SEATTLE -- The Washington Attorney General's office has settled with the operators of Alyon Technologies, a New Jersey-based Internet billing service which allegedly charged consumers for adult web material they never intended to purchase. Parties to the settlement also include the company's president, Stephane Touboul, and its Georgia affiliate, Telcollect.
Nearly 200 Washington consumers filed complaints claiming they were charged for time that they were unknowingly connected to the service. Some consumer bills were as high as $600, charged at the rate of $4.99 per minute. In some cases, consumers said their children accessed the adult sites without their parents' permission, and the parents were later billed.
The company purported to provide a billing system that could be used as an alternative to paying with a credit card when viewing certain websites. According to the state's lawsuit, which was originally filed on May 28, 2003, consumers complained that they had neither gone to the websites nor agreed to be billed for viewing them.
The settlement, filed in King County Superior Court, requires that the defendants forgive any charges allegedly owed by consumers who submitted complaints to the defendants before Jan.15, 2004. Consumers who received bills before June 15, 2004, and have not submitted complaints have the right to do so and request that their charges be forgiven.
The defendants have agreed to provide consumers with full disclosure and clear information about their billing services, as well as an easier way to settle bill discrepancies. Additionally, they have agreed to require that all of the companies' videotext service providers refrain from distributing dialer programs that provide a direct link to the defendants' billing system without the user's knowledge or permission. Future customers will be assigned an identification number to ensure accuracy in billing and verification that the consumer has agreed to be charged. Furthermore, the companies will make it more difficult for children to access adult sites.
The state's lawsuit alleged that the defendants violated Washington's Consumer Protection Act by misrepresenting that consumers and telephone-line subscribers were legally obligated to pay for access to content on mostly adult-oriented web sites. The suit further alleged that consumers were bombarded with pop-up boxes that caused them to unintentionally download a program that switched their computers to the Alyon billing system. The defendants then allegedly mailed bills demanding payment, even if the subscribers did not authorize downloading the program and did not purchase materials on the web sites.
Washington joins 22 other states in the settlement. Alyon and its subsidiaries will pay Washington $15,000 in costs and attorneys fees.
For more information contact:
Kristin Alexander, (206) 464-6432, KristinA1@atg.wa.gov