Broadband ISP CenturyLink Accused Of Wells-Fargo-Esque Scam That Bilked Millions From Customers

from the the-height-of-creativity dept

If there’s any real creativity in the broadband sector, it often has little to do with the actual products and services offered. More often than not, the real creativity in the sector involves finding ingenious new ways to bilk consumers out of additional money, or charge them significantly more money for the exact-same service. Whether talking about hidden below the line fees or arbitrary and unnecessary usage caps, the lack of real broadband competition has resulted in a gold rush — at least when it comes to creatively-misleading charges.

CenturyLink (the end product of a series of telecom sector mergers involving Embarq, Qwest and CenturyTel) has already pursued usage caps and overage fees, as well as an incredibly misleading, unnecessary and nonsensical “Internet cost recovery fee” it tacks on to the bottom of every broadband bill. But the company is now being accused of taking things notably further. One former employee has filed suit in Arizona, accusing the company of signing up subscribers for a rotating crop of services they didn’t want and didn’t order — simply to help company reps meet sales targets.

Former customer service agent and case plaintiff Heidi Heiser says she and other support reps began noticing that consumers were being signed up for lines or services they didn’t order, and that company higher ups didn’t seem to much care:

“When a customer complained about an unauthorized charge, customer service and sales agents like Heiser were directed ?to inform the complaining customer that CenturyLink?s system indicated the customer had approved the service,? according to the complaint, and as a result ?it was really the customer?s word against CenturyLink.”

In telecom these kinds of high-pressure sales tactics aren’t particularly uncommon. T-Mobile was accused of turning a blind eye to a similar tactic last December. AT&T and Verizon have been similarly charged with turning a blind eye to third party “cramming” — or signing consumers up for often fraudulent services consumers didn’t order — because carriers have consistently received a cut of the revenues. AT&T, in fact, was busted actively making its bills harder to understand to help obfuscate the scams and keep the money from them rolling in.

In this case, the CenturyLink whistleblower says she was fired shortly after drawing attention to the tactic on an internal company message board. Rather unsurprisingly, CenturyLink — which is currently trying to close a merger with Level 3 Communications — was quick to insist they’d done nothing wrong:

“CenturyLink “holds itself and its employees to the highest ethical standards” and has “an Integrity Line in place, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Mark Molzen, a spokesman, said in a statement. “This employee did not make a report to the Integrity Line and our leadership team was not aware of this matter until the lawsuit was filed. We take these allegations seriously and are diligently investigating this matter.”

But Heiser, who says she began getting increasingly uncomfortable as the Well Fargo scandal unfolded late last year, notes that she did bring the tactic to CenturyLink executives’ attention — but was allegedly told to “stay positive and not to mention her concerns again.”

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Companies: centurylink

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Comments on “Broadband ISP CenturyLink Accused Of Wells-Fargo-Esque Scam That Bilked Millions From Customers”

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John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Wells-Fargo-Esque


1. Knowingly defraud customers knowing that most aren’t going to argue over an extra $3.00 or $5.00 charge.
Millions of customers X $3.00 or $5.00 = millions in profits for not delivering a product or service.

2, Tell customer service reps to quickly give a refund to anyone who complains since (again), most customers won’t complain.
Then these customers are “happy” because they got a refund even though they shouldn’t have been charged in the first place.

3) Then like you said, when this comes to the attention of the FCC, the company is slapped on the wrist with a fine that’s a third of this income.

And so the company has no real incentive NOT to do this… well, other than running an ethical business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Wells-Fargo-Esque

For startups and non-shareholder controlled you often get some very conscious and moral choices. But as soon as investors start to invest with stockmarket-introduction in mind, any such considerations become a distant and naive past.

Ethics in mature businesses is more often than not depending on it securing the shareholders the best investment option possible. If you look at stockmarkets, they often go down if the companys moral choice leads to less earnings. If it is illegal, but the fine is too small to make it unprofitable, then why not?

Very few investors know about such scams and even if the company is caught, hell, unless it sinks earnings, the economic value is still obvious in EPS and PE foreward. A month after the scam the stock will be valued by these parameters again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ah yisss...

It has to get really big before the “benevolent” regulatory agencies to take notice.

It’s paradise!

I wonder if all of those screwed customers got any compensation for their troubles or did big government walk away with a juice fine for its “funding” purposes?

There should be a law where any fine the government levies upon a business 75% of that fine goes directly to the affected “people” not city councils, not businesses, not any agencies or departments, but PEOPLE! this includes kids too, but their parts go into a trust that they gain access to when they turn 18.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Ah yisss...

maybe it would stop if they started incarcerating those responsible for this blatant fraud and abuse and giving back all that money to its customers. But, as long as the government gets to fire up its revenue generating fine machine, letting CEO criminals off the hook to continue this racket under some other fee-fraud, it will NEVER stop. And what do they care – its the people who are paying for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Ah yisss...

For now, these scams can be very easily isolated from the top of companies with an omerta on writing about them specifically. As long as the CEO denies it, it will be word against word, and the CEO cannot be held legally responsible: It is difficult/impossible to prove a personal link to the crime!

Be aware that I do not hold any opinion on the responsibility or legality of the specific investigation. Just saying that it is very easy to circumvent the personal responsibility. On the other hand, we want the “innocence untill proven otherwise” to also work for the devil…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Ah yisss...

“But, mister cop, have you got any evidence of me driving too fast? No? I don’t remember having been speeding!”

The CEO and board cannot be sure of what all employees do all the time. And as mentioned, we don’t wanna go to “murderers pay for their crime, even if we make a mistake sometime” as Paxton would say…

harbingerofdoom (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Ah yisss...

it doesnt make me wonder one bit. they know it. you know they know it… i know they know it… they know they know it…
but thats not the problem. knowing that they know it and being able to PROVE they know it in a court of law are two completely different things. and even if you could prove they knew it…. so what? they basically scammed millions for years doing this kinda crap and if they get caught… they get fined a minor percentage of what they pulled in.

all CEOs know this is being done and its being done deliberately because it makes money… even if they get caught red handed and get fined, they’re still going to have more money in the end.

Anonymous Coward says:

Regarding ATT. My mother recently passed away so I had them transfer the landline number and service to me. I gave them one explicit instruction, “no wirepro”.

The bill shows up and I get a $10.00 transfer fee and I wouldn’t be writing if this didn’t happen, “wirepro”.

I call them again, they say, sure we’ll remove the fees, issue you a credit for both, cancel wirepro and sorry for the inconvenience.

The next bill, wirepro, and no credits.

I only have the landline for the alarm, no one is living in the house, but at this point I’m going to get a cellular connection for the alarm and be done with it. They want $45, because apparently wirepro will never come off, for a landline that never gets used. Unreal!

Last thought, pray you don’t get the India support. They seem to not care one bit about anything but the numbers and they just will not do what you ask, usually arguing with you about what actually happened. There must be some heavy incentives for them to not take care of their customer base.

Chuck says:

Re: Re:

This is not a very good tip, but it has worked for me many times.

When calling AT&T, always call between 3:30AM and 4:30AM. During those hours, they still have the same American staff they have for the whole night shift, but their call volume FINALLY drops below the threshold to forward to India, so you always get an American CSR.

This is the only way to be certain you get an American CSR. These days, the Indians (or wherever they’re from – I think a lot of these poor souls are some kind of Asian now) have all mastered their fake US accents, so unless you get one with an impossible name (last month one tried to tell me he was a “Humphry” even though he wasn’t 80 years old and he was too old to be a hipster’s kid) then you just can’t tell until you’re halfway through the call and they’re repeating everything to you 9 times.

Uh Huh says:


The first two lines of the article are so true!

Just about everything is a predatory scam.

I rent a HUD apartment, said to be affordable $800 for a tiny studio in Salt Lake City.

Lose your building access card? That will cost you a $75 fee.

A two month notice is required to move out. Otherwise fees adding to $1,200.

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