WASHINGTON—The cellphone carrier T-Mobile secretly has been charging its users a $9.53 monthly “inconvenience fee” to cover the cost of developing new ways to frustrate and exploit customers.
The practice of cramming—or adding unsolicited fees to a phone bill—is nothing new. Under the guise of nonspecific “usage charges” or “other fees,” subscriptions to worthless text-messaging services lurk in the fine print of customers’ bills for months, if not years, before they suspect anything is amiss.
“In retrospect,” said T-Mobile customer Loretta Foster, “I probably deserved to get ripped off for reading those gossip texts about Tom Cruise’s third nipple. But to be charged extra for the added inconvenience of dropped calls and those interminable interactive voice-response menus? That’s something I’d only expect from AT&T.”
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission took action against T-Mobile USA by filing a lawsuit that claims the company turned a deaf ear to “telltale signs of fraud,” all while raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from cramming.
“Ticketmaster paved the way for companies to rip off customers and call it a ‘convenience,’ ” said a high-ranking member of the FTC’s consumer protection bureau. “T-Mobile customers had no way to see the inconvenience fees coming once they started receiving daily horoscopes by text. That’s when we step in.”
In 2011, the yearly cost to Americans for unauthorized phone charges was estimated to be $2 billion. Since then, T-Mobile announced it would no longer allow third parties to bill customers for “premium” texting services and a limited refund program for affected customers.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere went even further late last week, writing, “T-Mobile has in the past and will continue to keep our pledge to bill customers only for what they want and what they have purchased for as long as I am C.E.O. of this company! NO EXCUSES!*‡§”
*Terms, conditions, and extra fees apply. ‡T-Mobile reserves the right to revoke any and all marketing commitments without notice. §Nobody reads this stuff anyway