Randall -- Whereas a lot of people purchase the latest, greatest smartphone and all of the available options, Rod and Caroline Fichtner were looking to downsize. "We went in (to the US Cellular store) to downgrade our phone because we didn't need all this technology, said Caroline. “So, it lowered our bill, trying to save (ourselves) money."
But after a year of paying their new service plan, the couple from the small town of Randall discovered it was still too high for what they had agreed to. They said that they went back to the US Cellular store. "And I asked the (employee), ‘What's this $9.95 charge?’ (The employee responded), ‘Well, you signed up for MLB.’ I said, ‘No. What is MLB?’”
Caroline said that the employee described it as a premium text service to receive Major League Baseball scores. Caroline recalled receiving a text message, "And I said I didn't recognize it so I hit options and ‘delete.’ And (the employee said), ‘Well, by doing that they charged you $9.95 a month, and they've been doing this for over a year.’"
Rod said that the ordeal has left them "feelin' like we've been ripped off." Iowa's top consumer protection advocate described it another way. "That's just flat out fraud,” said Bill Brauch, director of the Office of Consumer Protection at the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. Brauch explained that the problem reaches beyond the Fichtners and their experience with US Cellular. "(People say), ‘I don't know why I got that charge.’ That is a very common complaint. Those are growing and it's really concerning us," said Brauch.
US Cellular Communications Manager Laura Lualhati released the following statement to Channel 13 News:
“At U.S. Cellular, customer satisfaction is our top priority and is of the utmost importance. Before we permit content providers to offer premium message services to our customers we require that they undergo a rigorous vetting process to ensure compliance with all program requirements. Among other things, content providers are required to disclose all of the pertinent terms and conditions, including price and to use a double opt-in process before the customer subscribes to the service.
Customers should read all of the information provided by the content provider before subscribing and they should always review their monthly bill. If customers have any questions about premium message services on their bill they can either call the content provider at the number provided on the bill or call U.S Cellular. We would be happy to answer any customer questions.”
Caroline has some advice of her own: "Check your bills. Every bill you get, check them because there are so many taxes and stuff that we don't even understand what’s on there. Check (your bills) for other things." Brauch added, "You can ask for premium blocking to be put on your cell phone so that you won't receive those kinds of text messages again."