BELLEVILLE - A lawsuit seeking to potentially cover hundreds of thousands of America Online Inc. subscribers accuses the Time Warner Inc. unit of illegally billing customers by creating secondary accounts for them without their consent.
The lawsuit, filed last month in St. Clair County Circuit Court on behalf of 10 AOL customers in six states, claims the company confused and deceived customers about the charges, stalled them from canceling unauthorized accounts and refused to return questioned fees.
"AOL exploits its subscribers' confidential billing information to unlawfully generate additional revenue by charging subscribers for additional membership accounts that they neither order nor request," the lawsuit alleges, calling the scheme "common, uniform and continuing."
The lawsuit, seeking class-action status, mirrors more than a dozen other actions that have been pending in state and federal courts throughout the country, said Stuart Talley, a Sacramento, Calif., attorney representing the plaintiffs in the Illinois lawsuit.
All of the federal cases were consolidated in California two years ago, Talley said.
Nicholas Graham, an AOL spokesman, said the Dulles, Va.-based company considers the Illinois lawsuit "a legal rehash that has as much legal value as refiling your personal income taxes from four years ago."
"The important thing is that we deny the allegations now as we've done several times, and we will defend this case as we have other cases accordingly," he said, noting that AOL "takes extraordinary efforts to resolve any issues the members raise."
"The bottom line is we have safeguards in place now that prevent unauthorized charges, and we have credit and refund policies that do justice to the consumer," he said.
The lawsuit also names ICT Group Inc., a Newtown, Pa.-based outsourcing company AOL retained to respond to customer complaints and billing matters.
Messages with ICT seeking comment were not immediately returned Friday.
Plaintiffs include an Illinoisan, two Californians, three Tennesseans, a West Virginian, two Alabamans and a New Yorker.
No hearing date has been set on the Illinois case, which accuses AOL of violating Illinois' Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.
The latest lawsuit alleges that AOL misrepresented that subscribers may add up to seven different screen names to a membership account for free.