LOS ANGELES (CN) — Citing thousands of complaints on social media, three class actions accuse telecommunications company CenturyLink of fraud, double-dealing and using phony and inflated fees to cheat millions of consumers of as much as $12 billion.
A nationwide federal class action filed June 18 in Los Angeles claims CenturyLink promises customers phone, data and cable TV service at one price but bills them much more and threatens them with high cancellation fees if they try to quit.
“It is estimated that the damages to consumers could range between $600 million and $12 billion, based on CenturyLink’s 5.9 million subscribers,” according to named plaintiffs Craig McLeod of Alabama and Steven McCauley of Kansas.
Arriving as the Monroe, La. -based CenturyLink is in the middle of its $34 billion acquisition of multinational competitor Level 3 Communications, more such lawsuits can be expected, said Ben Meiselas, with Geragos & Geragos, one of McLeod and McCauley’s attorneys.
“There are consumers in every state that have reached out to us,” Meiselas said. “We’ll be filing in all states where consumers are victims.”
The Los Angeles complaint states that “a digital revolt against CenturyLink’s fraud has been fomented by subscribers on social media and consumer watchdog websites.” The 19-page lawsuit claims thousands of complaints from CenturyLink customers have been posted on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and consumer websites.
“This is one of the most outraged and passionate groups of consumers I’ve ever been involved with,” Meiselas said.
In Phoenix, former customer service employee Heidi Heiser claims CenturyLink fired her after she complained that the company was cheating customers of “many millions of dollars” for services they had not authorized. Heiser’s lawsuit says there are “frightening parallels between the Wells Fargo Bank scandal and what she saw happening at Century Link.”
And on Monday in Portland, Oregon customer Heather Gonsoir claimed that CenturyLink, “as part of its billing pattern and practice … systematically and intentionally overcharged tens of thousands of Oregon customers.”
Gonsoir is represented by Michael Fuller with Olsen Daines; Geragos is co-counsel.
Both federal complaints give credit to Heiser’s whistleblower action in Arizona.
CenturyLink spokesman Mark Molzen, said in an email that “opportunistic follow-on claims are not unexpected” after a suit like Heiser’s.
“The fact that a law firm is trying to leverage a wrongful termination suit into a putative class action lawsuit does not change our original position,” Molzen said.
“The allegations made by our former employee are completely inconsistent with our company policies, culture and Unifying Principles, which include honesty and integrity,” he continued. “We take these allegations seriously and are diligently investigating this matter.”
The plaintiffs say they didn’t see the honesty and integrity.
McLeod, 65, says he was promised upgraded internet speed for $2 more per month. Instead, his monthly bill doubled to $80, and he was hit with undisclosed “wiring charges” for having a technician swap out his modem.
When he complained about excessive and unexpected charges on his bill, “CenturyLink told him it was his ‘fault’ for not catching its fraudulent charges,” the complaint states.
McCauley, from a small town in Kansas, was paying CenturyLink $48 a month for internet service and was told he could be put on a new plan at $27.99. He was shocked, he says in the lawsuit, when a bill for $80 arrived.
When he complained, he was told that the company had no $27.99 plan but he could be put on a contract for $43 a month. When he asked to drop his service, he was told he would have to pay a $200 termination fee.
“Mr. McCauley remains trapped in an exorbitant contract he never agreed to enter,” his complaint states.
Meanwhile in Oregon, Gonsoir discovered her monthly fee for bundled services was more than twice what the salespeople at her door had promised. She was told she would have to pay a previously undisclosed $240 cancellation fee to quit.
“Plaintiff later discovered she wasn’t alone. As it turned out, several of plaintiff’s neighbors were also ripped off by CenturyLink, Inc.’s unlawful billing tactics,” she says.
Gonsoir says she has since learned that CenturyLink’s “pattern and practice of misleading customers about the costs of its services are well-known within the industry, and among utility regulators.”
Gonsoir cites an article in The Oregonian newspaper showing a 54 percent increase in complaints to regulators in 2015 alone.
She seeks damages and punitive damages, for violations of Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act. The national plaintiffs seek damages for fraud, unfair competition and unjust enrichment.
Meiselas said he believes these and future class actions against CenturyLink eventually will be consolidated in some manner.