Check Those Cell Phone Bills: Beware of “Cramming”

Check Those Cell Phone Bills: Beware of “Cramming”

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I can’t tell you the last time I’ve checked the charges on my cell phone bill.  I know what it’s supposed to be, and I dutifully pay the amount owed each month.  But after hearing about “cramming,” a practice being used by cell phone and landline carriers to add extra charges to your monthly bill for services you were potentially mislead or didn’t register for when you got your phone, I will be giving a second glace to my monthly bill.

Americans are paying more than $2 billion a year in unauthorized illegal charges on their cell phone bills.  But how does it happen?  Experts say that the illegal charges can come from responding to an unknown text message or buying extras like ringtones and mobile games.  Once these companies gain access to your phone number, they’ll charge you for things that you’ve never actually signed up for.

As more and more Americans, specifically minorities and lower-income consumers, access the Internet through their smartphones, it’s important that people are cognizant of cramming.  Experts estimate that an extra illegal $2 to $20 dollars per month could be added to consumer bills without them ever knowing.  The FCC has approved anti-cramming rules for landlines and third-party charges, but nothing yet for cell phones.  For landlines, telephone companies must notify subscribers at the point of sale if they have the option to block third-party charges from their bills.  As more and more people transition from landlines to wireless carries, the FCC must act sooner rather than later in developing suitable rules to regulate wireless cramming billing.

Senator Charles Schumer has been vocal with the FCC about cracking down on the practice, asking that the FCC “mandate that consumers cannot be charged third party fees by so-called ‘crammers’ unless they give their explicit consent directly to their cell phone carriers.”  Schumer has also asked that wireless carriers ban the practice voluntarily.

A spokesman for AT&T, which recently announced a ban on third-party billing on landlines, had this to say: “AT&T takes the problem of unauthorized third-party charges, or cramming, very seriously.  We provide our customers with tools to understand and manage legitimate third-party charges on their phone bills and we have also put in place an aggressive anti-cramming program that includes strict requirements for customer authorization of third-party charges, monthly tracking of cramming complaints and audits of third-party billers.  In addition, last month, we announced that we would limit third-party charges on wireline bills to certain types of charges that are less likely to create opportunities for cramming.  The industry as a whole has worked cooperatively with each other, as well as the FCC, to identify ways to help customers effectively manage their bills.  And we are committed to continuing this work.”

Be sure to check your cell phone bills in the future to make sure you aren’t a victim of cramming.  If so, follow up with your carrier and see what can be done to eliminate these charges from your bill.  No one should be paying extra money when you don’t have to.

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