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AOL Fucking Its Customers?

BELLEVILLE, Ill. – Ten former subscribers have filed a class-action complaint against America Online and ICT Group, claiming AOL charged them for AOL accounts, goods and services that they did not authorize or consent to pay. The plaintiffs in St. Clair County Court claim “AOL exploits its subscribers’ confidential billing information to unlawfully generate additional revenue by charging for additional accounts that they neither order nor request.”

AOL tells subscribers they may add up to seven different screen names to a membership account for free. But through deceptive pop-up ads, AOL converts or spins off the free screen names into additional membership accounts without subscribers’ knowledge or consent and charges a separate fee for each account, the suit claims. And AOL allegedly does it without sending a bill or invoice notifying subscribers of the charges. AOL makes money by assessing monthly subscription fees for Internet access and by advertising and selling goods and services through the Internet. It requires subscribers to pay monthly fees and charges by credit card, electronic fund transfers from debit card or bank accounts or by addition to their monthly telephone bills.

AOL retains the ICT Group to respond to consumer complaints and billing inquiries. This complaint claims the two conspire to allow AOL to retain the fees by confusing and deceiving AOL subscribers about such fees and charges, obstructing or delaying AOL members from canceling unauthorized accounts, and refusing to refund or credit all of the money collected from such accounts. The suit claims the deception is linked to AOL’s continuing loss of dial-up subscribers. “As more consumers switch from AOL to low-end dial-up competitors or broadband providers for Internet access, AOL is at risk of becoming irrelevant in the very market in which it made a name for itself. … As a result, AOL has engaged in sharp and deceptive business practices” to generate additional revenue, the suit states. The plaintiff class includes all people and entities that were charged or billed by or through AOL or its agents, assigns, customer service providers, or other designees for accounts, services and/or goods without their consent or authorization. The number of the class is unknown, but it believed to be in the hundreds of thousands; AOL has millions of subscribers. Class members are seeking damages not to exceed $75,000 per individual. They are represented by David Nester of Nester & Constance.

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