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Deceptive Billing: 3 Tips to Protect Yourself

20141119_fineprint_blogImagine you’ve just signed up for Broadband Internet Service for $34.99 per month.  You’re pretty content with the deal, and soon spend your days in a quiet reverie of Pinterest, Netflix documentaries, and cat videos…

…until you get your first month’s bill: $94.95!

That’s what happened to Jeremy Zielinski of New York (well, minus the cat videos).

The story is pretty typical– Internet companies sneaking in bogus fees, misleading promotional rates, unreasonable stipulations into the fine print.

But finally someone is taking the big dogs to court.  Zielinski is suing Time Warner Cable  for “deceptive acts and practices” and “false advertising.”  He says Time Warner Cable (TWC) charged him a different promotional rate than originally promised, along with a $5.99 “internet modem lease” fee and a $47.99 installation fee that were never mentioned in the original offer.   Not only was his monthly bill far different than what he claims he was initially promised, Zielinski also claims the company engaged in other deceptive practices.  For instance, he says the company pressures customers into leasing modems by insisting others won’t work on TWC’s system.  He also says that TWC sold him a speed upgrade that was never delivered, though he continued to be billed for it.

We’ll keep an eye on this case and see if finally the big Internet companies will have to pay up for deceptive billing practices.

In the mean time, remember that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Protect yourself by combing your contract’s fine print for these things:

1.) Promotional/Introductory rates

Companies often lure customers in with low promotional rates for new service.  The catch?  These rates usually disappear after a few months, after which customers are charged a higher fee with no warning.

2.) Extra fees/services

Your rate may appear low, but check your contract to spot any additional charges that may appear on your bill.  These can include modem fees, monthly service charges and installation fees.

3.) Contract length/termination fees

It can be terrible to find out you’re paying more for your service than you initially anticipated.  What’s worse?  Realizing you are trapped in that contract because of a high exit fee.  Look out for early termination fees on your contract before signing up.