Minnesotans who believe Sprint Nextel misled them about their contracts, leaving them paying $200 per line in early termination fees, can apply for refunds from the cell phone company, according to a settlement announced Monday.

But, Sprint warned, just because you apply for a refund doesn't mean you'll get one.

The Minnesota attorney general's office sued Sprint in September 2007, accusing it of extending customers' contracts for up two years without permission when customers called to make small changes in their service. The suit said customers were charged up to $200 per line if they canceled those extended contracts.

The attorney general's office said at least 439,000 Minnesotans were asked to pay the early termination fees between July 1999 and December 2008 but the office did not know how many actually did. An additional 450,000 customers are under contracts with early termination policies and may be eligible to file a claim, it said.

Sprint, based in Reston, Va., said it has denied the attorney general's claims all along and that it has always been in compliance with Minnesota statutes and consumer laws.

"But we wanted to resolve this litigation, so we set up this claims process," Sprint spokesman Matt Sullivan said.

Sullivan also said that once a claim is filed, Sprint will review it. "If they consented [to the contract extension], they will not get the refund," he said.

The attorney general's office said a third party will review disputed claims.

According to the attorney general's office, the settlement also bans Sprint from extending customers' contracts without consent and requires the company to fully disclose contract lengths and early termination penalties.

The attorney general's office cited a January 2008 Consumer Reports survey that said customers listed "mandatory contract extensions" as one of the top two complaints against cell phone companies.

Suzanne Ziegler • 612-673-1707