What happened when Watchdog Nation ate lunch with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson

My #shameATT campaign on Twitter landed Watchdog Nation in the office of AT&T CEO/Chairman/President/Big Kahuna Randall Stephenson.

Hear what happened when we gave him a red binder full of complaints

Here’s the story that originally appeared in the Dave Lieber Watchdog column in The Dallas Morning News.

  • A mistake I made about AT&T led me into AT&T Chairman-CEO-President Randall Stephenson’s office last week. That’s right. The C-Suite. Suite 400 at AT&T world headquarters in downtown Dallas.

    Guys like me can’t get past a company’s PR gatekeepers. But here I am being escorted in the elevator by a building guard. I bring a message from you to him. I carry a large red binder with more than 100 complaints about his company.

    Previously, I had written that “the big kahuna at AT&T” doesn’t list improving customer service as one of his top three goals. I launched a #shameATT Twitter campaign.

    After that, the big kahuna himself calls on my AT&T cellphone to alert me of my error. He says making customers happy has always been and will always be his numero uno. He invites me to his office for a chicken salad lunch (for which, incidentally, I pay).

    After spending 90 minutes in his office last Wednesday, I attest that the big kahuna cares about customer service. Absolutely.

    The natural follow-up I ask is: How does it feel to fail?

    And I give a little speech: “The reason I’m here, though, is specifically — besides the honor of coming to meet you — to present to you my dilemma. I really have a dilemma. And the dilemma is this. I made this for you.”

    I pull out the large red binder. The cover title I created is “The Last 100 Days.” What’s inside? 119 emails from 119 customers and employees — more than one a day — from the last 100 days. I deleted the senders’ names and other personal information to protect their privacy. But these little stories are the saddest tales of corporate failure and customer frustration one can imagine.

    “This is what my life has been like for the past 10 years,” I say.

    I explain that since I became The Watchdog in 2005, not a day goes by, hardly, when I don’t receive a complaint about his company. Stephenson is tall. Dark hair and glasses. Friendly and courteous. When I talk negatively about his company, he listens intently and doesn’t get defensive.

    “Is this something I can keep?” he asks, pointing to the binder.

  • “Yep.”

    “OK, good,” he says. “Did they ask to have the names stripped out?”

    “No,” I explain. “They wrote to me.”

    “So you don’t have their permission?”

    “Yeah. I want you to see what people say about this company.”

    “Good. I want to see it.”

    • “It’s shocking,” I warn. “Such a terrible reflection on this company. And I’ll be honest with you: When I give speeches, I will say that I think AT&T is the worst large-scale company in America. And nobody really ever argues with me.

      “This is just amazing — the level of ineptitude, of carelessness,” I continue. “And it’s shocking to me, and it’s been happening to me every day for 10 years. I’ve always forwarded these to your PR guys. But I’ve stopped.”

      “Why don’t you just start forwarding them to me?” he asks.

      “I would love to do that,” I say, “but here’s what I started sending to people.” I pull out a sheet that shows a keyboard shortcut I created to answer AT&T complaint emails. The shortcut is a link to the complaint website of AT&T’s regulator, the Federal Communications Commission.

      He says that’s an option for people. AT&T gets monthly reports to which it must respond.

      He taps on the red binder again: “I’ll be on an airplane tomorrow. And I’ll spend time going through it.”

      I say, “So that’s why I’m here, OK? I’m here on behalf of what I would call the ‘Make it stop’ campaign.”

      “What is that?” he asks.

      “Make this stop. For every 60 I get about AT&T, I get one about Verizon. For every 90 I get about AT&T, I get one about Time Warner Cable. So your ratio is so far off the charts.”

      His main point to make to me? “If you leave here with nothing else,” he says, “know that this is a priority of mine. This is my No. 1 priority. This is where we invest more capital than anyplace else.”

      He adds, “I would like to convey that we have a plan and a lot of investment” in improving customer service.


      He points to the red binder again, screaming brightly in his modern wood-and-glass office. “I’ll find this very useful. … I want to study it. I want to see if I can put together a plan and address this on a broader scale.”

      He tells me that a column I wrote last month describing a customer service horror story was studied intensely by his team. He calls these studies of what went wrong a “root cause analysis.”

      During the next hour, I glimpse what it’s like to run a company with 150 million customers and 280,000 employees. I learn how he monitors performance using scores and metrics and data, some of it independent of the company and some internal.

      I learn that customer service at AT&T is changing. Much of it will go online. Call center reps are going to get more training and better technology to help them do their jobs, he says.

      He glances at the screaming red binder again. “I don’t know what I’m going to find. I’m dying to dive into it. It will actually be valuable intel I suspect.”

      Then he says something that changes my impression of him in a big way. He is removing the gatekeepers. When I ask him again where I should send the daily complaints about AT&T, he gives me his email address.

      Do these emails go to your phone? I ask.


      If our little meeting improves customer service for one person, I’ll be happy. But my goal is bigger. His is, too. Let’s improve AT&T’s customer service for millions.

      Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.

      Check out The Watchdog on NBC5 at 11:20 a.m. Mondays, talking about matters important to you.

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Texas Realtor Tom Grisak Helps Attorney General Fight Bad Company

Note: The following story about Thomas Grisak appeared in the Nov. 3, 2017 Watchdog column in The Dallas Morning News.


For more than 30 years as a Realtor, Tom Grisak from Allen had a spotless record with his clients. He knew of no major complaints against him.

Until there was one.

An anonymous online post accused him of being too harsh when talking to a potential client  after he didn’t win a house listing. He says it’s not true.

“In all honesty, I should have ignored it and lived life,” he says. “But I didn’t want my clients to think I was anything less than above board.”

He hired a reputation management company he found online. The California company, Solvera Group, promised to handle his problem. He paid $10,800.

Solvera handled it, for sure. Solvera handled his negative online post and posts hurting several thousand other worried customers in a way that should get recognized as one of the more dastardly Internet schemes of all time.

The company created fake complaints and then orchestrated their removal.

The company’s strategy was brilliant in its design. To fix negative comments, the company, run by the elusive Chris Dinota, allegedly had to fool not only customers, but also Texas lawyers, state judges and even the big dog itself, Google. All of them fell for the scheme over and over. Web pages were removed from public search.

Grisak and other victims are at the center of an extraordinary lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his legal staff against Solvera. Paxton’s lawsuit appears to have helped shut down the company. Phones are disconnected, and its websites are offline. The company hasn’t responded to the lawsuit, and there’s no attorney of record for Solvera.

The Watchdog couldn’t find Dinota, the president. No personal records about him could be found. And although the suit was filed Aug. 24, he still hadn’t been served with papers. He’s tough to find. You gotta hear about this crazy company.

Remove negative online comments

Solvera’s public names were InstantComplaintRemovers.com and DefamationRemoval.com. Before the websites were taken down, they bragged of being the “#1 Rated Content Removal Solution” and promised to “Remove Complaints in as Little as 48 Hours.”

The websites said the company helped celebrities, political leaders, lawyers and doctors. The company boasted it could remove negative comments from YouTube videos, blogs, news articles, Yelp reviews and many more.

Dinota told CNN.com in a 2014 story, “We can remove something that shouldn’t be there.”

Big promises. But they were often kept. Forbes describes the elusive Dinota as “The man who duped Google into suppressing bad corporate reviews.”

How Solvera did it

This is how the attorney general says it worked:


Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

After Realtor Grisak signed a contract, Solvera paid a blogger to post a second negative comment on the targeted post. Then it hired a Texas attorney to handle a defamation lawsuit against the complainer whom Solvera claimed it had identified (even though it’s the wrong person).

The hired lawyer would then file a lawsuit with legal papers Solvera wrote and prepared. Lawyers involved were misled.

Nobody told Grisak he was about to sue anyone. He says he never would have agreed to that. But Grisak Properties vs. Baroro is now a public record — even though that’s not his company’s actual name. Fake names were used in the fake lawsuits.

The judge in his defamation lawsuit was presented with an agreement that both plaintiff and defendant supposedly liked (even though they’re actually one and the same). Judge signed a final judgment “premised on a complete falsehood,” the attorney general’s lawsuit says.

The judgment is an order to Google and other search engines to “de-index” the troublesome web page. De-index means the page is still on the Internet, but is invisible in search results, meaning no one will find it.

Google follows judges’ orders.

So there you go. Judges, lawyers and Google have no idea what’s going on.

And what did go on? The original complainer was never found, and the second one was a dupe. It doesn’t matter. The entire web page vanishes.


Until Paxton sues.

Not so brilliant anymore.

A big case for Ken Paxton

There are names for the strategies employed: libel takedowns and de-indexing injunctions. But few others used these tactics as strategically as this company.

In a statement, Paxton says, “My office will not allow Texas consumers, attorneys and courts to be confused and deceived by this unlawful behavior.”

Like everyone else, I couldn’t find Dinota, the disappearing ex-CEO.

A Google spokesperson told me: “We have measures in place to safeguard the integrity of our search results against bad actors seeking to game the system with fraudulent court orders. We work with law enforcement to combat fraud and abuse of the judicial system and have assisted law enforcement in their ongoing efforts on this issue.”

The Realtor says: “It all became smoke and mirrors. If I’d known that’s what Solvera was planning to do, I would have run away from them so fast and they’d never hear from me again.”

He didn’t know. How could he? Now he’s helping the attorney general make things right.

DallasNews.com staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.

Why AT&T customer service sucks

For 10 years,  Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation has received a steady flow of complaints about AT&T. Hundreds upon hundreds. More than any other company by far.

Each complaint I forward gets fixed. But in a greater sense, it seems nothing gets fixed. Is the culture of Dallas-based AT&T to accept the trove of complaints but never drill down to the root cause?

I don’t know why this continues to happen, but a recent letter I received may help us understand.

An AT&T call center employee has written The Watchdog. The employee gives me permission to share the letter, but I am not naming her because of her job. After the letter, you’ll read what AT&T has to say about it.


“Dear Watchdog, I’ve worked 17 years for AT&T. I have never, in all my years, imagined it would become the catastrophe it is now.

“As retention reps, we are told to not only retain existing customers after their promotions expire, but to also sell more to these people.

“In most cases, a customer’s bill will jump up $83 a month after the ‘intro’ pricing ends. We as reps are allotted at the beginning of week 5 ‘limited use’ promotions, giving folks the maximum of $40 off.

“By Monday afternoon, these are generally depleted as we take about 40 calls a day.

“This has created a culture of reps promising promos, but not adding them. Or telling the customer they are disconnecting the service, but just not doing it. Reps do not want to disconnect a customer, as this counts against the rep.

“You are right to request a user ID [of the rep]. However, it does not help, as every account is noted with the ID of the rep, and management does nothing to discourage the reps’ behavior (as the manager’s pay also is negatively affected by each disconnect their rep does).

“This goes all the way up to sales center manager, general manager and VP. None of the higher-ups care or do anything to stop it.

“They also turn a blind eye to ‘cramming’ by reps (mostly nonunion employees overseas) and erroneous misquotes.

“It’s very frustrating to be an ethical rep there anymore, as you are constantly under their scrutiny for not meeting numbers. The only way to meet these numbers is to be a liar and a sleaze. Three-quarters of my call center is on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicine just to deal with the company. It shouldn’t be like that.

“The part in your article [a previous Watchdog report] about us not giving our User ID is really a directive that we had from upper management. A customer’s account was compromised by a fraudster with a real ID. The fraudster called in, changed the address on the account, then called in again and ordered iPhones to be shipped to the address he changed it to.

“The problem with this is none of these general managers communicate. Each state is covered by different laws and regulations. You in Texas may call and get a rep in California. In California, I do not have to let you record the call. You also have the option not to be recorded.

“Now that we are national, you have GMs in charge of call centers in California, Missouri, Texas and Georgia. They don’t train you, don’t care about you, don’t care about the customer as long as they are getting commission off your work.

“They know nothing of government regulations, and frankly, do not care.

“I’ve been through so many GMs and vice presidents. However, this is by far the most inept. We should be helping our customers, not forcing products on them they do not want. … I really don’t think anyone in the government cares.”

What AT&T says

I showed the letter to AT&T — and asked the company for its reaction.

“Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing if this is an employee of our company,” AT&T’s response begins. “But the picture painted is not the experience we create, promote or endorse.

“We have some of the best call center employees in the industry. We set expectations and limit the offers they can use. But we also provide new agents with 12 weeks of intensive training — with a focus on keeping customers with integrity and with offers based on needs determined during the conversation.

“Once out of training, our agents get regular and organized coaching and updates to their initial training with the option of additional coaching always available.”

The statement ends there.

The Watchdog deems it strange because the answer ignores the basic flaws of AT&T’s culture as described by the call center employee.


At my request, Daniel Lyons, a Boston College Law School professor with experience in telecommunications, studied the letter.

Lyons said if a company promises a customer incentives to either sign up for service or renew an existing contract and those incentives are not delivered, in many cases, that’s fraud.

Don’t expect help from government regulators, he says. “The more competitive the marketplace has gotten, the less regulators feel like they need to get involved. If customers don’t like the service they get, they can switch elsewhere.”

What’s happening behind the scenes at AT&T is not unlike what occurs at other companies. But AT&T touches the lives of more Americans than most.

At least we have an idea why the company can’t get it right.

[This story originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News Watchdog column.



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Deja vu: Texas DPS vows to try again to take full fingerprints of innocent Texans

KRLD-AM news radio’s Mitch Carr interviews Dallas Morning News Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber on the surprise news that Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw vows once again to try in 2017 to get all Texas drivers to give full fingerprints for a driver’s license.

Read Tom Benning’s full story www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/h…gerprinting.ece

Here’s the audio interview:




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How to fight terrible companies

On TV: Fighting back the Watchdog Nation way

Thanks to Kristi Nelson and NBC5 for letting me share Watchdog Nation’s ways to fight back every Monday around 11:20 am.

Become a citizen of Watchdog Nation:





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Watchdog Nation exposes ‘the surveillance state of Texas’

The surveillance state of Texas.

That’s what Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber calls the current state of affairs in the Lone Star State.

Watchdog Nation is one of the leading voices in favor of privacy rights for Texans. We exposed the Texas Department of Public Safety’s unauthorized collection of full fingerprints of every driver in the state of Texas. We led the fight to stop the practice. And thanks to House Bill 1888, the practice is ending.

We also revealed for the first time the sweetheart, no-bid contract that Gov. Rick Perry’s government (through DPS) secured with a firm staffed by retired FBI agents to set up a system, operated by retired CIA agents, that was supposed to prevent terrorism. TrapWire is a “surveillance detection system” designed to find terrorists in pre-planning stages.

And we showed how DPS claimed 44 arrests were made because of the expensive TrapWire program, but actually there are none. Unfortunately for DPS, this claim was made in a warning email to state lawmakers on the eve of a Watchdog report. DPS warned legislators that The Watchdog’s report on TrapWire could be inaccurate. Turns out it was DPS who made the error.

Now, collected in one place, see the actual stories from Dallas Morning News Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber and Marina Trahan Martinez in which they show piece by piece the surveillance state of Texas.

Catch up here. Read all of our reports, which won top prizes in 2015 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Houston Press Club and National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

The latest:

Watchdog: Turns out DPS’ claimed arrests didn’t happen

The inaccurate report about its TrapWire super-surveillance fits a pattern of stonewalling and deception at the state law enforcement agency.


Former Gov. Rick Perry (left) and the man he appointed, “Colonel” Steve McCraw, DPS Director

Watchdog: Did your Texas legislator make the hall of fame?

The Watchdog asked for your help to push state lawmakers into voting up or down on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s collection of full fingerprints from all Texas drivers. Find out which legislators stopped this invasion of privacy of innocent people in the 2015 Legislature.

Watchdog Extra: Texas lawmakers end full fingerprinting of driver’s license applicants

Some Texas lawmakers were angry when the Texas Department of Public Safety started taking full fingerprints from applicants for driver’s licenses and state ID cards.

tx dps logo

Watchdog: Does Texas DPS share your driver’s license pic with the FBI?

Internal Texas DPS emails show agreement with feds to send driver’s license pics to the FBI. DPS says don’t believe it.

Watchdog: Rather than answer hard questions, DPS fights the press

The Texas Department of Public Safety alerts state lawmakers to what it expects to be critical news reports hours before the news even comes out.

Watchdog: How Rick Perry set up a surveillance state of Texas

The former governor and Texas DPS worked with former FBI and CIA agents to set up a secretive statewide surveillance detection system.

Watchdog: Is DPS ‘surveillance detection’ just plain spying?

The agency works with companies that employ ex-CIA agents to conduct “surveillance detection,” not spying, officials say.

Watchdog extra: DPS stops collecting full sets of fingerprints from driver’s license applicants

The reason? “Concerns and questions” raised by “a number of legislators,” DPS said in a surprise announcement.

Watchdog: You and me. Let’s push legal fixes in 2015

The Watchdog suggests several new laws to protect Texans in the 2015 Legislature. With your help, we can succeed.

Watchdog: Texas DPS, here are the facts on fingerprinting

The Watchdog answers DPS Director Steve McCraw’s op-ed by challenging him on the back facts.

Watchdog: DPS whistleblower insists officials aren’t being candid

A whistleblower pokes holes in DPS’ arguments.

Watchdog: Lawmakers say they didn’t gives DPS OK to fingerprint

Texas state lawmakers are angry. They say they never approved DPS’ program to capture fingerprints of every Texas driver in the next decade.

Watchdog: Whistleblower blasts DPS for taking fingerprints

A whistleblower who worked for the DPS Fingerprint Bureau steps forward.

Watchdog: Driver’s license centers snatch your fingerprints

The first report that DPS quietly began taking full fingerprints of all driver’s license applicants. No public announcement was ever made until The Watchdog’s revelation.

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Top 10 Consumer Tips for 2015

This video shows the best tips for 2015 from Dallas Morning News Watchdogs Dave Lieber and Marina Trahan Martinez.

How did we figure this out?

Based on our mail and the most common problems we see. If you hit most of these correctly, you’ll lessen your chances for a hassle-free ’15.

Happy New Year from The Watchdog Desk at The Dallas Morning News.

Watch Dave live on NBC5.

Read the full column this is based on here.

For desktop and laptop viewers, here’s the information in a cartoon we made.

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More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

America meets Watchdog Nation/Listen to Fun Radio Interview

Watchdog Nation Debuts New e-Book and Multi-CD Audio Book

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AUDIO: Watchdog Nation Confronts “Inspector Luigi” The Scammer

Note: Columnist Dave Lieber revisits the story of retired American Airlines captain George Kahak in this 2014 Dallas Morning News column, “A man who fell for, and lost, everything.” After it appeared, readers requested to hear the original audio of Lieber talking to scammer “Inspector Luigi” who pretended to be a U.S. Customs Agent. Watchdog Nation reprints this 2009 post with the sound recordings below.

Ever wonder what a scammer sounds like? Listen to a vulture who preys upon the elderly with a phone call. He wants the 86-year-old man to wire money to a foreign country. But this scam can be stopped when you know how it works. That’s the basis of consumer protection and my Watchdog Nation.

Please let me introduce you to Inspector Luigi. (This next video is an intro, but you can skip to the actual audio files below.)

He is with the U.S. Customs Service — or so this fraud says. He called my pal, George Kahak, who probably holds the world title as victim of the most scams.

I first wrote about George in my Dave Lieber Watchdog column in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2009. The story is so fascinating that I reprinted it in my book — Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation.

I’d love for you to read the short chapter on George in this memorable excerpt.

So the other day George called me. He was about to get bit again. He won a half million dollars in a lottery. But the organizers wanted to explain to him how to claim his prize. It involved him sending money to them.

As always, I warned him off. But this time, when Inspector Luigi called George, I was there.

I asked George if I could take the phone. Then I told Inspector Luigi that George is hard of hearing. Meanwhile, I taped it for you.

Captain George Kahak. He died in 2010.

Captain George Kahak. He died in 2010.

Please listen to the slick, deep voice of this con artist. He’s a beaut. Each segment is just a few minutes.

In Act I, he explains the scam to me in detail.

Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/davelieber/inspector-luigi-part-i

In Act II, he continues his ridiculous explanation.


In Act III, well, here’s the real drama. He tells me where to wire the money. Then, The Watchdog confronts him. (This sound file ends when the good inspector hangs up on me.)


In Act IV, I call back a few days later and Luigi pretends he is some other guy who answers the phone. When he tries to connect me — surprise — I get disconnected.


And in the finale, Act V, he tries to pretend, once again, that he is someone else. But it’s obviously his voice.



Bastards like Luigi do this every day. There are thousands of them. They prey on your grandmother, your parents, your friends and neighbors. They are so convincing that they get enough victims to make this worthwhile. Luigi is a classic case.

Watchdog Nation can’t stop the Inspector Luigis of the world from operating, but you can expose them and make it clear to all exactly how they operate.

Please share this blog post with those whom you care about.

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Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. His book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Please use these icons below to share this warning message on Facebook, Twitter and your other favorite social sites.

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Did you get slammed for unwanted $29.95 a month credit monitoring? You can get a refund.

Call me naive, but I imagined a company that tricks people into paying $29.95 a month for a credit-monitoring service they didn’t know they ordered would be headquartered in a faraway land.

A company that lured people with the promise of free credit scores in big print but hid the actual cost in tiny print must be offshore, right?

A company that informs surprised customers it can cancel anytime but isn’t available to take cancellations? Hidden somewhere on an island nation?

Nah. Try the 8100 block of Walnut Hill Lane in Dallas.

one tech b

As readers of The Dallas Morning News Dave Lieber Watchdog column first learned, One Technologies Inc. is headquartered on the sixth floor of a corporate tower.

I first learned about the company weeks ago after my wife, Karen, tried to get her free credit report from the government-sponsored site and accidentally ended up on one of the dozens of websites run by the Dallas company.

She typed in her personal information, then pulled back when asked for credit card information.

No payment is required on government-sponsored annualcreditreport.com. But One Technologies has gamed the Internet so its dozens of websites confuse people.

The company, which uses many names including ScoreSense and MyCreditHealth, is easily found through its use of common search terms linked to its many websites. The sites’ names carry common keywords such as “free credit report” and “check credit scores.” The company also purchased click-on ads to attract users.

This month, the façade of respectability disappeared for One Technologies. The Federal Trade Commission, working with the states of Ohio, Illinois and Texas, successfully brought legal action to stop the company’s sales practices.

The FTC, in legal filings, reports 210,000 complaints against the company from banks, credit card companies, law enforcement agencies and the Better Business Bureau.

One Technologies “participated in deceptive acts,” according to a final court order agreed to by company officials and made public this month.

One Technologies must pay $22 million into a restitution fund for victims.

The company can no longer hide its online terms of purchase in obscure web boxes that users must open to see. Terms must be clear and conspicuous. Frustrated customers must be allowed to cancel immediately through an available call center.

Last week, I visited the company in its office tower and expected to find it shuttered. That’s what Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office promised in a news release.

Abbott’s headline bragged, “State of Texas Shuts Down Bogus Online ‘Free’ Credit Scores Scheme.”

Imagine my confusion when I walked into the company’s sixth floor suite and found people working.

Turns out Abbott’s office oversold. After the company complained, the headline was changed: “State of Texas Stops Online Scheme that Claimed to Offer ‘Free’ Credit Score Schemes but Charged Monthly Fees.”

That’s not the only mistake I see in this enforcement action against a company that capitalizes on customers’ mistakes. In its only public statement about its comedown, One Technologies attempts to turn a national disgrace into a crowning achievement.

The company headlines its public statement: “ScoreSense/One Technologies Sets New Benchmark for Industry Transparency and Disclosure.”

In its opening sentence, the company claims that it “set a new standard for the industry’s clearest and simplest subscription disclosures.”

The company brags that it has helped “to establish industry best practices for enrolling customers” in online businesses.

Denying what it agreed to in the court order, the statement refers to government claims against it as “alleged” and states that “the terms of One Technologies’ offers have always been disclosed to the consumer.”

Fred Loeber, an executive, is quoted: “We call on our competitors to adopt this new benchmark.”

Shameless audacity.

“No fines or penalties were imposed,” the statement continues. “One Technologies will establish a fund for providing refunds to certain past customers.”

How nice. An established fund. Sounds like a scholarship. There’s no mention of $22 million in the company statement.

This company accused by the feds and three states of deception shows in its own words that it hasn’t learned the lesson. Shameless audacity.

Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.

Follow Dave Lieber on Twitter at @DaveLieber.

Check out The Watchdog on NBC5 at 11:20 a.m. Mondays talking about matters important to you.

# # #

In the Know

Get free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. Type the address correctly.

Here’s a list of websites used by One Technologies:















3-in-1 creditscore.com
































SOURCE: Texas attorney general’s office




Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

The Watchdog: Time Warner Cable’s fine print fools a customer

I’m fed up with businesses that tease us with large print come-ons in advertising and hide the conditions in small print that most people miss. Until now, the worst I’d seen recently was at the State Fair of Texas. The sign stated, “Ask Me About our Botox.” Underneath, in tiny print, was the word “Effect.”

So it’s not Botox. It’s the Botox Effect. Doh.

Today I call out Time Warner Cable for doing the same to Sherry Buffington of Farmers Branch and who knows how many others.

She received a flier from TWC with a “limited-time offer.” If she upgrades her TV-Internet-phone package, she would receive a Samsung Galaxy Note tablet. “A $399 Value,” the ad states.

Buffington called TWC and asked about the promotion. A customer service rep promised her she qualified for the expensive tablet. She gave the go-ahead for a switch.

But the tablet never arrived. She went round and round with the company for the next several weeks. Nobody would give her a straight answer about why she didn’t receive the promised gift. She contacted The Watchdog and told me she felt “duped.”

TWC informed me that Buffington had not read the fine print on the offer and did not qualify. That was the bad news. The good news, however, was that TWC folks went back and listened to a recording of her original phone call and heard that the rep promised her a tablet when he shouldn’t have.

TWC offered Buffington a $300 bill credit as a makeup for the error. TWC’s position: She had to switch to a specific bundled package (which she didn’t) and the fine print explained that.

I contacted Buffington and told her tsk, tsk, you gotta read the fine print in life. But then Buffington sent me the actual ad and I was truly surprised. The fine print was so small and in a lighter shade of type than the rest of the flier. The rest of the flier was in big letters. But this fine print was so small I couldn’t even read what she sent me. It was disgustingly small.

fine print

To be fair to TWC, the company is not selling the tablet but the bundled package. The tablet is the lure. But this reminds me of the famous saying: “The big print gives, and the small print takes away.”

I asked the company to send me a sharper copy. I measured the font size. The letters are 1/16 of an inch tall. The tiny print alerts customers that they must sign up for a specific package to qualify.

When I asked Melissa C. Sorola, TWC’s director of public relations, about this, she pointed out that the requirements “are stated three times in the documents.” Yes, that’s true. But it was in 1/16 of an inch everywhere. I don’t find that acceptable. Do you?

Font size in ads is an issue when shopping for electricity in Texas. Under state rules electricity requirements must be “written in language that is clear, plain and easily understood, and shall be printed in paragraphs of no more than 250 words and in a font no smaller than 10 point.”

For perspective, a 10-point font size is twice as large as the font used by TWC for its small print.

The Federal Trade Commission gives guidelines to businesses for fine-print advertising on its ftc.gov website. The regulatory agency has what it calls Clear and Conspicuous Standards.

“Your ads should clearly and conspicuously disclose all information about an offer that is likely to affect a consumer’s purchasing decision. Disclose the most important information — like the terms affecting the basic cost of the offer — near the advertised price.

“Print advertisers should not attempt to hide the real cost or the critical terms or conditions by putting them in obscure locations, such as the border area on a print ad, burying them in numerous densely packed lines of fine print or including them in small-type footnotes.”

The FTC adds, “It’s against the law for businesses to bury important details about a product or service in the fine print.”

The Watchdog continues to become less trusting of companies that try to hide information from us. I agree with Buffington when she tells The Watchdog: “Deception is never acceptable, and consumers definitely should not stand for it.”

IN THE KNOW: FTC standards

Here are the Federal Trade Commission’s Clear and Conspicuous Standards:

Prominence: Is the fine print big enough for people to notice and read?

Presentation: Is the wording and format easy for people to understand?

Placement: Is the fine print where people will look?

Proximity: Is the fine print near the claim it qualifies?

If an ad violates these standards, complain to the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP or visit www.ftc.gov/complaint.

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