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If you were trying to call AT&T and accidentally reached Sprint, it might not have been a coincidence, according to a class action suit in New York state courts. Sprint and ASC Telecom admit to maintaining numerous toll-free numbers that differ by only one digit from the numbers of competing long-distance providers. The numbers generate so-called “fat fingers” business, which results from the competitors’ customers’ unknowingly using the wrong long distance provider. A caller attempting to dial long distance through AT&T’s 1-800-CALL-ATT number, for example, might errantly dial a number such as 1-800-CELL-ATT. The companies then charge their accidental callers rates vastly greater than what the callers’ intended providers charge. A customer initiated a suit alleging that the companies’ actions constitute common-law fraud and violate New York’s General Business Law prohibition on deceptive acts. Last week, in Drizin v. Sprint Corporation, 4631, an Appellate Division, 1st Department, panel unanimously upheld a lower court’s certification of a New York state class, though it declined to reverse the court’s dismissal of a national class. “Plaintiff demonstrated the numerosity of the proposed statewide class, the predominance of common questions of law and fact among the claims of the proposed class members which derive from the same practice and conduct of defendants, the typicality of this claim to the claims of the proposed class members, adequacy of representation, and the superiority of this method of recovery,” the panel held in its unsigned opinion. Refusing to overturn the lower court’s declining of a nationwide class, the panel ruled that the General Business Law “requires the deceptive transaction to have occurred in New York, leaving potential class members from outside the state, who were victimized by defendants’ practices, with no viable claim under the statute. … Maintenance of a nationwide class action on these claims would also be unmanageable inasmuch as the trier of fact would be required to engage in the task of distilling the laws of the 50 states.” This is not the first time Sprint and ASC Telecom’s use of similar numbers has landed the companies in court. AT&T sued them in 2003 alleging a “fat-finger” scheme involving dozens of numbers that were close to AT&T’s 1-800-CALL-ATT.

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