AT&T Refunds New Yorkers for Improper Bills

AT&T will issue refunds and credits to about 311,000 New Yorkers who received improper bills and often faced aggressive sales pitches when they called to complain, New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer said yesterday.

AT&T also will pay $400,000 in penalties and investigative costs. The New York attorney general's office began an investigation into AT&T in January after consumers filed complaints about the company's billing practices. AT&T tried to charge an extra $7.72 fee to customers of its basic long-distance plan, the attorney general's office said. However, many of those who received charges were not AT&T long-distance customers.

AT&T has faced investigations about its billing practices in other states, including Florida, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In May, the company said 1.1 million consumers received erroneous bills, including 200,000 to 300,000 non-customers.

The aggressive upsell tactics many consumers encountered when they complained led to suspicions that the erroneous bills were a “back-door” sales pitch to generate inbound calls and avoid the national no-call list. Because AT&T local service and upgraded long-distance customers didn't have to pay the extra fee, some consumers got the impression that they were being pressured to upgrade their plans.

AT&T has denied that it purposely sent erroneous bills. The company has also promised to correct any problems.

As part of the settlement in New York, AT&T must remove non-customers from its billing lists. It also must send a notice to basic long-distance customers informing them of the terms of their service plan.

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