FTC Accuses T-Mobile of Knowingly Charging Customers for Fraudulent Services

The United States Federal Trade Commission today filed a complaint against T-Mobile, accusing the carrier of charging customers for unauthorized SMS subscriptions that delivered information like horoscopes and celebrity gossip at prices up to $9.99 per month.

T-Mobile reportedly collected 35 to 40 percent of the amount charged to consumers, at times continuing to bill customers even after it was clear the charges were fraudulent. According to the FTC, T-Mobile made "hundreds of millions of dollars" using these tactics.

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The FTC suggests that the charges were unauthorized because of the high volume of T-Mobile customers seeking refunds. The company has allegedly received a high number of consumer complaints since 2012. T-Mobile is also said to have made it difficult to detect the charges, as a summary bill did not show a third-party charge or a recurring subscription. T-Mobile bills also made it "nearly impossible for consumers to find and understand third-party subscription charges."

After looking past a "Summary" section as well as an "Account Service Detail" section, both of which described "Usage Charges" but did not itemize those charges, a consumer might then reach the section labeled "Premium Services," where the crammed items would be listed.

According to the complaint, the information would be listed there in an abbreviated form, such as "8888906150BrnStorm23918," that did not explain that the charge was for a recurring third-party subscription supposedly authorized by the consumer.

T-Mobile also failed to provide full refunds to customers after the charges were discovered. The FTC is asking for a court order to prevent T-Mobile from continuing to charge customers for fraudulent services and to provide full refunds for its "ill-gotten gains."

T-Mobile has not yet commented on the FTC's complaint, but the company's outspoken CEO, John Legere, will undoubtedly have a response.

In recent months, T-Mobile has worked hard to distinguish itself from other mobile phone carriers with its "UnCarrier" initiatives designed to disrupt traditional mobile service. The company has uncoupled device costs from service costs, introduced a Jump upgrade plan, provided unlimited texting and 2G data in 100 countries, offered customers up to $350 to switch carriers, and announced plans to allow customers to "test drive" the service.

Update 1:30 PM PT: T-Mobile has released a statement calling the FTC's complaint "unfounded and without merit." T-Mobile goes on to state that it stopped billing for Premium SMS services last year and has launched a "proactive program" to provide full refunds for customers.

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Top Rated Comments

chrisbru Avatar
130 months ago
T-Mobile is still a douchebag carrier.

T-Mobile doesn't make it easy when switching from pre-paid to post-paid. They treat you like a new customer (as though switching from a different carrier) and make you purchase new SIM cards at $10 a pop. WTF?

This seems like a silly complain compared to what its like at VZW and ATT
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Parasprite Avatar
130 months ago
That's it. I'm switching from T-mobile to AT&T

You're missing the sarcasm tag.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
godrifle Avatar
130 months ago
I switched from AT&T to T-mobile, for among other things, AT&T charging me for these kinds of purchases. Since moving to T-Mobile, i've not experienced anything other than a *substantially* lower bill. Hopefully they're looking at other carriers as well.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
gretafour Avatar
130 months ago
Sprint used this very "tactic" on me when I still had them. T-Mobile is at least shaking up the market, but let us not forget they are still a faceless corporation of a person who cannot go to jail.

Glad to see the regulators doing their job.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
donnaw Avatar
130 months ago
ATT did the same to me on my landline. It was supposed to be for 'tech services'. I had to call 3 months in a row and argue each month. "Are you sure you or someone else in your household didn't authorize this? ". BS. I've been in IT for 30 years. My son is a network expert and my husband is an engineer. I've been building computers for right at 30 years, developed software...between us we undoubtedly know more about computer hardware, software and networking than any 'tech service'.

I finally had to threaten to take my landline and mobile accounts elsewhere and threaten legal means to get the charges off. I then had to argue to get a block put on my numbers so it wouldn't happen again. "Well, if we do this you'll never be able to charge anything like this to your phone number again,". I've never charged a service to my phone number (or anything else for that matter) That's what my credit cards are for!! Like pulling teeth.

Watch your bills. They all do this because they get a cut of the pie.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
emvath Avatar
130 months ago
I've had T-mobile for my personal line for years now and have never experienced anything like this. That being said, if it is true....T-mobile would STILL be better than any other option in the US to me.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)