FTC: T-Mobile made hundreds of millions from unwanted SMS features

The mobile carrier made profits from services not ordered by customers, the FTC said

T-Mobile USA made hundreds of millions of dollars by charging customers for purported "premium" SMS subscriptions that, in many cases, they never ordered, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission says.

The FTC, in a legal complaint filed Tuesday, alleged that T-Mobile pocketed 35 percent to 40 percent of the amount charged to customers for SMS-based services such as flirting tips, horoscope information and celebrity gossip, with the services typically costing US$9.99 per month.

T-Mobile, in some cases, continued to bill customers for these services, offered by what the agency called "scammers," years after the company was alerted that the charges may have been fraudulent, the FTC said. The charges were often added to customers' bills through a fraudulent process called cramming, the FTC said. Cramming involves adding charges to bills without customers' approval.

With the allegations against T-Mobile, the FTC has opened a "new front in its long-standing campaign" against cramming, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said during a news conference.

The FTC's goal is to ensure that T-Mobile repays affected customers, added FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. "It's wrong for a company like T-Mobile to profit from scams against its customers when there were clear warning signs the charges it was imposing were fraudulent," she said in a statement.

A T-Mobile representative wasn't immediately available for comment.

The charges were added to T-Mobile customers' bills through a third-party billing process, in which a phone company places charges on a consumer's bill for services offered by another company, with the carrier sometimes receiving a substantial percentage of the amount charged.

In some cases, T-Mobile charged consumers for services that had refund rates of up to 40 percent in a single month, the FTC said in its complaint. With such a large number of people seeking refunds, it should have been an "obvious sign" to T-Mobile that the charges were never authorized by its customers, the FTC said in a press release.

With typical charge-back requests with percentages in the low single digits, T-Mobile "disregarded telltale signs of fraud," Rich said.

The refund rate likely significantly understates the percentage of consumers who had the charges crammed on their bills, the FTC said. T-Mobile documents show that the company received a high number of consumer complaints as early as 2012, the FTC alleged. The practice goes back to 2009, the FTC said.

T-Mobile's phone bills, which can be longer than 50 pages, made it nearly impossible for consumers to find and understand third-party subscription charges, the FTC alleged.

The FTC has talked to T-Mobile about a settlement in the case, but hasn't been able to reach an agreement, Rich said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags U.S. Federal Trade CommissiontelecommunicationregulationlegalCivil lawsuitsEdith RamirezJessica RichT-Mobile USAgovernmentmobile

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service

Most Popular Reviews

Follow Us

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Shopping.com

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Latest Jobs

Shopping.com

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?