Cingular billing practices prompt local lawsuit

Friday, December 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Lots of cellular phone customers say they've had nothing but trouble with Cingular Wireless. So they're suing, accusing Cingular of violating the state's Consumer Protection Act. Six in your Corner reporter Diane White takes a closer look at the case.

It’s become a basic tool for businesses - now companies are marketing mobile phones to families. "I had three teenagers and I thought wow, this would be a neat Easter gift.” So 18 months ago, Carleen Taylor signed up with Southwestern Bell Wireless - now Cingular Wireless. "So it was a really good deal, I thought, until I got my first bill and it was 650 dollars." 500 more than she expected, so she called customer service - again and again. “Every month there were inappropriate charges or there were problems and I would either have to be on the phone for an hour and a half to 2 hours - once I finally found someone to talk to.” She made weekly payments while disputing the charges - but was late one week. The company disconnected her phone - and said she'd have to pay $140 to reconnect, so she canceled. "The next bill I had was $1,950." A cancellation fee - listed in the contract. She refused to pay. "They had not provided the services. It had been a constant problem from day one." Cingular turned her over to collections. "I worked a long time to get my credit to the point where it is now, so for fear of them messing up my credit I paid the bill."

But she didn't give up the fight and called her lawyer. She wasn't the only one; other customers had similar problems with billing, service. After several months of research, Taylor's attorney filed a lawsuit against Southwestern Bell Wireless and Cingular Wireless - on behalf of nineteen people. Tracy Cinocca, Attorney: "This is wrong. The little guy's being taken advantage of by a big corporation." The lawsuit includes numerous complaints. "You have a lot of situations with over billing - people being billed for times they didn't use, people being billed at rates they did not agree to. People call in; they get stuck in a bureaucracy. They get on hold, they have excessive wait time and people give up and they hang up. And so SWB and Cingular maintains the charge”

She’s also suing for violation of the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act, because of the contracts. "I've reviewed some of the contracts the consumer signed and all I can say is I've never seen such a one-sided contract in my practice." The case is in the discovery process. With so many plaintiffs involved - it could take time. "I've told them all to be patient." She hopes that patience will pay off - and Carleen Taylor and the others get their money back.

We called Cingular Wireless about this case. A spokesperson sent us this written statement. "Cingular does not comment on the details of pending litigation. We take this matter very seriously and have reviewed the general allegations. However, we have not received the specific complaints in this matter." He said Cingular is trying to resolve the situation adding, "We believe our billing practices are fair, appropriately disclosed to all customers and consistent with industry standards."

Cingular Wireless was formed in October of 2000 when Bell South and Southwestern Bell combined their wireless companies. It's the nation's second largest wireless provider.