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Washington state is suing Comcast for more than $100 million, its attorney general’s office announced Monday. The lawsuit alleges the cable giant deceived subscribers by offering a “near-worthless” service protection plan, charging improper service fees and conducting improper credit screening.

The state is seeking refunds for more than 400,000 residents.

The lawsuit primarily takes issue with Comcast’s Service Protection Plan, a nationwide program that claims subscribers can avoid being charged for certain technician visits to their home in exchange for a $4.99 monthly fee.

According to a press release issued by Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office, Comcast customer service routinely misrepresented limitations that applied to the plan’s coverage for Washington residents, failing to properly disclose that customers would be charged for service calls related to consumer-owned equipment and the repair of cable jumpers, connectors and splitters.

Moreover, the lawsuit alleges customer service scripts directed Comcast employees to state that the plan covers service calls “related to inside wiring” or “wiring inside your home” when, in fact, it doesn’t cover most inside wiring.

Comcast said in an email that its Service Protection Plan covered more than 99% of enrolled Washington customers’ repair calls.

“We worked with the Attorney General’s office to address every issue they raised, and we made several improvements based on their input,” the company said. “Given that we were committed to continue working collaboratively with the Attorney General’s office, we’re surprised and disappointed that they have instead chosen litigation. We stand behind our products and services, and will vigorously defend ourselves.”

A Word on Fees & Credit Checks

The lawsuit takes similar issues with the “Customer Guarantee” Comcast makes to Washington subscribers. Per the press release, Comcast charged thousands of subscribers for service calls regarding Comcast HDMI and component cables, Comcast cable cards and the installation of drop amplifiers, which fix Comcast signal problems, despite the fact that its guarantee expressly promises not to charge for service visits resulting from a Comcast equipment or network problem.

The attorney general’s office also alleges that Washington state consumers paid a deposit to Comcast, despite credit checks performed by the company showing they had high credit scores.

“This indicates that either: (a) customers paid the deposit to avoid a credit check appearing on their credit report, only to have Comcast run one anyway; or (b) customers were forced to pay the deposit despite their high credit score, contrary to Comcast’s policy,” the press release said.

Signing Up for Cable

Remember, it’s a good idea to read the terms and conditions carefully for any cable plan — or additional service package — you are considering before signing up. That way you’ll know exactly what you’re supposed to pay. (Case in point, while Comcast is accused of misrepresenting its Service Plan Protection coverage over the phone and not making information readily available to cardholders, restrictions are listed in the plan’s terms and conditions on its website.)

It’s also smart to regularly review your monthly bills for unfamiliar fees and charges.

Cable companies are in the habit of checking credit whenever you sign up for a plan — and good credit scores can help you avoid certain fees or qualify for better rates. It’s important to check your credit before you apply for any new contracts. It’s also important to monitor it for any inquiries, since they could impact your score. (You can view your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.) And, should a hard inquiry appear when it shouldn’t — say, when you didn’t authorize a credit pull — you can dispute it with the credit bureau in question.

Image: RiverNorthPhotography

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