and faster speed
that would last for ONE year. I had no choice
so I took it. I told her that if my rate went up again
that I woul no longer stay with ATT. She didn't
really have a response to that. Now the time is
getting close to the one year. Don't know what
Will happen, but I'm tired of being jerked around.

im in the same boat as a lot of you BUT this might make y'all feel better because while most if the comments im reading say y'all are paying $120 extra each month i am being charged upwards of $500-$700 over my normal bill every month. so while AT&T is definitely completely full of crap, hopefully knowing that you're not getting screwed as bad as i am will make some of u feel better. haha

I need my money back like yesterday, it was so easy to take it now I got to hold my breathe and wait on the refund until...........................Just show me the money.

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