Avoiding Phone Bill Cramming

For years small businesses and individual phone customers have been complaining of phone bill cramming, or phone companies’ addition of unauthorized charges to their phone bills. Unfortunately, despite the illegality of this action, and the hefty fines it can carry for guilty companies, it is still occurring. For this reason, you will want to check your bills carefully to make sure you are not falling victim to cramming efforts.

In order to effectively spot cramming, you need to know what you are looking for and where to look. Most cramming charges are found under the miscellaneous, long-distance, 900 number and third party sections of phone bills. In those areas, look for fees associated with services that you have not authorized such as long-distance calling or voicemail fees. Some of these fees may not have straight forward, descriptive names but will instead be referred to simply as “monthly”, “service”, or “other” fees. Also, check for charges related to phone calls that you did not make as well as fees from services provided by outside sources you did not subscribe to, internet related services (i.e. web hosting), accessing restricted websites, and entertainment services. If you have mobile device, make sure there are no erroneous data charges. As you are looking, keep in mind that most cramming charges will be small amounts, only a few dollars, and thus easily overlooked. Additionally, some charges only occur once, but others can show up monthly, so it may be a good idea to review your last few billing statements for unusual recurring charges.

If you happen to find cramming fees on your bill, report them to your carrier and ask what the charges are for. If you find outside company charges on your bill, your carrier should be able to tell you what services that company provides and what they are claiming to have sold to you. If you are not satisfied with the actions that they take, report the fees to the Federal Communications Commission or a state public service commission, your state attorney general’s office, or the Federal Trade Commission. When reporting the fees, be sure to mention all parties involved, from your phone service provider, to the names of companies related to fees found on your bill.

If on the other hand you discover you have not fallen victim to phone bill cramming, here are some actions you can take to make sure this remains true. First, cell phone users should be wary of contest entry pop ups or messages received through their phones because filling out such forms could give their personal information to crooks or unknowingly enroll them in services that they will later be charged for. If you do decide to join free clubs or programs through your phone, make sure they are reputable companies that will not charge you later on. Also, avoid offers of free prizes that require you to call a 900 number to accept the prize because you will be charged for the call…even if they grant you certain number of free minutes to make the call (you more than likely will spend more time on hold than the time they allot you for the call). Next consider blocking 900 number calls (this is automatic for cell phones), international calls, long distance or local toll calls, third party services, and for cellular phones specifically, internet access or texting services, but note that these blocks may carry a fee depending upon your phone provider. Finally, know what charges should be on your bill so that when something odd shows up, you notice.


Sources:
Cramming: Mystery Phone Charges. Federal Trade Commission, 2 July 2009. Web. 21 Apr. 2012
<http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro18.shtm>.

Reed, Brad FCC Gives Tips for Avoiding Phone Bill ‘cramming’ Charges. Network World, 20 June 2011.
Web. 21 Apr. 2012 <http://www.networkworld.com/news/2011/062011-cramming-fcc.html?page=1>.

Wendy Clay

Wendy Clay

Wendy Clay is a Virginia Community College System graduate and a current undergraduate at the University of North Carolina. She is pursuing a degree in public health with a minor in exercise and sports science and plans to attend medical school upon the completion of her degree. She has diligently served those around her for many years as a tutor for rural school children and as an advocate in the fight against hunger in her community and around the world.

At The University of North Carolina Wendy plans to actively participate in a student group, Health Focus, which will enable her to use her knowledge and love for health and nutrition to educate youth in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area. She also hopes to promote voter registration amongst her fellow students.
Wendy Clay