Calif. consumer group sues two cell phone carriers

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Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — A consumer watchdog group sued two cellular phone companies on Tuesday,
alleging the companies take advantage of unwary customers and have violated state consumer protection laws.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights filed a lawsuit in Superior Court against Nextel Communications Inc., saying the company stopped issuing itemized bills on Oct. 1, making it difficult for consumers to challenge charges.

The foundation also alleged that Nextel sent four text messages to all California customers on Sept. 12, charging them 15 cents for each message. Without an itemized bill, consumers may not even notice the extra charges, the foundation said.

“They’re nickeling and diming consumers out of what could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in overcharges and they’re making it impossible for people to discover they’ve been ripped off,” foundation president Harvey Rosenfield said.

The foundation asked the court to issue an injunction against Nextel and is seeking to reimburse customers who were overcharged.

A spokesman for Reston, Va.-based Nextel did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

The organization also filed suit against Cingular Wireless, accusing the company of pushing for new customers through its advertising but then providing inadequate service to them. That suit seeks class-action status.

The charges echo similar ones levied against Cingular in September by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The commission fined Cingular $12.1 million after concluding the carrier didn’t give new subscribers a chance to change their minds during an aggressive expansion that resulted in shoddy service. Atlanta-based Cingular, a joint venture between BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications, said it would appeal the fine.

The company on Tuesday called the latest charges “baseless.”

“The organization’s allegations about our business practices, network and customer service quality are not true, and, in fact, just mirror unproven claims alleged in the California Public Utilities Commission‘s investigation of Cingular,” the company said in a statement.

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