Are You a Victim of Phone-Bill 'Cramming'?
By Ric Edelman
Shady Third-Party Vendors Hope You Don’t Notice Vague Charges
Do you bother to look at the charges on your monthly telephone bills?
If not, you might want to start doing so. It could save you a bundle.
Americans are paying more than $2 billion a year in unauthorized phone charges through an illegal practice called “cramming,” according to the results of a U.S. Senate investigation.
Here’s how cramming works: You receive a call from someone offering you a “free” service, such as a Web site or Internet yellow pages listing. You accept (in some cases, you don’t even realize you’ve accepted), and suddenly an extra charge begins to appear on your telephone bill. You might not notice it because it’s listed vaguely as a service charge or “other fee.” The amount is often just a few dollars, making it even less obvious.
It’s legal for third parties to sell services billed through your local telephone provider, but shady firms take advantage of the fact that local companies aren’t required to verify whether you agreed to pay for them, so they “cram” the charges onto your bill and hope you don’t notice.
The Federal Communications Commission says 82% of cramming charges occur on land lines and that small businesses are a frequent target.
On cell phone lines, read carefully the terms and conditions of any services you and other family members use. For example, sending one text message for a special offer might sign you up for a subscription.
You can also reduce your chances of getting crammed by reading sweepstakes entries or other forms to make sure you aren’t unwittingly giving permission to add services or switch providers.
Best defense: Call your carrier and ask it to shut off “third-party billing.” Some will.