The California attorney general's office is investigating billing practices of a Beverly Hills telegram service, which has apparently charged hundreds of consumers for services never ordered.
Deputy Atty. Gen. Al Sheldon said the inquiry into American Telegram Corp. is in the early stages. "We are fact-gathering . . . to determine whether there's been any violation of law," he said.
American Telegram said it is cooperating with authorities and has already refunded $100,000 to consumers. The company also said it has closed the telemarketing operation that peddled the telegram service.
"This is a story that is not a story," Chief Executive Roger Meyers said.
The company sold a telegram message delivery service for a monthly fee. Until recently, American Telegram charges have appeared on local telephone bills through an agreement the company had with Pacific Bell.
However, Pacific Bell said that in mid-July it stopped handling American Telegram's billing chores due to a large number of complaints from customers who said they had never ordered the service. Charges ranged from $2.95 to as much as $35.40.
American Telegram has been the subject of complaints about billing errors for more than a year.
Duane Filler, a supervisor with the state Public Utilities Commission in Los Angeles, said that since last spring, about 200 people have filed complaints, stating they were billed for service never ordered.
Among them is T.J. Lymenstull of Altadena, who said a $12 charge appeared on his May telephone bill and an additional $2.95 charge showed up on his June bill. Lymenstull said he was never solicited for the service, and that American Telegram failed to correct his bill as requested.
"I got my July bill and the charges are still there," he said.
Last September, American Telegram said it was instituting verification procedures to reduce billing errors. Meyers said he could not explain why the verification procedures apparently did not work.
"We hired people as verifiers. We tried," he said.