SEATTLE – The Washington State Attorney General's Office is suing DIRECTV for what it calls unfair sales practices.
The AG's Office says it received 375 consumer complaints about DIRECTV in 2009 – more than any other business. It says Washington residents filed more than 700 complaints about DIRECTV since 2006. The office is accusing DIRECTV of attracting customers with ads for low prices while, at the same time, hiding fees, planned rate changes and terms that call for automatic renewals.
"DIRECTV stands out for providing the worst customer service and some of the most deceptive advertising of any company we've seen in this field so far," said Attorney General Rob McKenna.
The suit accuses the company of failing to disclose rebate terms, misrepresenting free items and failing to adequately disclose early cancellation fees.
"They put the important details in very fine print. This information is not provided to the customer after they call up. It's not sent to them afterwards in a normal contract. The information they receive in writing when the equipment is delivered is not all the information, either. It's only about the lease for that equipment." said McKenna.
"So, they either bury the details in print that’s impossible for most people to read, or they fail to provide it altogether."
McKenna says, because most of the DIRECTV contracts are not in writing, customers cannot hold the company accountable if they change terms.The AG's office says a key issue is DIRECTV's requirement that new customers sign up for a two-year equipment lease and programming agreement.
"Consumers aren't aware of the two-year contact until after they've signed up for service," claims Asst. Attorney General Paula Selis. "They don't know that the monthly service charge will increase significantly after a year. They don't know that DIRECTV will charge them up to a $480 penalty if they cancel before the first two years. Customers who weren't able to use the service because of reception problems or faulty equipment were also charged penalties in some cases."
The Attorney General's Office is asking the court to force DIRECTV to change its business practices, impose penalties and provide restitution for consumers.
DIRECTV released this statement in response:
"We always strive to provide 100 percent customer satisfaction but, to put it in perspective, we are talking about less than one percent of our customer base in this area. The vast majority of our customers in Washington State, and the U.S. for that matter, understand our lease agreement and are happy with our overall service. We are disappointed that the state elected to file a lawsuit. We believe their allegations lack merit, and we are confident the court will agree with us."