Monday, March 3, 2008

AT&T Reimburses Customers for Third-Party Scams

I just came upon an interesting piece of news. it seems that thousands of Florida customers were billed for third-party services such as ringtones and text messaging that were advertised as free. As a result AT&T Mobility has agreed to reimburse these customers in fees that could amount to more than $10 million. That's a lot of dough.

According to this CNN Money article , the blame rests in third-party companies. Apparently, these companies advertise ringtones and other services on the web and promised customers that the service will not cost them anything. The problem begins when teenagers sign up for these "free" services without consent from their parents. When the monthly bills arrived and parents find charges on their wireless bill, they would naturally complain to customer service.

The charges that appear in the monthly bills are often unclear so AT&T Mobility has agreed in the settlement to police such agreements with third-party providers. They will clarify what the charges are for as part of the agreement. The wireless carrier want to make amends for the damage done by this fraudulent and deceptive advertisements.

This news intrigued me so I decided to look at the wireless contract of AT&T. I want to see if the AT&T wireless contract contains any provision or policy on third-party services. Well, I scanned the terms and Conditions and observed that AT&T has mentioned third parties numerous times. Here is the statement that may be most relevant to this issue,
Certain information or content is provided by independently owned and operated content providers or service providers who are subject to change at any time without notice. AT&T IS NOT A PUBLISHER OF THIRD-PARTY INFORMATION OR CONTENT AND IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY OPINIONS, ADVICE, STATEMENTS, OR OTHER INFORMATION, SERVICES OR GOODS PROVIDED BY THIRD PARTIES. Third-party content or service providers may impose additional charges. Policies regarding intellectual property, privacy and other policies may differ among AT&T's content or service providers and you are bound by such policies when you visit their respective sites or use their services. It is your responsibility to read the rules or service agreements of each content provider or service provider. Any information you involuntarily or voluntarily provide third parties is governed by their policies. The accuracy, appropriateness, content, completeness, timeliness, usefulness, security, safety, merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, transmission or correct sequencing of any information or downloaded data is not guaranteed or warranted by AT&T or any content providers or other third party. Delays or omissions may occur. Neither AT&T nor its content providers, service providers or other third parties shall be liable to you for any loss or injury arising out of or caused, in whole or in part, by any information acquired through the Service. You acknowledge that every business or personal decision, to some degree or another, represents an assumption of risk, and that neither AT&T nor its content and service providers or suppliers, in providing access to information, underwrites, can underwrite, or assumes your risk in any manner whatsoever.

The wireless contract of AT&T states that they are not responsible for any information, services or goods provided by third-parties. Then, Why did the company agree to reimburse the customers who were charged for the third-party services? My guess is this policies were updated after this issue came out, AT&T has change the wireless contracts to protect itself from similar incidence. However, I'm not sure about this. Perhaps these statements were already in the contract before this issue became public.

I think they did the right thing. By agreeing to reimburse the customers victimized by these scams, AT&T can maintain a reputation as a just company. And by stating in their contract that they are not responsible for any services provided by third-parties, the company is protecting itself from problems that may stem from these companies.

The important lesson to learn here is that one not trust third-party services easily. The offers made on the Internet should not be trusted unless they have been verified. The wireless contracts of carriers already have statements that protect the carriers from these scams, so wireless customers should avoid getting mired in these fraudulent practices.

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