Legere: T-Mo to “double down” on outreach to ensure premium SMS charges are refunded, FTC “sensationalized” story

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As you no doubt read earlier this week, the FTC launched an allegation that T-Mobile is guilty of “cramming”. Or – in other terms – charging customers for premium content, hiding the charges in customer bills, and making a tidy profit. And, although it was unsettling for all T-Mo fans and customers, it was – by all accounts – about the bigger picture. But more importantly from a T-Mobile perspective, more than a little late.

Back in November last year, T-Mobile committed to never charging a single cent in premium SMS charges again. In June this year, it launched its widescale refund program to make it possible for customers to get their money back. Something John Legere was keen to point out in his blog post today.

He accuses the FTC of “sensationalizing their story and their news at the expense of T-Mobile’s reputation” and of his own.

Despite the exaggeration of the FTC, this was neither a big nor important business for us, and their financial claims are incredibly overstated.  Additionally, those third-party content business operators are pretty much out of business.  This was an easy Un-carrier decision!

Three key points arose in the blog post, which you should all take time to read.

  1. T-Mobile is not currently participating in any kind of cramming. Although it was – along with all other major carriers – carrying premium SMS service from 2009-2013. Because of the high number of third party fraudsters they announce that they would no longer be offering Premium SMS services. At all.
  2. T-Mobile will continue to only bill customers for what they want, and what they have purchased. “No Excuses!”
  3. To ensure that there was no unsettled business regarding premium services, the Proactive Refund Program was launched on June 10. Marketing teams and CS have all been instructed to “double down their outreach effort to all potentially affected – current and past – who believe they were inappropriately billed.” 

This new phase of “doubling down” will start in the next few days, in an effort to make sure that anyone who was charged for premium SMS services gets their money back.

All in all, I think it’s good to see John Legere reacting so passionately. We all knew – or should have known – about the Premium SMS refund program. It’s great to hear that the company’s going to be trying harder in the near future to ensure every customer affected gets their money back. I don’t see many other carriers following the same path..

Source: T-Mobile

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  • HothTron

    Verizon/AT&T paid FTC some serious money/bribes to get overhyped tarnished news out about T-Mobile. Wanna bet im likely right?

    • DrkFngThDragnLrd

      I wouldn’t be surprised. My roommate had this happen a few times to him because he isn’t very tech savvy. I checked the bill, saw the premium sms charge, I called T-Mobile as the whole 4 line account is in my mother’s name. T-Mobile CSRs credited the charges without even an issue. It was painless and we never blamed T-Mobile. He made the mistake and they still refunded the charges, no questions asked.

    • redman12

      Wouldn’t be surprise. FTC focus should me the merger between Comcast and Time Warner. A&T and Directv. That’s a bigger issue than an SMS.

      I appreciate response about this though. Great CEO.

    • S. Ali

      FTC attorney that brought the charges used to work for a law firm that currently represents ATT. No doubt in my mind at all.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    So, when dealing with an industry wide issue, the FTC chose to go after not the biggest offenders, ATT or VZW, but after the smallest, TMUS? There surely is something rotten in the Beltway.

    • Medion

      They already went after Verizon. They settled and paid a fine.

      • philyew

        Wasn’t that their landline business?

    • Mark

      They did go after ATT and VZW except TMo is lagging in actually paying people back.

  • peharri

    The FTC didn’t sensationalize anything. I was a victim to the charges too, and it was infuriating the only option T-Mo gave at the time was to turn off virtually all messaging that wasn’t to or from ten digit geographic numbers.

    I know people here want to knee-jerk defend them, but remember this wasn’t either the pre-AT&T-merger-attempt innovative T-Mobile nor the post-Legere honest T-Mobile. It was the “We’re about to be taken over by AT&T so let’s fire our customer service staff, downgrade our services, get rid of EMP plans (the original no-contract plans) and replace them with “Value Plans”, and act like the frankenchild of Verizon’s arrogance and Sprint’s quality.

    Things are better now. Legere deserves credit for fixing much that was wrong, but for those of us who have been with T-Mobile for a long time and stuck with them, we were failed during those years. Glad they’re over.

    • randomnerd_number38

      I’m confused by your statement about the option to turn off premium sms codes being “infuriating.” You do realize that any number that’s NOT a ten digit geographic number is a premium sms, right? Some of them may not charge you anything, but they all use the same system. Also, the option to blacklist only certain sms short codes has existed for a long time- since before the failed AT&T takeover at least.

      Definitely agree that the period when Humm took over to when Legere took over were very dark times though.

      • peharri

        “You do realize that any number that’s NOT a ten digit geographic number
        is a premium sms, right? Some of them may not charge you anything, but
        they all use the same system.”

        You’ve answered the problem right there. Some (most?) non-ten digit geographic numbers don’t charge. Fraud alerts from your bank? Two/Three factor authentication systems that use SMS messages to check it’s you logging in? Even T-Mobile’s own VoIP service (I forget the name, the thing they were heavily promoting a few months ago) sends registration messages via the non-ten digit geographic numbers.

        So yes, it’s a problem.

        • randomnerd_number38

          You ignored the part where I said that the option to blacklist only certain sms short codes has existed for a long time.

        • peharri

          Well, yes, I ignored it, because it didn’t have anything to do with anything.

          The only option I was given by customer service to prevent me from being charged by abusive premium services my family had never interacted with was to cut off _all_ non-geographic SMS messages, whether free or premium. That was my option. The ability to blacklist one or two SMS short codes was never offered, available or not, and would have been a waste of time anyway.

        • randomnerd_number38

          So just to make sure I understand, you’re enraged that t-mobile offered to block premium sms, which is where your charges came from, and the ability to only block certain charges on sms doesn’t have anything to do with anything.

          I must be very confused about the point you were trying to make then.

        • peharri

          Yes you are confused. I’ve explained twice now that the objection was that T-Mobile only offered the ability to block non-ten digit geographic numbers regardless of whether they charged or not. Your comment that they also offer the ability to block specific numbers is irrelevent because THEY DIDN’T OFFER IT, and because I HAVE NO WAY TO KNOW WHERE THE NEXT BOGUS CHARGE WILL COME FROM.

          And I gave you examples too of why blocking ALL NON-GEOGRAPHIC NUMBERS is a problem, such as my inability now to receive fraud alerts from my bank. I explained to you, specifically, that regardless of whether these numbers are called “premium” or not, not all services delivered via them are actually related to charges.

          T-Mobile could have offered to refuse charges from third parties to my account if they couldn’t actually identify activity between my physical phone and the number in question. That would have been reasonable. They didn’t. Instead, they offered only to deal with FRAUD ON MY ACCOUNT by making it harder to detect FRAUD ON MY CREDIT CARD.

          It’s not hard to understand and I’m having difficulty understanding why you’re “confused about the point.”

          Having explained it to you TWICE (and this is the THIRD TIME) are you still under the impression there is no legitimate reason to want access to text messages FROM non-geographic numbers?

        • randomnerd_number38

          So much anger. Take a deep breath and remember you dont even know me. Am I really worth this much blood pressure?

          Anyway, I get it now. You’re mad about the way premium sms works in general and misdirecting that anger at t-mobile.

          I was never confused about whether there were legitimate uses for premium sms. I was confused about why you were so mad at T-Mobile regarding premium sms. Is the fact that turning on “non-geographic” sms enables the ability for those “non-geographic” numbers to charge you when it’s turned on so hard for _you_ to grasp? If you’re ticked at the technology and how it works, don’t use it. Doesn’t your bank have email alerts instead?

          EDIT: Upon reflection about the fact that premium sms charges have been halted industry-wide, I realize that most of my point about your anger being misdirected is incorrect. Obviously if they can choose to stop premium sms charges now, they could have years ago. I concede that most of my replies were wrong. Your anger at T-Mobile wasn’t misdirected. T-mobile wasn’t the only company whose practices regarding premium sms needed changing, but that hardly makes it okay. Well at least it’s fixed now. I trimmed off the snarky end of this post.

    • philyew

      Even then, I got the improper premium service charge refunded without argument…though I agree there were some dubious practices at the time – particularly in relation to contract renewals.

  • JaswinderSinghJammu

    FTC needs to be worried about it’s own people having dinners and getting and or accepting World Cup Soccer invitations and being in bed with companies they are suppose to be regulating.

    • Deadeye37

      Those are business meetings to discuss business things….In the box seats. The $3000 caviar Kobe beef lunch was because the meeting went long. The new house boat on Lake Powell was just an apology for accidentally spilling Dom Perignon during the celebration. Its all legit.

  • Deadeye37

    Here’s my 2¢:

    Verizon settled with the FTC on cramming several years ago. The FTC made Verizon pay back those fees (makes sense). The FTC also made Verizon pay a $25 million fine. I think the FTC is after more money and just needed that lobbying from the big 2 to push them for this money grab (I assume there was lobbying).

    • philyew

      I think you will find that was entirely related to their landline business and they still have to address their mobile services activities.

      • Deadeye37

        Thanks for the heads up. Either way, I’m sure the fine the FTC will charge is partially a driving force behind this move.

        • philyew

          If there is a fine because the FTC were able to prove some wrongdoing, then so be it…but I want to see them go after the other carriers with equal zeal, if that proves to be the case.

          What I do know from the past and, again, from statements made here today is that some customers expect(ed) to receive full refunds, even though they ignored their bills for months and didn’t challenge improper billings until long after implied consent could be reasonably assumed.

          As much as I am a consumer advocate, I would consider it entirely wrong of the FTC to support customers who failed to fulfill even that minimum obligation of reviewing their bill in a timely fashion and raising a challenge without delay.

    • mike e

      the circumstance that Verizon faced a few years back were a bit different. 1) the issue was about being billed for data when you inadvertently pushed the data button (that was the design of phones then); 2) Verizon always itemized their bills so the charges were easily identified; 3) data service was a subscription service offered, controlled and managed by Verizon; 4) the issue was handled in Federal court as a class action suit and all past and present Verizon customers were part of the class. The big payout for Verizon was the legal fees that were awarded to law firm that represented all Verizon customers.

      I see a class action suit in the future of TMO.

      • Mike

        Verizon Class Action Settlement: Get Refunds For Accidentally Pressing “Get It Now” Button
        By Ben Popken November 4, 2011
        If Verizon “erroneously” charged you for accidentally pressing the “Get it Now” or “Mobile Web” buttons on your phone, you can file for a refund, thanks to a recent class action settlement.
        The lawsuit is related to the Verizon insider confession New York Times gadget columnist David Pogue published in 2009 that said the wireless company had rigged their phones to grab $2 a time everytime someone accidentally hit the “Get It Now” or “Mobile Web” buttons on their phone. It was a fee trap for their customers, the insider alleged.
        At the time of the controversy, Verizon wrote in a letter to the FCC (PDF) that, “…in order to protect customers from minimal, accidental usage charges, Verizon Wireless does not charge users when the browser is launched, and opens to the Verizon Wireless Mobile Web homepage. If the browsing session ends there without the customer navigating to another webpage, the customer will not incur charges for Mobile Web browsing.” However, Pogue’s readers wrote him to say that’s exactly what happened. That complaint was also among those in the class action lawsuit. Some customers also said they got data charges even when they didn’t access the internet on their phones.
        Verizon Wireless denies all wrongdoing and has agreed to settle to end the litigation.

      • TechHog

        If T-Mobile is already refunding people, I don’t see what a class action suit would do beyond wasting time and money.

  • Mike e

    So let’s get this straight, the program that Legere spoke of as beginning in November of 2013 to “proactively refund customers” for the special screw your services that TMO made millions on just started on June 10. Geez, Legere it’s no wonder the Feds are after your ass. You basically lied saying that the “proactive refund to customers started last year. You now are saying that it began in ernest on June 10 and 15 days later your going to double down. What happen in the many months in between. Sure makes you look like an incompetent ass, John. Can you hear me now?

    Wonder how many other lies and fabrications TMO is putting out there. Is the 3/4 of the population of all of the US being covered by LTE also a lie, John. It’s not happen in Philadelphia or the Metro area. Was the perfect camp ability of the Iphone on the TMO net work a lie too John?

    it’s time to step down John, you can’t be trusted to speak the truth.

    • Jesse James

      you are right, the CEOs for ATT and Verizon are so stright forward. Tmo needs a CEO like them

      yea that was sarcasm

      • guidomus_maximus

        And they aren’t refunding anything to anybody.

      • cwa1979

        You’re a moron. AT&T and Verizon have networks that make tmo look like the joke that it is. Legere is an anti union, anti labor bullshitter. Ask the 20 thousand former tmo employees that this idiot fired since he took over. He uses a little profanity and morons like you think he’s the messiah. Get real. The fact is that he can say shit and other words that shock some people but this company is awash in red ink!!! Nobody sees a profitable future for this company.

        • Jesse James

          So Its Legere’s fault that Tmo has an inferior network not the people who ran the company the decade prior?

          Use Google you’ll see that ATT and Verizon have been laying off various workers for the past couple years. Tmo isn’t the only wireless company who lays off works. All of the big 4 carriers have been.

        • DStudio

          Actually the only time I saw T-mobile really slow down on its progress (including network expansion and related technical advances) was during the time AT&T was trying to buy them. It’s hard to justify moving forward when you’re in such limbo. So they really HAD to get that windfall from AT&T when the deal fell through – just to help make up for all the lost time!

    • Cruise Guy

      Read the story before such a dumb reply. They have been refunding the money since last year. They are only “doubling down” now to finish up the last of it quicker. It takes a long time to do all these refunds. Nasty personal comment with zero relevance.

      And regarding your knowledge of LTE, that’s even worse. Don’t make comments when you know nothing on the subject.

      Lastly, John has only been in this role for a short time. He was not the Un-Carrier leader when the cramming was going on. Give the guy an inch of slack. He doesn’t need zealots like you to hang him. He will do it himself if he doesn’t fix things.

      • Mike

        I think you need to be more informed. Look at the various articles where Legere said the he has taken a “proactive” stance in getting these people refunded. He said this process started in November 2013. Now we learn that there was no proactive approach in place until June 10, 2014. Legere’s own words. Perhaps you and Legere don’t understand what proactive means. I’m not hanging him out to dry, he’s doing a damn good job on his own. Look the FTC is after him and TMO because he’s been to loose with the facts, slow to respond not doing what he said he was doing (proactively refunding money it was not entitled to keep).

      • tog

        Except TMo was being lazy and was forced to “double down” on their efforts to refund people.

    • Aaron Davis

      Philadelphia was supposed to have been covered by t-mobile LTE more than a year ago.

      http://www.tmonews.com/2013/05/more-t-mobile-lte-sightings-yet-again-today-in-austinsan-antonio-seattle-and-philadelphia/

      Are you able to get LTE anywhere else? If you have never actually seen an LTE signal on your phone, then there could be something wrong with the settings on the phone.

      If it’s an android phone, the hidden phone settings app needs to be set to “lte/gsm auto”, if it’s set to “wcdma preferred” it will never connect to LTE.

      • Mike

        No phone has been gone over many time by TMO, apple, TMO iOS expert, everything under the sun checked, double checked, go between no services to e. 13 miles out side of Philadelphia along the Main Line. Just last week load 5 dropped calls in areas that TMO swears has robust LTE coverage. TMO actually advised to turn off the LTE option. I see LTE in King of Prussia, Pa, but not where I live and work. Home is said to be less then 6 blocks from and LTE tower but no LTE and often no voice. According to TMO the older Voice only tower is what I’m drawing on. Go figure. I think it’s just more BS that frankly makes little sense to me. Service seemed to be fine 4-6 weeks ago.

        Just got back from a nice trip the Delaware beach. Saw LTE in Wilmington, DE but was literally without service the entire rest of the trip. No voice, no text and not data. Just 2 months ago had service at the beach, calls went through and text messages were not delayed. Same phone. For sure it’s not the phone. Travel companions had full service 1 had ATT the other Verizon. We even used the ATT hotspot to watch netflix on a chrome cast devise.

        • Aaron Davis

          You should look into getting one of those test-drive iPhones and see if you get the same results in the same areas.

          Or ask the people you know if anyone has a t-mobile LTE phone that would be willing to help you do some tests. Ideally someone with the exact same model of iPhone.

          The fact that you now have problems with voice and text in multiple areas where you previously had no issues, would seem to indicate something has gone wrong with the phone sometime in the last 4-6 weeks, despite what the techs said.

  • Joe

    Good job FTC for making TMo to not be so lazy in refunding their customers.

  • DStudio

    Doesn’t the timing of this bother anyone? In other words, make T-mobile look bad so the government can later justify allowing Sprint to buy them, in order to remove this “evil scourge” from the face of our land?

    • TechHog

      This would actually work against the merger, especially with rumors of T-Mobile being the surviving brand or management.

      • DStudio

        That’s the worse news – if this is a sign, they’re NOT GOING TO BE the surviving brand or management. I think SoftBank wants to be (and feel) fully in charge.

        If it smells like poop … it probably is!

  • Mike

    Everyone is focused on the FTC announcement but seem to ignore the 7/1/2014 announcement that The Federal Communications Commission also is investigating complaints against T-Mobile. FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, in a statement. “We will coordinate our investigation with the FTC, and use our independent enforcement authority to ensure a thorough, swift, and just resolution of the numerous complaints against T-Mobile.”

    Even though TMO wants to be known as the UN carrier, it still has to play by the rules as an regulated mobile carrier. Perhaps there is some reason to think that TMO has not been playing by the the rules. Guess the FCC and FTC investigations will prove this fact one way to the other.

    • DStudio

      We’ve recently become aware of just how much federal agencies can work together in a very partisan manner. In fact this may be when they work best together – when they’re fulfilling someone else’s agenda.

      And I’m afraid this smacks of an agenda. Why target the fourth largest carrier if the others are just as guilty (as other posters here have suggested)? Why make such a big statement (which sounds inflammatory, misleading and inaccurate) in the press after T-mobile’s already fixing the problem? Is this the worst dirt they could dig up on them? With such statements and such timing, there’s a reason behind it all.

      • Mike

        The entire point of the FTC action was that TMO had not fixed the problem and had not paid people back. By Legers own words they stopped the practice of cramming last year. The refund part was only made available to those who asked for it. FTC’s other point was the billing practices of TMO made it nearly impossible to determine. Recall the simple bill that started a couple of years back? Routinely charges were not itimized so you couldn’t tell. Legere himself said that on June 10 of 2014 that TMO was going to proactively ( insert hunt down the customers that were due a refund) make refunds. So from NOV of 2013 to June of 2014 only customers that asked for a refund MAY have been issued a refund. Some that request a refund got denied. That’s why FTC is on the back of TMO. The simply didn’t make an effort to find those customers that were due a refund. Sorry to those that think TMO is being unnecessarily picked on or that some how there a right wing conspiracy doing on – you are simply misinformed. TMO screwed up by not taking action when they had the chance and that’s why they are faced with the FTC matter and possibly more from the FCC.

        • DStudio

          Exactly – since Legere said on June 10 they were going to proactively refund customers, why are the FTC and FCC squawking about it now?

          Over time we’ll see if my perceptions are correct. If the FTC and FCC quiet down soon, perhaps it was nothing, as you suggest. I wish I had as much faith in them as you – to simply take their words at face value. But in the current climate that doesn’t seem like wise advice.

          Besides, it’s the FTC’s tone – and the way that this was released in the press – that made me suspicious in the first place. Something sounds disingenuous about the whole thing.

  • Van

    I remember receiving these fees a while ago like several years. Will we get our refund for those too even though I can’t go back that far took at my previous bills?

  • Mike

    Back in November last year, T-Mobile committed to never charging a single cent in premium SMS charges again. In June this year, it launched its widescale refund program to make it possible for customers to get their money back. Something John Legere was keen to point out in his blog post today. Heck just call TMO customer services and ask if you were ever charges for these premium services, clearly CS has been instructed to do the search and issue a check if you were.

  • Mike

    Just called. They have a 3rd party doing the investigation of the bills. CS politely took the information and said that the 3rd party people will be calling people back starting July 15 to review the claim information. According to CS will search all history on current account or or other accounts for which you have the telephone number or they can search by your ss #.

  • n225

    Can someone remind Legere to make his company release the KitKat update for the T999 and variants Galaxy S3? Sheesh!

    • Mike

      He had to be reminded by the FTC to pay people back millions of dollars – what makes you think KitKat upgrade is high in his to do list?

      • n225

        The “uncarrier” mentality. Hopefully it comes this month. It’s long overdue.

  • Mike

    The contents of the FTC complaint filed in UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON can be viewed at the following site:

    http://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/132-3231/t-mobile-usa-inc
    This document sheds some light on exactly why the FTC is all over TMO. Gives great insight into what happened, TMO’s games towards its own customers that sought refunds, development of “official systems” to further cheat customers from a full refund based on “performance standards” and refund rations. Reads like a conspiracy to commit fraud including all of the usual cover-ups.
    Legere should be shocked and outraged over all of this. Not at the FTC, but rather his conduct and the conduct of the Corporation that he heads. The comment that Legere made about the consumer being “rape” by the other carriers who don’t give a F*** you sure does seem to apply to TMO.
    It might be helpful for consumers if TMONEWS posted the entire content of the FTC complaint.