Comcast has systematically defrauded thousands of customers in Washington state by signing them up without their consent for a service plan that itself provided nearly no services, alleges a new filing by the state’s attorney general.
The new claims, which were spotted by and can be read in full at Ars Technica, are part of an ongoing lawsuit begun in August 2016. The suit alleges breathtaking fraud — even by the standards of one of the most hated companies in America — in the signup process for a $5 per month service protection plan that supposedly covered repairs to equipment in customers’ homes.
The new claims emerged from analysis of 1,500 Comcast service calls with customers who were signed up for the plan. According to the filing, Comcast “deceptively added the SPP to many of its Washington customers’ accounts without their knowledge or consent. On many occasions, the SPP was not even mentioned by Comcast to the customer on the telephone call where the SPP sale allegedly occurred.” Comcast also allegedly signed up customers who explicitly refused the plan, according to the attorney general.
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Further, the service protection plan itself seems carefully designed to provide the least possible amount of actual “protection.” The original lawsuit said the plan “often ends up failing to cover any repairs at all,” and Comcast reportedly spent very little on actual repairs related to the plan. That made the fees — including those of customers who apparently never agreed to the plan in the first place — nearly pure profit.
In Washington state alone, the filing claims that more than 500,000 customers paid a total of $73 million for the protection plan. Of the sales calls reviewed by state officials, more than 50% allegedly included deceptive practices. The attorney general’s statement describes the sales practices as “systemic,” and says the findings represent “potentially tens of thousands” of consumer protection violations.
Though the current lawsuit only covers Washington state, Comcast is the dominant internet provider across much of the United States, suggesting that a broader investigation would uncover similar behavior elsewhere. It also casts further doubt on Comcast’s promises to put customer interests first, even in the absence of Net Neutrality rules requiring them to.