Qwest Settles Slamming Suit

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Telecommunications provider Qwest Communications International Inc., Denver,


yesterday agreed to settle a lawsuit that it switched consumers' telephone


service without their consent. The company settled the lawsuit the same day


it was filed by Arizona State Attorney General Janet Napolitano.


The lawsuit alleged that Qwest used letters of authorization that were


forged by a third party to switch consumers' phone service, began billing


consumers for fees associated with long-distance service before knowing


whether the orders to change the service had been approved or rejected and


continued to bill consumers who had cancelled their service. The suit also


alleged that Qwest hired a telemarketing firm that offered consumers who


switched to Qwest a pair of airline tickets if they kept the service for 60


days, but did not tell the consumers about the restrictions on the tickets


and in some case did not provide the tickets.


These violations of Arizona's consumer-protection laws were alleged to have


taken place between 1997 and 1999.


Qwest, without admitting liability, agreed to pay $175,000 in legal expenses


to the AG's office and also agreed to fund a public service advertising


campaign. The company also will have to reimburse consumers the cost of


switching their long-distance service and any savings that they might have


lost by switching to Qwest from their previous provider. Qwest also agreed


to obtain express written consent before changing anyone's phone service and


to make other concessions concerning its marketing practices.


Qwest said it initiated an anti-slamming policy last year and fired "more


than 30 sales agents and/or telemarketing agencies that filed false orders.


"We have zero tolerance for slamming and are continually evaluating and


enhancing our anti-slamming efforts," the company said in a prepared


statement.


Some of the measures the company has implemented include using third parties


to verify about 80 percent of all sales, incorporating significant monetary


penalties for slamming in sales agents' contracts and a zero-tolerance


policy for forging a customer's signature. The company also hired an


independent auditor to conduct annual examinations of its anti-slamming


effort.
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