Pennsylvania’s attorney general has sued Verizon, alleging that the company promised free Amazon Echo devices and Amazon Prime subscriptions to new customers but failed to deliver the items after customers enrolled in two-year contracts.
Verizon promised the incentives to customers who signed up for two-year FiOS deals between November 2018 and January 2019, the lawsuit said. Customers were given 60 days to claim their incentives, but certain customers were unable to do so because of a broken hyperlink, the complaint said.
“Verizon failed to provide certain consumers with their free Echo and/or Amazon Prime membership as promised and created an unreasonably burdensome process to claim the free Echo and/or Amazon Prime membership,” the complaint alleges.
Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro filed the complaint yesterday in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.
“After long hold times on the phone and being transferred to multiple agents of Verizon, the consumers were told that Verizon was aware of the issue, and that the hyperlink issues would be addressed,” the complaint said. “However, the hyperlink issues remained unresolved for more than a month after Verizon was put on notice of the problem.”
The broken hyperlink, which was sent to customers in an email, was the only way to claim the Echo and Prime subscription, the lawsuit said.
“Verizon sent the email to the consumers with the referenced hyperlink to log into their Verizon accounts to claim the free Echo; however, in certain instances, once logged into the Verizon account, there was no hyperlink to re-direct the consumers to Amazon.com and redeem the items,” the complaint said. “In such instances, the consumers were unable to claim the free Echo, or the free Amazon Prime Membership where applicable.”
Verizon continued to make the Amazon offer to new customers through January 30 of this year despite being aware of the problem preventing customers from getting the perks, the complaint said. One of the offers required customers to pay $80 a month plus taxes, equipment charges, and other fees for gigabit Internet, TV, and phone service.
After Verizon’s 30-day “Worry-Free Guarantee” passed, customers were locked into the two-year contracts despite not receiving the Amazon incentives, the lawsuit said. “The consumers who cancel beyond the 30-day ‘Worry-Free Guarantee’ must pay Verizon an early termination fee, which in some cases could be as high as $350.00,” the complaint noted.
“We had a few technical issues”
Verizon said it has fixed the problem and is surprised Shapiro filed the lawsuit.
“We are frankly surprised by the lawsuit,” Verizon said in a statement provided to Ars. “We’ve been engaged in a productive dialogue with the Attorney General’s office. We had a few technical issues with this promotion, but we have worked hard to address all the issues we know about. Lawsuit or no lawsuit, we will do right by our customers.”
Verizon also said it believes all customers have now received the promised incentives. “As far as we’re aware, any customers impacted by this issue had already been taken care of—prior to the suit being filed,” a Verizon spokesperson told Ars.
Customers were “enticed” into signing two-year contracts by the free offers, the lawsuit said. “Upon information and belief, consumers would not have committed to a two-year contract, if they knew they would have to go through this experience in order to receive the free items promised by Verizon,” the complaint said.
The lawsuit says that Verizon violated a state consumer protection law prohibiting unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in commerce, and it demands that Verizon “make full restitution” to all affected customers. The complaint also asks the court to impose a civil penalty of $1,000 for each violation of the state consumer protection law and $3,000 for each violation affecting a customer who is at least 60 years old. The complaint also says Verizon should have to “disgorge and forfeit all monies it has received as a result of its unfair and deceptive acts and practices as set forth in this Complaint.”
“If a company chooses to promise incentives to consumers signing up for their services, it is their legal responsibility to deliver on those promises,” AG Josh Shapiro said in his announcement of the lawsuit. “Consumers should not have to be put on hold or bounced around multiple company personnel in order to get answers, and if Verizon knew of an issue in fulfilling their promises to consumers, they should have corrected those problems quickly or stopped offering the program until it was fixed.”
The AG’s office still wants to hear from customers who suffered from the problem. “Consumers who believe they have experienced issues with Verizon’s offer for a free Echo and/or Amazon Prime membership can contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection at 1-800-441-2555 or email@example.com, or can file a complaint at www.attorneygeneral.gov,” the announcement said.