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Jan 12, 2004
CONTACT: Harvey Rosenfield - 310-392-0522
Nextel Loses Round in Suit On Unitemized Bills and Phony Text Messages
Superior Court Allows FCTR to Proceed with Suit against NextelLos Angeles, CA -- A Los Angeles Superior Court judge this morning allowed the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) to proceed with its lawsuit charging Nextel with unilaterally instituting a policy last October 1 of no longer issuing itemized bills. FTCR charged that Nextel's new policy made it impossible to detect billing errors, including charges for four phony text messages that the company sent every customer in September.
FTCR, a non-profit citizen advocacy group, sued Nextel on October 21, 2003, under the state's consumer protection law, Business and Professions Code section 17200, charging that Nextel had engaged in fraud, false advertising, unfair and anti-competitive practices. The organization said that the practice of sending unitemized bills was illegal and that the company should have automatically refunded the phony text messages to all its customers.
Nextel had asked the court to dismiss the suit, arguing that consumers could pay $2.50 per phone per month to get a fully itemized bill or else they could go to the library and obtain their billing information through the internet, or, Nextel argued, consumers could keep a personal diary of all the calls they make. Nextel also claimed that federal law prohibits lawsuits challenging Nextel's practices.
But Superior Court Judge David Workman ruled against the company, allowing the case to proceed.
"The court's decision is an important first step in the process of obtaining justice against Nextel. Nextels' failure to provide customers with printed itemized bills is illegal. Nextel's use of the unitemized bills to then hide phony text messages is unconscionable," said Jordan Lurie of the Los Angeles office of Weiss & Yorman, lead counsel in the case. "We look forward to proceeding with the suit."
"Nextel's decision to stop sending fully itemized bills thwarts the fundamental right of a consumer to understand what he is being charged for," said consumer advocate Harvey Rosenfield on behalf of the Foundation. "If Nextel thinks we should pay $2.50 a month to receive a bill that makes sense, what's next -- A fee to cover executive bonuses? Worse, Nextel charged every customer 60¢ for its text messaging scheme. This kind of nickel and dime-ing of consumers with unjustified fees is illegal."
Nextel has only refunded customer's money for the four messages to those who figure out that they have been overcharged and call to request refunds, the Foundation said. Additionally, shortly after the suit was filed, Nextel announced it would offer its customers the option to receive their bills for free by email or fax. But FTCR's lawyers say that Nextel's actions are inadequate and that Nextel should provide an itemized bill to all customers as it used to, and issue automatic refunds for the phony messages to all customers.
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