Telecoms pay €40k for ripping off users

Telecom companies Virgin Media Ireland and Meteor Mobile must donate €40,000 to charities to avoid criminal convictions for repeatedly overcharging customers.
Telecoms pay €40k for ripping off users

After hearing evidence of a catalogue of errors which saw customers ripped off by both firms, Judge John O’Neill said he could understand the frustration they felt when complaints were not resolved despite their repeated efforts.

Both Virgin Media Ireland and Meteor Mobile were ordered to each pay €20,000 to four charities and good causes: Pieta House, the Simon Community, the Merchant’s Quay Project, and Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin in Dublin.

Following an investigation by industry watchdog Comreg, Virgin Media Ireland and Meteor Mobile pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court to charges under Section 45 of the Communications Act. Virgin Media’s seven charges were “legacy” issues as a result of taking over the UPC network, Judge O’Neill was told.

The court heard customers were overcharged after getting special offers for TV, phone, and internet packages and the issue was only resolved after they became frustrated and contacted Comreg.

The court heard a Meteor customer was threatened with legal action and a debt collection company, and another man was charged more than €1,000 after he cancelled his account, while a woman was expected to pay €400 for calls made by a person who stole her phone.

Comreg compliance officers Miriam Kilraine and Melanie O’Beirne gave evidence of complaints at the hearing. These included:

  • A customer had signed up in October last year to a €95 per month deal but the bills for the next three months were €139, €100 and €107;
  • Another case related to a customer who had cancelled their account after they moved abroad in June last year but who had money debited from his bank account for the next four months.

Aisling Kelly BL, for Virgin Media Ireland, said that company apologises.

Comreg analyst Melanie O’Beirne investigated the 11 complaints against Meteor. These included:

  • One man wrongfully threatened with legal action and a debt collection company for €1,445. There was a “system error” after he had thought he had cancelled his account;
  • A man who changed his mind about continuing with mobile broadband and cancelled the account in June last year still got charged €9.99 a month until January 2015;
  • A woman had her phone stolen in March and contacted Meteor who assured her that her account had been suspended. However, the company attempted to bill her for €400 of calls made after the phone was stolen, and they took part of her deposit to pay off part of the bill.

Joe Jeffers BL, for Meteor, asked the court to note Meteor had almost one million customers and the incidents outlined were mostly the result of human error.

They have put in place new measures including “a single management complaint process” where customer will not have to be asked to rehash their story every time they speak to a representative of the company, he said.

Judge O’Neill noted Virgin Media and Meteor Mobile had no prior convictions and have refunded the 18 complainants and said it would be better for these causes to benefit rather than imposing convictions and fines.

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