€50 million client heist: DECO accuses telecommunications companies of “illegal” rip-off

Consumer watchdog DECO has accused Portugal’s leading telecommunications companies of ripping clients off to the tune of €50 million.

The association wants to see the money all paid back, explains Diário de Notícias – stressing market regulator Anacom agrees with them.

The massive heist came from ‘increases in prices’ over the last seven to nine months which were not previously communicated to clients, and not part of the contracts originally signed.

Indeed, DECO goes so far as classifying the whole issue as “illegal”.

Said association lawyer Tiago Rodrigues operators have been caught feathering their own nests at the expense of unwitting customers.

DN says Rodrigues sees no alternative than operators ‘reimbursing clients’ – adding that “the exact number” of swindled contract holders is unknown.

But the operators most certainly are not.

Worst offenders appear to be NOS and Meo (which together represent around 80% of the telecommunications market).

These are the companies DECO “received complaints about” and the bills of which have been minutely scrutinised.

It was on the basis of DECO’s findings for the last quarter of 2016 that the association came to the “realistic and not merely speculative” figure of €50 million, Rodrigues assures.

“In Portugal, there are 3.5 million people with service packages. In other words, 87 in every 100 nationals have a telecom deal, the most common of which is the 5P (in which consumers have a cellphone and mobile data), and which costs around €55”, he explained.

“We are talking about price increases of around two euros for 3P packages, and 3.5 euros for 4P and 5P”.

Rodrigues added that DECO’s accounting did not include increases on mobile tariffs where, NOS’ WTF package, for example, has seen increases of 19.5%.

In other words, taken singly, the increases may not seem much – but once “multiplied” by the many clients bound to contracts “implies profits of many millions”.
Anacom’s ‘deliberations’ have not forced NOS or Meo to reimburse customers “because the law does not allow it to intervene in conflicts between operators and clients”, said an official source.

The regulating entity has only been able to say that ‘bearing in mind operators’ failure to inform customers of the price increases within the legal time frame, they must now perform one of two corrective measures’.

The first is revert contracts to the ‘old values’ (ie drop the price increases), with the second being allowing customers to break their contracts “at no additional cost”.

Says Rodrigues, his hope is that both NOS and Meo agree to repay their customers. To this end, the association is meeting with the operators, and hopes to report good news in the near future.

One sticking point is the issue of fines. Anacom is apparently ‘discussing the possibility of fines’ internally.

Deco maintains this would be an easy way out, as these kind of “serious infractions” see fines of 10,000 to a million euros, which will still see operators ‘laughing all the way to the bank’.

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