The AT&T Communications Inc. corporate headquarters building is seen March 6, 2006 in San Antonio, Texas.
Photo: Getty

Former AT&T employees are blowing the whistle on the company, accusing higher-ups at the telecommunications giant of pushing its sales team to aggressively sign up customers for its streaming service DirecTV Now, leading to consumers paying for unexpected charges.

Hawaii News Now spoke with several AT&T employees, including some who were fired for engaging in the very behavior that they claim management encouraged. The employees called the tactics used unethical and said they were encouraged to “manipulate sales.”

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Per the report—which cites several employees including Abraham Buonya, AT&T’s top salesman in the state of Hawaii for two years—the company engaged in several different questionable practices in an effort to try to sign up customers to DirecTV Now, the company’s streaming service that reportedly has 1.46 million subscribers.

Sales representatives would offer a trial of the service to customers and promise to cancel it on their account before it automatically renewed and charged them the $35 per month fee. It’s against AT&T’s policy to cancel the trial for subscribers, but the sales team was allegedly told to do it anyway by management. “We were told by managers to cancel it to avoid any future headaches but a lot slips through the cracks,” Buonya told Hawaii News Now.

Of course, sales representatives didn’t always cancel the trials, leading to customers suddenly incurring a $35 fee without warning. Some AT&T subscribers paid the additional charge for up to seven months, even if they weren’t using the service.

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If those charges amounted to negligence or forgetfulness on the part of AT&T employees, another scheme used to sign people up was straight up malicious. In some cases, salespeople would sign up a customer for three DirecTV Now subscriptions on a single account.

According to the report, this occurred when AT&T was running a promotion offering the first month of DirecTV Now for $10. In AT&T’s system, a representative could sign up a person for up to three subscriptions on a single credit card, allowing them to quickly inflate the number of subscribers using the service and meet the quotas placed on AT&T retailers.

“My manager picked up my iPad, which was signed in under me, made a fake email and then activated a Direct TV Now subscription on that email and then said if I can do it, here you go, you can do the next one,” a fired AT&T employee told Hawaii News Now.

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The account provided by former employees matches that of a Reddit post made earlier this week claiming AT&T was defrauding customers. In the post, a Redditor who verified their identity with the moderators of r/technology recounted similar tactics sales representatives were encouraged to use in order to sign customers up for multiple DirecTV Now trial subscriptions. Per the Reddit post, the scheme went on from August to December 2017, at which point corporate apparently caught wind and cracked down on the practice. Gizmodo attempted to verify the veracity of the claims but the Redditor was unable to produce communications from the company about the practices. However, the information in the post is consistent with the report from Hawaii News Now.

Another tactic reportedly used to trick people into signing up for DirecTV Now occurred when a person would come into an AT&T retail store to purchase a phone. The sales representative would tell the customer that the purchase carried a fee, even when it didn’t. They would then offer to waive the made up fee if the customer signed up for a trial of the streaming platform. Because the trial, priced at $10 for the first month, cost less than the fee, customers would often agree to try the service.

“Last fall, we detected some simultaneous customer orders and cancellations of a free product trial,” a spokesperson for AT&T told Hawaii News Now. “We determined some employees had violated our policies and based on our findings we took appropriate action.” The company reportedly confirmed management and non-management employees were involved in the scheme.

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AT&T told Gizmodo unauthorized charges were reversed for customers—though that likely only applies for those who recognized the charge and complained about it. If you’re an AT&T customer, it’s probably best to take a close look at your monthly statement and make sure you’re not paying for a DirecTV Now subscription that you aren’t using.

[Hawaii News Now]