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50 states awarded $10.25M in settlement with wireless carriers over deceptive, misleading ads

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Virginia will receive $192,061.83 out of a$10.25 million settlement with Verizon Wireless, TracFone Wireless, AT&T Mobility, Cricket Wireless and T-Mobile.

The settlement resolves the investigations of 50 state attorneys general into the wireless carriers’ alleged deceptive and misleading advertising practices.

AT&T Mobility, LLC, Cricket Wireless, LLC, T-Mobile USA, Inc., Cellco Partnership, d/b/a Verizon Wireless and TracFone Wireless, Inc. (collectively, the “Wireless Carriers”), are included in the settlement.

The attorneys general allege that the wireless carriers engaged in a number of common unlawful practices, including misrepresentations concerning: (1) “unlimited” data advertisements, which failed to clearly and conspicuously disclose material limitations; (2) “free” phone offers, which failed to clearly and conspicuously disclose material conditions; (3) monetary incentives to “switch” wireless networks, which failed to clearly and conspicuously disclose how the monetary incentives would be provided; and (4) wireless carrier plan comparisons, which failed to disclose material differences between competing plans.

“The Wireless Carriers engaged in a number of deceptive practices that misled consumers about the nature of unlimited data plans, free phone offers, and other inducements to sign up for wireless services,” Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said. “I am pleased that we were able to reach a fair and reasonable agreement to ensure that these practices do not continue going forward.”

The settlement terms will, among other things, require the wireless carriers to:

  • (1) make all future advertisements and representations truthful, accurate and non-misleading;
  • (2) refer in marketing to “unlimited” mobile data plans only where such plans do not set any numerical limits on the quantity of data allowed during a billing cycle and clearly and conspicuously disclose any restrictions on data speed, as well as the triggers of such restrictions;
  • (3) offer to pay for consumers to “switch” carriers only where they clearly and conspicuously disclose the type of fees and amounts that they will pay consumers, the form and schedule that such payment will take and all material requirements that consumers must satisfy in order to qualify and receive such payment;
  • (4) offer wireless devices or services for “free” or similar terms only where they disclose clearly and conspicuously all material terms and conditions that the consumer must meet in order to receive the “free” devices or services;
  • (5) make offers to lease wireless devices only where it is made clear to the consumer that the consumer will be entering into a lease agreement;
  • (6) make representations that a consumer will save money by purchasing its products or services only where it has a reasonable basis to do so based on comparisons with the prices of comparable goods or services of other providers, or where any material differences between those goods or services are clearly and conspicuously disclosed;
  • (7) appoint a dedicated employee to work with the attorneys general to address ordinary complaints filed by consumers; and
  • (8) train its customer service representatives who speak with consumers to comply with these terms and implement and enforce a program to ensure compliance with these terms.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.