CenturyLink accused of some very dodgy false-billing

CenturyLink has found itself in a bit of potential bother, with a former employee accusing the company of knowingly adding services and products onto customer bills without consent.

Heidi Heiser, who previously worked for the telco as a customer service agent, has filed a lawsuit in Arizona State Superior Court claiming the telco knowingly made millions of dollars by billing customers for services which weren’t requested. According to DSL Reports, Heiser says she was fired from the company shortly after pointing out her concerns on the practise.

Overcharging customers is hardly a new story in the telco world, though many of these examples have been pinned down to error or problems with legacy systems as upgrades are taking place. On this side of the pond, EE was recently hit with a fine of £2.7 million with almost 40,000 customers overcharged, while Vodafone received a £4.6 million penalty last year.

Both of these examples and numerous others were pinned down to technology fails, however should Heiser be accurate in her accusation, it opens up a whole new area of dodginess. Encouraging sales and customer service representatives to charge customers unduly, and then lie when queries are raised is a similar story to the Wells Fargo saga.

In this example, employees of the bank opened up accounts with customer consent to meet sales targets. Wells Fargo ended up firing more than 5,000 employees and agreeing to pay $185 million in fines, on top of the compensation it made to customers. In a telco industry which is already suffering with eroding profit margins, while also seeing hordes of customers transfer to disruptive competitors, a fine or damage to brand reputation will not be well received.

Heiser’s complaints are supported by a number of customers giving feedback on websites like Yelp, who claim they had been improperly charged. Although still unacceptable, billing mistakes happen. Usually, the telco apologises, pays the fine and its back to business as usual. Should the accusations turn out to be true, sweeping this one under the carpet will be a lot more difficult.

According to Heiser, when a customer challenged the charge, agents were told to ‘inform the complaining customer that CenturyLink’s system indicated the customer had approved the service’.

CenturyLink has denied any wrong-doing, but the next couple of months could be a very interesting time should the reports prove to be even the slightest bit accurate.

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