AT&T received a fee from the scamming companies for each charge the telephone giant placed on its customers’ bills, the Federal Communications Commission said yesterday in an e-mailed news release.
Although the companies submitted charges for thousands of AT&T customers, they never provided any directory assistance service, the agency said.
“A phone bill should not be a tool for drug traffickers, money launderers, and other unscrupulous third parties to fleece American consumers,” said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau.
“Today’s settlement ensures that AT&T customers who were charged for this sham service will get their money back and that all AT&T consumers will enjoy greater protections against unauthorised charges.”
Participants in the scheme told agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration that the companies were set up to bill consumers, mostly small businesses, for the non-existent service on their local AT&T landline telephone bills, the FCC said.
AT&T will issue refunds to current and former consumers charged for the sham directory assistance service since January 2012, the FCC said.
The refunds are expected to total $6.8 million, and AT&T also will pay a $950,000 fine, the agency said.
AT&T customers can buy services from third parties and have the charges appear on their telephone bill, the company said in a statement.
“Unbeknownst to us, two companies that engaged in a sophisticated fraud scheme were apparently able to circumvent” protections, the statement said.