Change to Win, a union federation based in Washington, D.C., has asked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to investigate what it calls T-Mobile’s “misleading advertisements and abusive debt collection practices.”

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The latest attack on T-Mobile US’s phone leasing plan could — if successful — cut into one of the Bellevue company’s biggest sources of revenue.

Change to Win, a union federation based in Washington, D.C., has asked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to investigate what it calls T-Mobile’s “misleading advertisements and abusive debt collection practices.”

According to the complaint, filed Tuesday, the group thinks T-Mobile’s no-contract marketing campaign deceives customers who finance the cost of their phone through T-Mobile into believing they will face no penalty for terminating their service. However, if the service is canceled before the phone is paid for, the customer is still obligated to pay off the remaining balance on the phone.

“We think there is a basic change [T-Mobile] need[s] to make to their marketing, which is to stop saying they don’t have a contract, because they do in fact have a contract,” said Nell Geiser, Change to Win research director. “The company should provide accurate information, not just in the small print disclosures, but when people walk into the stores and see a massive sign, that should be accurate.”

When T-Mobile ended two-year service contracts in March 2013, it unbundled phone service from the cost of the phone. It then created a 2-year financing agreement — the Equipment Installment Plan (EIP) — for customers to pay for phones that often cost more than $600. For phone service, customers can now pay month-to-month, without a two-year obligation.

After USA Today published its story about the complaint, T-Mobile CEO John Legere took to twitter and defended the company: “We stand by our ads! Contrary to the click-bait headline, we haven’t been accused of false advertising by any regulatory body.”

But this isn’t the first time. Right after T-Mobile launched its “un-carrier” deal to end 2-year contracts, the Washington state Attorney General investigated deceptive adverting for the same no-contract promise.

Under an “assurance of discontinuance” settlement filed in King County Superior Court, T-Mobile promised to “clearly communicate the limitations of its new ‘no-contract’ wireless service plans,” the Attorney General’s office said in its release in 2013. The company had to pay just over $26,000 for attorney’s fees and other costs to the Attorney General’s office.

The Attorney General’s office would not comment on whether it is investigating this latest complaint.

Change to Win also has issued complaints to other state Attorney General offices and plans to lodge a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission as well, said Geiser.

Roger Entner, an analyst who covers T-Mobile with Recon Analytics, said he disagrees with the new complaint, saying if people paid a little bit of attention, it is clear.

“T-Mobile has very loud advertising; they have a very loud, energetic CEO and customers love it,” he said. “Just because you are getting a great show doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paying attention to what you sign.”

But, he said, if the FCC investigates, it could potentially force T-Mobile to change advertising, compensate consumers and pay a fine.

“If the FCC thinks you have violated the rules, things can get very expensive, very quickly,” Entner said, noting the $100 million fine AT&T got this summer for misleading customers about data usage.

From 2013 to 2014, T-Mobile’s equipment sales revenue increased almost 35 percent to $6.8 billion, representing 23 percent of its revenues. Equipment sales revenue includes phones or other devices being financed as well as those paid for in full, including MetroPCS and other prepaid customers whose phones tend to be lower cost. T-Mobile spokeswoman Annie Garrigan said a number of those customers also bring their own phones.

T-Mobile does not disclose what percent of equipment sales MetroPCS makes up or how many customers finance phones and other devices. Entner estimates 66 percent of T-Mobile’s postpaid customers — considered the most lucrative segment in the wireless industry — use equipment installment plans, with the other third bringing their own phones.

“Almost nobody buys a phone outright,” he said about postpaid users. “These devices are expensive — you can buy two laptops for the price of a phone.”

In its complaint, Change to Win also says T-Mobile’s deceptive marketing “may exacerbate customers’ confusion and vulnerability to delinquency,” arguing that once a customer cancels his or her phone service and receives a bill for the rest of the amount due on the phone, T-Mobile gives little to no notice before referring him or her to collections.

The complaint says that makes it difficult for people to contest debts, which are often more than the traditional early termination fee associated with service contracts, and that the company often gives incorrect information about accounts to the collection agencies.

Six other civil rights and consumer advocacy groups sent a letter of support accompanying Change to Win’s complaint, saying they “are concerned that, without regulatory intervention, consumers will continue to enter into service agreements expecting a no obligation, month-to-month arrangement only to find that they are saddled with hefty equipment-related expenses if they terminate service.”

“Other carriers are now following T-Mobile’s lead in claiming to offer ‘no contracts,’ ” the letter says. “As the wireless market evolves, consumers need regulators to ensure each carrier is providing accurate and straightforward disclosures in its advertising.”

Even though other wireless carriers have started similar installment plans — such as AT&T’s Next — Change to Win’s Geiser said the complaint is focused on T-Mobile because “they led the transformation and the EIP structure.”

“They have become the fastest-growing wireless company through these promotional offers,” she said.

Change to Win is an alliance of four major unions: the Teamsters, Service Employees International Union, United Farm Workers of America, and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

The organization also works with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which has been in a yearslong battle with T-Mobile to organize its workers.

Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for CWA, said the union did not work with Change to Win on the report, “but we certainly welcome it.”

Earlier this year, an administrative law judge at the National Labor Relations Board ruled that T-Mobile interfered with employees’ rights to organize a union through a range of corporate policies

That complaint was filed by CWA, which already represents employees at Verizon Communications and AT&T.