AT&T settles suit over 'mysterious' mobile phone fees

US giant AT&T customers who have seen mysterious charges for ringtones and other content show up on their cell phone bills will be eligible for refunds as part of the settlement of a group of class-action lawsuits, an Associated Press report said.

The Associated Press report said customers will able to claim refunds for spurious charges that appeared on up to three of their monthly bills between January 1, 2004, and May 30, 2008, according to Jay Edelson, lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

It is the first nationwide settlement over the business of third-party content, Edelson said. AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said he knew of no other similar settlement.

Edelson's firm has filed similar suits against Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA.

Vendors of ringtones and daily text-message services with horoscopes and jokes solicit customers to sign up by entering their phone numbers on web sites or by sending text messages. The charges, which can be hidden or poorly explained, show up later on cell-phone bills, often as recurring charges.

The mobile carrier keeps some of the fee and passes the rest to the content provider.

Sixteen class-action suits that are part of the settlement alleged that AT&T should have been more careful in vetting the services. AT&T did not admit wrongdoing.

The settlement shows the company 'really does want to fix this problem and not benefit from any of the unscrupulous third-party instances out there,' Edelson said.

The company now requires customers who sign up for third-party services with recurring fees to confirm by replying to a text message. It also requires the content providers to send monthly reminders with instructions on how to unsubscribe from such services.