Truesee's Daily Wonder

Truesee presents the weird, wild, wacky and world news of the day.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Fee schemes on cell phone bills increase

Fee schemes on cell phone bills increase

Carriers urging customers to monitor monthly


Lucy Soto

Read your phone bill.


Cramming, an old ploy that can net scammers millions of dollars, appears to be making a comeback as more consumers use their wireless phones for services ranging from news and weather reports to daily jokes and psychic connections.

Crammers hide unauthorized charges, often too small to attract notice, in the baffling list of numbers on phone bills.

Consumers’ Union, a nonprofit advocacy group that publishes Consumer Reports magazine, says the practice is evolving from its beginnings a decade ago as a scam adding bogus 800- and 900-number charges to land lines.

“As you see more consumers making the shift from land lines to mobile phones, you see the complaints shift as well,” CU spokesman David Butler said.

“The bills tend to be very complicated,” Butler said. “And we’re living in a world where most people get the information online as well and so it’s even more important for people to read their bills and go through them very carefully.”

The Federal Trade Commission recently called cramming “a significant area of increasing consumer complaint.”

According to an October FTC report, more than 3,000 people complained about cramming in the previous year for land line, mobile wireless and Voice over Internet Protocol [VoIP] telephone services.

So far this year, consumer questions about cramming to the Federal Communications Commission are outpacing last year’s number. In the first three months of 2010, the FCC, which regulates telephone companies, received 2,142 inquiries about cramming. That’s compared with 6,714 in all of 2009.

Telephone companies bill customers for services offered by outside parties, such as souped-up voice mail or music downloads. Those charges often are handled by third-party firms – aggregators — who process billing for companies that provide the add-on services. Major phone carriers, such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T, contract with those companies.

So, as both land lines and cell phone bills have become more complicated, crammers have fertile ground to slide in small charges in the hope consumers won’t catch on.

Earlier this month, a Florida man was sentenced to 21 months in prison for running a cramming scam from a jail cell. His third-party companies charged $35 million in collect calls that typically appeared on the last pages of consumers bills and escaped notice, federal prosecutors said.

In March, the FTC halted a cramming scheme that took in $19 million over five years in charges from $12.95 to $39.95 a month.

The FTC says Inc21 and its companies hired offshore telemarketers to call prospects and offer “free” trials for services such as website hosting, directory listings, search-engine advertising, and Internet-based faxing, without explaining they had to take steps to avoid charges.

Consumers also can unwittingly give permission to charge for unwanted services when they fill out sweepstakes entry forms or use a toll-free service like a date line or psychic line.

Such charges can be difficult to pin down, appearing just once or as a monthly subscription charge, with innocuous descriptions like “service fee,” “calling plan” or “minimum monthly usage fee”.

With so many separate companies involved in billing, consumers can have difficulty getting someone to take responsibility for unauthorized charges.

When the Georgia Public Service Commission receives cramming complaints, it first sends them to the telephone company, said Consumer Affairs Director Mike Nantz. Usually, he said, that fixes the problem.

Last year, the Georgia Legislature adopted a bill requiring carriers to provide a way for consumers to block third party charges from their bills.

In addition, wireless carriers ask vendors to abide by the Mobile Marketing Association’s standards, said Amy Storey, a spokeswoman for CTIA-The Wireless Association, a nonprofit industry group.

The MMA’s guidelines say third-party vendor companies always should ask consumers twice before they can begin charging for any add-on service. Consumers also should be given a simple way to stop the service, such as sending or texting a “stop message,” Storey said.

Enforcement of those standards is left to individual carriers.

“Carrier members are constantly monitoring, ensuring our vendors are acting responsibly,” Storey said.

Verizon Wireless is working to educate the public about their telephone bills, spokeswoman Sheryl Sellaway wrote in an e-mail. Now that consumers can sign up for weather alerts, music subscriptions and other “premium” services through cell phones and websites, Sellaway said, it’s much easier to get confused.

“Frankly, the diverse wireless market place, which now consists of children, teens, young adults and others, has led to a heightened conversation about premium messaging and how to best manage and understand cost of premium services,” she wrote. “That’s why education has been the key for us. And, beyond premium messaging, we provide services to help customers manage content, block numbers, activate time restrictions, usage allowances, overage alerts and more.”

She suggests Verizon customers go to the safeguards section of their “My Verizon” page for information.

The best defense, said Shawn Conroy of the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs, is vigilance.

“We encourage consumers to do three things,” Conroy said. “Read your bill read your bill, read your bill. Look at it thoroughly. If you have a land line and a cell phone, sometimes it can be a few pages, but take the time to look for it.”

How to dodge cramming

Examine your telephone bills closely. Make sure you got the service you pay for, even for small charges. Crammers often try to go undetected by submitting $2 or $3 charges to thousands of consumers. Check past bills for unnoticed fees.

Be wary of contests, clubs and “free” calls. Read the fine print because crammers sometimes use entry forms as “permission” to enroll you in a service you only discover you signed up for when you get the bill. And calling to claim your “free” prize might entail calling a 900 number that costs you.

Block your account. Ask your phone company to put a cramming block on your account to stop third-party charges. Make sure you check on any costs involved.

Call the company that charged you for calls or services you didn’t make or authorize. Ask for a detailed explanation and request an adjustment to your bill.

Call your telephone company. The Federal Communications Commission requires companies to place toll-free numbers on their bills for customers with billing inquiries. Ask about their procedure for removing incorrect charges.

Where to get information

Visit these links for further information and suggestions:


Georgia law allowing consumers to block third-party billing:

Florida attorney general settlement with Verizon and Alltel over ring tone cramming:

Federal Communication Commission advice:

Federal Trade Commission tips:

Verizon’s information on cramming and bill blocking:

Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs tip sheet:

Consumers’ complaint site that features cell phone cramming:

FTC actions related to cramming, including cracking one scam that raked in $19 million in five years:

Sample phone bills, for land lines and wireless, with charges explained:

Filing a complaint

For non-telephone services, for example “content” services such as web hosting, online games or psychic hot lines, call the Federal Trade Commission 1-877-382-4357 , or use their complaint form: www.ftc?

For telephone charges related to service between states or internationally, contact the Federal Communications Commission, 1-888-225-5322, or e-mail: [email protected] Or use their online complaint form:

Interesting information, thanks for sharing!!
Post a Comment

<< Home


June 2021   May 2021   April 2021   March 2021   February 2021   January 2021   December 2020   November 2020   October 2020   September 2020   August 2020   July 2020   June 2020   May 2020   April 2020   March 2020   February 2020   January 2020   December 2019   November 2019   October 2019   September 2019   August 2019   July 2019   June 2019   May 2019   April 2019   March 2019   February 2019   January 2019   December 2018   November 2018   October 2018   September 2018   August 2018   July 2018   June 2018   May 2018   April 2018   March 2018   February 2018   January 2018   December 2017   November 2017   October 2017   September 2017   August 2017   July 2017   June 2017   May 2017   April 2017   March 2017   February 2017   January 2017   December 2016   November 2016   October 2016   September 2016   August 2016   July 2016   June 2016   May 2016   April 2016   March 2016   February 2016   January 2016   December 2015   November 2015   October 2015   September 2015   August 2015   July 2015   June 2015   May 2015   April 2015   March 2015   February 2015   January 2015   December 2014   November 2014   October 2014   September 2014   August 2014   July 2014   June 2014   May 2014   April 2014   March 2014   February 2014   January 2014   December 2013   November 2013   October 2013   September 2013   August 2013   July 2013   June 2013   May 2013   April 2013   March 2013   February 2013   January 2013   December 2012   November 2012   October 2012   September 2012   August 2012   July 2012   June 2012   May 2012   April 2012   March 2012   February 2012   January 2012   December 2011   November 2011   October 2011   September 2011   August 2011   July 2011   June 2011   May 2011   April 2011   March 2011   February 2011   January 2011   December 2010   November 2010   October 2010   September 2010   August 2010   July 2010   June 2010   May 2010   April 2010   March 2010   February 2010   January 2010   December 2009   November 2009   October 2009   September 2009   August 2009   July 2009   June 2009   May 2009   April 2009   March 2009   February 2009   January 2009   December 2008  

Powered by Lottery PostSyndicated RSS FeedSubscribe