Ma Bell is more like Ma Barker


An iPhone owner who claims AT&T billed him for data usage that was impossible because he'd disabled all data services on his phone has filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in California, seeking to include all iPhone and iPad users who were similarly defrauded by AT&T's "rigged" billing system.


Plaintiff Patrick Hendricks claimed in the suit that "AT&T's bills systematically overstate the amount of data used on each data transaction involving an iPhone or iPad account," and charged customers for data transactions even if they didn't use the device, Courthouse News Service (CNS) reported on Jan. 31.


Hendricks' lawyers described AT&T's billing system as "a rigged gas pump that charges for a full gallon when it pumps only nine-tenths of a gallon into your car's tank."


According to CNS, "AT&T has faced a welter of class actions since rolling out its iPhone service with Apple, which is not named as a party to this complaint. Previous class actions have claimed AT&T charged for downloads its customers never made, reneged on its billing plans for iPhones, charged for services it could not or did not deliver, and promised but failed that the phones could send text messages and photos."


After he decided to file his suit, Hendricks' lawyers hired an independent consulting firm to conduct a two-month study of AT&T's data usage billing, and found the company "systematically overstates web server traffic by 7 percent to 14 percent, and in some instances by over 300 percent", CNS said. But even worse, the suit says,

"Not only does AT&T systematically overbill for every data transaction, it also bills for phantom data traffic when there is no actual data usage initiated by the customer. This was discovered by the same independent consulting firm, which purchased an iPhone from an AT&T store, immediately disabled all push notifications and location services, confirmed that no email account was configured on the phone, closed all applications, and let the phone sit untouched for 10 days. During this 10-day period, AT&T billed the test account for 35 data transactions totaling 2.2 MB of usage. This is like the rigged gas pump charging you when you never even pulled your car into the station."


Hendricks' suit says a "significant portion" of a $1.1 billion increase in AT&T's revenue from wireless services in the last quarter of 2010 alone came from bogus charges and overbilling. It seeks restitution and damages for millions of iPhone and iPad users in the U.S. for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, unfair and fraudulent business practices, unfair competition, and violations of the federal Communications Act.