November 18, 2013
Jefferson City, Mo. – Attorney General Chris Koster today announced a settlement with a New Jersey company for causing unauthorized charges on customers' telephone bills. The Attorney General sued V&T Communications, doing business as Odyssey Communication Services, in March 2012 for charging some Missouri consumers $14.95 per month for a commercial-free streaming internet radio service consumers did not consent to purchase, a practice known as "cramming." Under today's settlement, and a separate class action settlement involving AT&T customers, Missouri consumers can receive full refunds.
Under the settlement, the company will pay $7,729.15 in refunds to non-AT&T customers in Missouri who were charged for Odyssey Streaming Radio without their consent. V&T Communications is also ordered to pay $10,000 in penalties to the state and $5,000 to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Revolving Fund for fees, costs, consumer education and advocacy. Eligible consumers will receive notification and claim forms from a settlement administrator. The deadline to file a claim will be February 3, 2014.
Refunds for Missouri AT&T customers, totaling $209,300, are available through the Nwabueze et al. v. AT&T et al. class action settlement by filing a claim at www.attthirdpartybillingsettlement.com. The deadline to file a claim in the AT&T settlement is December 2, 2013.
"Today's phone bills often include numerous pages of numbers and charges, and it can be difficult to discern legitimate from illegitimate charges," said Koster. "Our office will continue to protect consumers from companies that take advantage of them with unauthorized charges."
The settlement also permanently prohibits V&T Communications from charging Missouri consumers for products or services via their landline telephone bills and from charging consumers with Missouri area codes via their cell phones for a period of two years. The company will pay to notify eligible consumers of the availability of refunds for unauthorized charges for Odyssey Streaming Radio services.
Crammers often obtain consumer information through sweepstakes, drawings, free offers or trials, or other incentivized marketing schemes that lure consumers to submit their names, addresses, phone numbers, and birth dates. This information is then often used to enroll consumers in third-party content provider products or services billed through the consumer's telephone bill without their knowledge or consent. More recently, spam text messages to cell phones or links to advertisements in cell-phone applications are used to enroll consumers in alerts such as celebrity gossip, love tips, and horoscopes for recurring monthly fees.
Koster encouraged consumers to check their monthly phone bills for any suspicious charges. Consumers should contact their carrier if they detect unauthorized charges. Consumers can also request to block third-party charges to prevent cramming from occurring.
If you suspect cramming, contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-392-8222 or online to file a complaint.