Verizon Wireless to refund $50 million to customers

Cellphone giant Verizon Wireless said Sunday that it would refund more than $50 million to about 15 million customers nationwide who were mistakenly charged for data usage or Internet access they didn't order.

Most users will receive refunds of $2 to $6, although some customers will get larger amounts, the Basking Ridge, N.J., company said in a statement. Current customers will receive credits on monthly bills. Former customers will get checks in the mail. Those receiving refunds will be notified this month and in November.

The refunds will total more than $50 million, according to a person familiar with the matter. It would be one of the largest refunds ever paid by a telecommunications provider.

The Federal Communications Commission reportedly launched an investigation into the charges after a flood of complaints from angry customers, some of whom said they repeatedly told the company about the overcharges but kept getting hit with them anyway.

Customers were incorrectly charged in two ways.

Most were assessed a $1.99 monthly fee for data service they did not order. For example, customers who tried out the free demo version of an application on their cellphones were hit with the fee. A smaller group was charged for accessing the Internet, even if users did so by mistakenly hitting a button and backing out of the service right away.

The charges began occurring last year and have been corrected.

"Verizon Wireless values our customer relationships and we always want to do the right thing for our customers," Mary Coyne, the company's deputy general counsel, said in a statement.

Wireless and traditional phone companies have agreed to several multimillion-dollar refunds and legal settlements in recent years stemming from a variety of improper fees or overcharges.

Verizon Communications Inc., which co-owns Verizon Wireless, agreed in 2004 to pay as much as $88 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging that it charged nearly 170,000 California customers monthly rental fees for rotary-dial phones they no longer used.

Sprint Nextel Corp. agreed last year to pay $17.5 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged it was charging improper fees to customers to end their wireless contracts.

walter.hamilton@latimes.com

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