AG Ellison joins settlement with wireless carriers for deception, evasive advertisements

Minnesota has joined all 50 states in a settlement with a host of wireless carriers over deception and misleading advertisement practices.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced on Thursday that Minnesota has settled its investigation into AT&T Mobility, LLC, T-Mobile USA, Inc., Cellco Partnership, d/b/a Verizon Wireless, Cricket Wireless, LLC, and TracFone Wireless, Inc.

“AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless spread deceptive and misleading advertisements that tricked consumers into believing that they were obtaining better deals than the company was actually offering,” Ellison said in a statement. “AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless baited consumers with deceptive claims about ‘unlimited’ data, ‘free’ phone offers and incentives to switch, only to switch the offer and not deliver on their advertised claims. Today’s settlements put an end to these fraudulent advertising practices.”

The wireless carriers agreed to pay about $10.25 million in civil penalties as a part of the settlement. $146,000 of those funds will go to Minnesotans; about $35,000 of that money is from AT&T, $69,000 is from T-Mobile and $42,000 comes from Verizon Wireless.

In addition to paying about $10.25 million in civil penalties, the settlement means that wireless carriers are required to:

  • Make all future advertisements and representations truthful, accurate, and non-misleading.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Appoint a dedicated employee to work with the attorney general to address ordinary complaints filed by consumers.
  • Train their customer service representatives who speak with consumers to comply with these terms and implement and enforce a program to ensure compliance with these terms.