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AG Cooper seeks to Stop Liberty Online from unauthorized charges

Release date: 5/22/2003

Raleigh: Attorney General Roy Cooper today took legal action to stop Liberty Online from illegally billing consumers for Internet and telecommunications services hawked by misleading telemarketers.

“These telemarketers deceived consumers, then signed them up for services they didn’t want and hadn’t agreed to pay for,” said Cooper. “Consumers only discovered that they’d been hit by this scam when they noticed the extra charges on their phone bill.”

In a suit filed today, Cooper asked the Wake County Superior Court to block Liberty Online of Miami and 3 related companies from telemarketing to North Carolina consumers and from placing unauthorized charges on consumers’ telephone bills. Other companies named as defendants in the suit are National Online, Ameripages and B2B Advantage. All four companies are run by some of the same officers and directors. Cooper is also seeking refunds for consumers and civil penalties of $5,000 for each instance of unfair and deceptive trade practices.

Cooper contends that telemarketers for Liberty and its related companies mislead consumers about the costs of services or signed them up without their approval. A total of 69 consumers have filed complaints about the defendants with Cooper’s office. Many of these consumers say they had turned down the telemarketer’s offer or agreed only to receive additional information from the company. Other consumers do not remember being called by Liberty’s telemarketers or were told that the services would be free of charge. In some cases, telemarketers claimed that they were conducting a survey or confirming information about a customer’s account on behalf of their local telephone company. In other cases, the telemarketers spoke with an employee who was not authorized to order service, but the company signed the business up anyway.

As alleged in the complaint, many consumers were not immediately aware that Liberty was charging them $29.95 a month because the charges appeared as part of their local telephone bills. Rather than bill consumers directly, Liberty submits charges to an agent known as a “billing aggregator” that, in turn, contracts with local telephone companies to impose charges on consumers’ telephone bills.

“Check your phone bills carefully each month for any charges you don’t recognize or remember,” Cooper advised consumers. “If something doesn’t look right, let the phone company know about it.”