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Crist: AT&T billing errors unacceptable

The state's attorney general has fielded 200 complaints and requested a meeting with AT&T's consumer chief.

By LOUIS HAU
Published April 28, 2004

State Attorney General Charlie Crist said Tuesday he wants to meet with AT&T's top executive for consumer services to get to the bottom of the company's long-distance billing problems.

Crist issued a bulletin Friday warning consumers about an AT&T billing-system error that has caused erroneous long-distance fees to show up on the phone bills of 1-million phone customers around the country. Since then, Crist's office has received more than 200 complaints from Florida consumers who claim to have been wrongly billed by the company.

"I've never seen anything like this," Crist said Tuesday.

In a letter sent Monday to AT&T Consumer president and chief executive John Polumbo, Crist asked the executive to come to Tallahassee "as soon as possible" to discuss the billing errors and the "totally unacceptable" hurdles consumers reportedly face in reaching AT&T customer service representatives.

Although AT&T has promised to correct the billing errors with refunds, most Florida residents who have lodged complaints with the attorney general's office said AT&T representatives had told them refunds would not be forthcoming, Crist said.

Other consumers have reported difficulties in reaching customer representatives through AT&T's toll-free consumer services number at 800-222-0300. Crist said he decided to confirm these complaints for himself, and he was angered at what he found.

"You go from one recording to another recording to another recording," he said. "It's ad nauseam. It's hardly consumer-friendly."

Crist also expressed irritation with the Florida Public Service Commission, which has acknowledged receiving more than 120 complaints about AT&T billing errors but never alerted the public.

"If they've been getting complaints . . . why didn't they tell the people?" Crist said.

Julie Spechler, a spokeswoman for AT&T in Fort Lauderdale, said she didn't know whether Polumbo has agreed to meet with Crist. She also declined to comment on the problems cited by Crist, saying she had no firsthand knowledge of them.

"We are aware of the billing problem and we sincerely apologize," Spechler said.

Consumers can lodge complaints about erroneous phone bills with the attorney general on his office's toll-free fraud hotline at 1-866-966-7226.

- Louis Hau can be reached at hau@sptimes.com or 813 226-3404.

[Last modified April 28, 2004, 01:05:41]

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