Big boy Internet and cable provider, Comcast, has landed itself in hot water with the state of Washington. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is asking for more than $100 million in a lawsuit citing “more than 1.8 million violations of the state’s Consumer Protection Act by charging improper service call fees and using improper credit screening practices.”
Comcast customers know that calling customer service can be a nightmare, but they may not realize that, according to Ferguson, more than 500,000 Washingtonians were bilked approximately $73 million for services they didn’t even order.
The initial 2016 lawsuit charged the Internet provider with a misleading service protection plan (SPP), improper service fees, and inappropriate credit screening processes. In December, the state expanded its lawsuit claiming more evidence and violations.
“This case is a classic example of a big corporation deceiving its customers for financial gain,” Ferguson said. “I won’t allow Comcast to continue to put profits above customers — and the law.”
The state claims three areas of alleged misconduct by Comcast: the SPP, its customer guarantee and service fees, and its credit screening practices.
Service Protection Plan – “Near-Worthless”
For $4.99 per month, (now $5.99), customers get the SPP, which is supposed to cover the cost of “all service calls, including those related to inside wiring, customer-owned equipment connected to Comcast services and on-site education about products.” However, the provider did not disclose to its customers that the plan does not cover some things, such as wall-fished wiring, which the attorney general said constitutes the vast majority of wiring inside homes.
Q13 Fox News reported:
“The Service Protection Plan gives those consumers who choose to purchase it great value by covering virtually all service charges over 99% of the time,” Marianne Bichsel, vice president of external affairs for Comcast’s Washington Region, said in a statement.
“It simply covers the technician visiting the customer’s house and declaring that the customer’s equipment is broken,” the lawsuit claims.
Guaranteed – You’ll be Charged
The customer service guarantee promises customers they will not be charged for service calls related to Comcast equipment or network errors. This “warranty” included issues with cable cards, HDMI and component cables, and installment of drop amplifiers, which resolve signal problems.
However, Comcast allegedly provided its technicians with a unique billing code “that expressly allowed them to add service charges to a normally not charged fix code. In other words, the company created a code for technicians to add charges to a service call that should be provided at no cost.”
Your Good Credit AND Your Deposit
If your credit score is high enough, you can get the Comcast equipment without a deposit – or so the Philadelphia-based provider says. In some cases, however, customers were charged a deposit even though their score was high enough to secure the equipment.
In other instances, customers refused a credit check, but it was still performed, causing resulting in damaging hard inquiries on their credit reports.
Tossing out the Evidence
The State’s Attorney General Office repeatedly requested the transcripts and recordings from Comcast and customers’ calls regarding the SPP, but was denied time and again. The provider was told to hold on to the files while a court decision was made. However, the company disposed of “tens of thousands of recordings.” Comcast claimed that they were under no obligation to keep the files, and that the calls were burdensome to review and that their disposal was routine.
Q13 Fox News reported:
The state said it has analyzed 150 calls so far from the thousands that it will review that were made between Washington customers and Comcast customer service representatives. The state said it found cases where the company charged customers for a service protection plan even if they refused it outright, or would mislead them about the cost. Half of the time, the Comcast employee didn’t even discuss the plan but would charge the customer for it anyway, Ferguson said.
“We’ve now uncovered evidence that many Washingtonians are paying for it without their consent,” Ferguson said.
Comcast has been in the process of cleaning up its customer service, probably in light of the bad press from the lawsuit. Meanwhile, here’s hoping other states served by the telecommunications giant will conduct their own investigations and show these conglomerates that the big guy does not always win.