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America Online Inc. was accused of charging thousands of its customers for merchandise they did not buy, according to a federal lawsuit made available Monday. The suit claims that the AOL Time Warner Inc. subsidiary “unlawfully charged and collected money for this unordered merchandise and shipping and handling charges from subscriber’s credit card, debit card and checking accounts.” The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco late Friday, accused the nation’s largest online service of shipping products — including books, stereos and bed sheets — advertised on its service even when subscribers clicked the “no thanks” button on their computer screens. Barry R. Himmelstein, one of several lawyers suing the Internet provider, said the company should change its “You Got Mail” slogan to “You got a package.” He said his law firm has received dozens of consumer complaints against the company. The suit seeks nationwide class action status. No court date has been set. The suit names three plaintiffs but claims the company misbilled “thousands of Internet service subscribers.” AOL has 33 million subscribers. An AOL spokesman dismissed the suit. “These allegations are without merit and we intend to vigorously contest this lawsuit in court,” said Nicholas Graham, spokesman for the Dulles, Va.-based company. Subscriber Dawn Brisky of Fresno, Calif., said she was charged $74 in December for bed sheets she did not purchase. “It just came to my house,” Brisky said. The suit also alleges that an Oakland, Calif., woman was charged $10 for a desk planner and $171 for a stereo she never bought. A Rialto, Calif., man was charged $60 for some books and charged $90 for a “Cyber Sonic Tooth Care System” he did not purchase, according to the suit. The suit seeks unspecified damages, the return of unauthorized payments, and to let consumers keep the unauthorized merchandise at America Online’s expense. The case is Buckley v. America Online Inc., C02-0918. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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