CenturyLink customers have paid “many millions” of dollars for services they didn’t want because CenturyLink employees added services to their accounts without the customers’ authorization, a former employee alleges in a lawsuit against the company.
Heidi Heiser worked from home as a customer service and sales agent from August 2015 to October 2016. She says she “was fired days after notifying Chief Executive Officer Glen Post of the alleged scheme,” Bloomberg reported in an article describing the lawsuit. The lawsuit against the landline phone and Internet provider was filed this week in an Arizona Superior Court.
Heiser’s lawsuit “claims she was fired for blowing the whistle on the telecommunications company’s high-pressure sales culture that left customers paying millions of dollars for accounts they didn’t request,” Bloomberg wrote. The article continues:
The complaint alleges CenturyLink “allowed persons who had a personal incentive to add services or lines to customer accounts to falsely indicate on the CenturyLink system the approval by a customer of new lines or services.” This would sometimes result in charges that hadn’t been authorized by customers, according to the complaint.
When customers complained about unauthorized charges, employees like Heiser were directed “to inform the complaining customer that CenturyLink’s system indicated the customer had approved the service,” the lawsuit said, according to Bloomberg. Heiser says she read online reviews from angry CenturyLink customers that reinforced her concerns.
When contacted by Ars, a CenturyLink spokesperson said, “We take these allegations seriously and are diligently investigating this matter.”
The spokesperson also said that the company’s leadership team wasn’t aware of the allegations until the lawsuit was filed. CenturyLink said:
The allegations made by our former employee are completely inconsistent with our company policies, culture, and Unifying Principles, which include honesty and integrity. Should an employee have any concerns about ethics or compliance issues, we have an Integrity Line in place, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This employee did not make a report to the Integrity Line and our leadership team was not aware of this matter until the lawsuit was filed.
Comparison to Wells Fargo scandal
Heiser’s complaint compares CenturyLink’s alleged activity to a Wells Fargo scandal in which 5,300 employees were fired after two million fake deposit and credit card accounts had been made without the consent of the people whose names were on the accounts. Wells Fargo was fined $185 million and its CEO resigned.
Heiser initially told her bosses about the alleged overcharging, but she was allegedly told to “stay positive and not to mention her concerns again,” according to Bloomberg’s description of the lawsuit. She says that she ultimately raised her concerns with the CEO in a company-wide question-and-answer session held on an internal messaging system.
When CenturyLink fired her two days after that session, the company allegedly blamed it on dropped calls between Heiser and customers that occurred five months earlier. But Heiser says those calls were dropped because of a “malfunctioning system” and that she repeatedly reported the problem to management.
CenturyLink has nearly six million residential Internet customers in the US, but most of its $4.4 billion in quarterly revenue comes from selling network services to businesses. CenturyLink is trying to finalize a purchase of Level 3 Communications.