May 16, 2007 — -- Dell is the No. 2 computer seller in the United States, but now some say the technology giant is ripping off its customers.
New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has filed a lawsuit against Dell, accusing the company of deceptive, fraudulent and illegal business practices.
"You can have aggressive marketing, and if you go too far it's consumer fraud," Cuomo said Tuesday. "In our opinion they went too far, and this is consumer fraud. They offered a product, a service that they didn't deliver."
Part of the suit claims that though Dell gave the impression of an "award-winning service" available to consumers "24 hours a day, seven days a week," consumers faced "nightmarish obstacles" to get help and technical service for their computers. Cuomo said New York had received 700 complaints about Dell -- more than the number of complaints for any other related subject.
Some Dell owners say when they sought help for their PCs, they endured a kind of Dell Hell.
Barbara Williams, a 67-year-old retiree who runs a crochet club from her computer, paid Dell for an "in-home" service plan that can cost up to $300. When her computer broke down, she called Dell thinking a technician would come to her home to fix it. Instead, the technician at the other end of the line told her to dissect her computer on her own.
"The guy told me to open my computer. And I said, 'For what?' He said, 'Well, you have to find the memory. I think it's a memory problem.' And I said, 'I don't know what memory looks like!,'" Williams said.
"He says, 'Well you have to troubleshoot.' I said, 'No I don't. I said I don't know what I'm looking at. I don't know what's wrong with this thing. I paid for in-home service.'"
Williams said she waited six weeks before a technician came to her home.
The suit also says Dell Financial Services enticed consumers with offers of "no interest" financing when in fact very few shoppers -- even those with good credit history -- actually qualified. And the suit says some people who thought they were getting zero percent financing ended up paying more than 20 percent. Over time, that can more than double the cost of a computer.
"I think it's a message to all companies. If you're offering a customer service, if you're a selling a customer service then you have to provide that customer service," Cuomo said.
In an e-mail statement to ABC News, Dell asserted that customers were its "top priority" and said the company would "vigorously defend" itself in court.
"We are confident that our practices will be found to be fair and appropriate," the statement continued. "While even one dissatisfied customer is too many, the allegations in the Attorney General's filing are based upon a small fraction of Dell's consumer transactions in New York."