Minnesota attorney general files fraud suit against Comcast

Minnesota's attorney general sued Comcast/Xfinity on Friday, alleging that the company has overcharged thousands of consumers for cable TV packages, charged them for unordered equipment and services, and failed to deliver on promised Visa gift cards.

Attorney General Lori Swanson said it took her office more than two years to investigate the case because Comcast failed to cooperate. She also pointed out that Comcast started doing business as Xfinity several years ago, which Swanson contends was an attempt to get away from its low national customer approval ratings.

The lawsuit, filed in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis, alleges that the company engaged in consumer fraud and deceptive trade practices. It seeks a court order to stop the allegedly deceptive business practices and for unspecified amounts of restitution, civil penalties and legal fees.

Swanson said Comcast has faced similar allegations from attorneys general in Washington state and Massachusetts.

She said Comcast often promises customers fixed prices for a year or two for cable packages, then tacks on "an array of undisclosed fees" that can jack up the bill by 30 percent or more. Comcast then raises those fees, Swanson said, pointing out that a fee charged to most customers for regional sports has gone up 700 percent since 2015, from $1 a month to $8 this year. That's an additional $84 a year.

"It's hard to shop around for cable services if the company is playing hide-the-ball on fees," Swanson told reporters.

Other customers have been charged for equipment and services they didn't order or even declined, she said. And the company has failed to give thousands of customers promotional Visa gift cards worth as much as $300 that it promised in exchange for sign-ups.

Comcast disputed Swanson's allegations.

"We fully disclose all charges, fees and promotional requirements," spokeswoman Jill Hornbacher said in a statement. "The facts do not support the Minnesota Attorney General's allegations and we'd like nothing more than to work collaboratively with the Minnesota Attorney General's Office; however, they've raised complaints about matters that date back several years and have largely ignored our efforts to work together to address them."

A trial is underway in a similar lawsuit in Washington state , Swanson said, adding that Comcast recently agreed to settle a case in Massachusetts.

In the Massachusetts consumer protection case, which involved similar allegations, Comcast agreed last month to $950,000 in refunds or debt cancellations for more than 20,000 subscribers, and agreed to disclose hidden fees to customers.