SEATTLE - 5.30.03 - The Attorney General's office has filed suit against the operators of an Internet billing service who allegedly obtained customers without authorization and then charged them $4.99 for each minute they were connected to the service.
More than 100 complaints from Washington consumers have been received by the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division concerning the scheme, which is operated by a New Jersey-based company called Alyon Technologies, Inc., and its Georgia affiliate, Telcollect.
The suit, filed in King County Superior Court by the Attorney General's High Tech Unit, accuses Alyon, Telcollect and Alyon president Stephane Touboul of violating the state's Consumer Protection Act by misrepresenting that consumers and telephone-line subscribers were legally obligated to pay the defendants for access to the content on certain web sites.
A number of mostly adult-oriented web sites provide the Alyon billing system as an alternative to payment by credit card for viewing material on the web sites.
According to the complaint, when visiting such web sites, consumers are confronted with a heavy barrage of popup boxes before deciding whether to utilize the alternate billing service. In the process of trying to close the popup boxes, they may unintentionally download a program that switches their computers to the Alyon billing system whenever certain web sites are visited. Some consumers who specifically declined to use the billing system were billed anyway.
According to the state's complaint, the program enables the defendants to obtain the telephone numbers of the lines consumers are using to access the Internet. With that information, the defendants then mail bills demanding payment to the telephone line subscribers, even if the subscribers did not personally authorize downloading the program, and did not purchase materials on the web sites.
"In some cases, consumers are receiving bills for $600 worth of service, but have no idea what they are being billed for," said Attorney General Christine Gregoire. "This case demonstrates again how some unscrupulous operators may try to utilize high technology to rip off unwary consumers."
In cases where a minor has accessed a web site without the line subscriber's permission, Alyon has offered to reduce the amount it claims it is owed, but only if the line subscriber can provide an affidavit and copy of the minor's birth certificate. Several states and the Federal Trade Commission also have filed separate suits in connection with the billing service.
Washington's suit asks the court for a permanent injunction barring the defendants from continued violations of the state's consumer law, and a $2,000 civil penalty for each existing violation. The suit also seeks to recover the state's costs and attorney fees.