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Cell phone bill taxes-edit1a

The only thing that comes close to the chaos that is tax law is a telephone bill. Especially a cell phone bill.

In addition to the phone charges — Remember those? That's when you use your device to talk to another person. — there are, among lots of other line items, things such as data charges, text charges and, of course, taxes.

My monthly mobile phone bill is six pages long. One of those pages, thankfully sent digitally, is full of taxes and user fees. That's an excerpt of some them in the photo at the top of this post.

The taxes change periodically, but I must confess I don't worry about them if they are about the same each month.

In fact, I hadn't looked at them for a while until I heard about what happened to some wireless customers in Portland, Oregon.

Tax transfers common: AT&T passed along to some of its customers a 1 percent Clean Energy Surcharge that the City of Portland instituted earlier this year.

The money goes to the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund, which was created by a local ballot measure and is expected to bring between $54 million and $71 million to boost green jobs and other environmental projects.

Even though it's annoying to consumers, all sorts of business taxes generally flow down the distribution chain, eventually ending up in the final charges paid by consumers.

At least in Portland's case, it's a tax approved by voters for what most believe to be worthy eco-friendly goals.

So sounds good, right?

It would be except for one thing.

AT&T doesn't actually have to pay this new corporate tax.

To borrow a reaction from the U.S. Department of Energy Secretary, "Oops."

Wrongly collect energy fee: The Portland law assessing the 1 percent energy surcharge exempts utilities such as AT&T.

Like the many taxes on my bill here in Austin, Texas, the charge wasn't that much.

An employee of The Oregonian newspaper and its digital outlet OregonLive reported being charged 23 cents in April, 7 cents in May and 5 cents every month after until September.

That person, like so many of us who are used to seeing various phone bill taxes, probably knew of the Clean Energy Surcharge, which was the description shown on the bill, and really didn't think much more about the added, albeit fluctuating, taxes.

But AT&T should have known better. It didn't.

"The city only recently notified us that we are exempt from the tax," said AT&T via a statement on the matter, according to The Oregonian. "We will be issuing refunds to our customers."

It also could be issuing more.

Class action lawsuit filed: A class action lawsuit has been filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court alleging AT&T engaged in unlawful trade practices and unjust enrichment due to the charges.

"In an effort to profit and to obtain an unfair advantage over its competitors, AT&T misled thousands of Oregon customers into paying unlawful five cent surcharges that AT&T was not permitted to collect," according to the lawsuit. "AT&T only said it would refund the money it wrongfully collected from Oregon customers after AT&T got caught."

The legal action is seeking $200 for each wrongly charged customer in penalties and interest as required by Oregon's unlawful trade practices act.

The bottom line here for all of us, regardless of which wireless carrier we use, is that we need to pay attention to our bills and those pesky taxes. In fact, such attention is a good idea for all accounts.

Not only could it save you some improperly charged fees, taxes or other items, but it will ensure that no one is using your identity to buy things on your account.

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