T-Mobile to Pay At Least $90 Million, Including Full Consumer Refunds To Settle FTC Mobile Cramming Case

Settlement Requires Company To Pay Fines to States and FCC

For Release

Note: A conference call for media with FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Jessica Rich, FCC Enforcement Bureau Director Travis LeBlanc and Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell occured as follows:

Date: Dec. 19, 2014
Time: 1 p.m. ET

The speakers were available to take questions from the media about the case.

T-Mobile has agreed to fully refund its customers for unwanted third-party charges it placed on their phone bills, a practice known as mobile cramming, paying at least $90 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit filed earlier this year.

In addition to the full refunds T-Mobile is providing, which will resolve the FTC’s lawsuit if approved by the court, T-Mobile is paying $18 million in fines and penalties to the attorneys general of all 50 states and the District of Columbia and $4.5 million to the Federal Communications Commission.

“Mobile cramming is an issue that has affected millions of American consumers, and I’m pleased that this settlement will put money back in the hands of affected T-Mobile customers,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “Consumers should be able to trust that their mobile phone bills reflect the charges they authorized and nothing more.”

Under the terms of the settlement, T-Mobile will be required to offer full refunds to all affected consumers. The amount of money the company pays must reach at least $90 million in redress or other payments. Should the company fail to do so, the balance must be remitted to the FTC for additional consumer redress, consumer education, or other uses. The settlement requires T-Mobile to contact all of its crammed customers – current and former – to inform them of the refund program and claims process, and to do so in a clear and conspicuous way.

The FTC filed suit against T-Mobile in July, alleging that the company placed millions of dollars in unwanted third-party charges on its customers’ mobile phone bills, receiving 35 to 40 percent of every charge they placed. The charges were for services like horoscopes, love tips and celebrity gossip, for which T-Mobile typically billed consumers $9.99 per month.

Excerpts from an actual T-Mobile bill. Page 1 hides third party charges. Summary item ‘Usage charges’ includes third party charges for ‘Brain Facts’ text alerts. 123 pages later, under Premium Services, Other Service Provider Charges, the ‘Brain Facts’ text alerts show in the Description field as 8888906150 BrnStorm23918, total $9.99.
Excerpts from an actual T-Mobile bill showing cramming charges. (click to view full-size)

The FTC’s complaint alleges that in some cases, T-Mobile was charging consumers for services that had refund rates of up to 40 percent in a single month. The FTC has alleged that because such a large number of people were seeking refunds, it was an obvious sign to T-Mobile that the charges were never authorized by its customers.

According to the FTC’s July complaint, T-Mobile’s phone bills made it nearly impossible for consumers to find and understand third-party subscription charges. The FTC’s complaint against T-Mobile noted that in many instances information about the third-party charges crammed on to customers’ bills was buried deep in phone bills that totaled more than 50 pages in length.

In addition to requiring T-Mobile to provide consumers with full refunds, the settlement requires the company to get consumers’ express informed consent before placing third-party charges on their bills. The company also must ensure that consumers are notified of any third-party charges on their bills and provide them with information about the option to block third-party charges.

The FTC has brought numerous cases related to mobile cramming in recent months, taking action against mobile carriers and the third parties who place unauthorized charges.

The Commission vote approving the proposed stipulated order was 5-0. It is subject to court approval. The FTC filed the proposed stipulated order in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

NOTE: Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

Contact Information

MEDIA CONTACT:
Jay Mayfield
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2181

STAFF CONTACT:
Brian Shull
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-3720

Jane Ricci
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2269

Miya Rahamim
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2351