The complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission alleges that T-Mobile made hundreds of millions of dollars from its subscribers by billing them for unauthorized services.
Chuck Harwood with the FTC says the unauthorized charges come from cramming. That's when a third party company adds SMS premium services, like horoscopes or ringtones, to your bill without your approval.
Harwood says the Bellevue-based company kept charging people for years after law enforcement indicated third party companies were not getting valid authorization from consumers. And at the same time T-Mobile was taking a 30 percent cut of the third party subscriptions.
"Even when consumers called T-Mobile and asked to provide refunds, T-Mobile made it hard for them to get refunds. Sometimes they would just outright say no. Sometimes they would offer two months when the consumer paid multiple months,” Harwood said.
The government says there's another problem. The T-Mobile bills have lots of pages, but if you want to find those premium services they are always at the end of your bill. And the description for those premium services isn't always clear.
"When you get a bill, open the bill. If you don't understand the bill, challenge it,” said Harwood. “But if you can't understand what the bill means, if you can't understand what the abbreviations mean, that message is pretty meaningless for consumers."
In a statement T-Mobile says the government's lawsuit is unfounded and without merit. The company adds: "T-Mobile is fighting harder than any of the carriers to change the way the wireless industry operates and we are disappointed that the FTC has chosen to file this action against the most pro-consumer company in the industry rather than the real bad actors."
T-Mobile stopped the practice of using the SMS text services several months ago; however, the issue now is about refunds.
Throughout this month, T-Mobile will notify customers who paid for Premium SMS services, but haven't already received a refund. Sometime later the company will have a website dedicated to the refund process.
Bottom line: check your bills. And if you are not sure if you should get a refund, even if you are a former T-Mobile customer, call them. You may not even know that you're eligible.