The issue of phone bill cramming, which is the addition of unauthorized or unrelated charges to a phone bill, has been around for a while, but appears to have gotten worse with the troubled economy.
Cramming occurs when charges from third parties that you did not authorize show up on your phone bill. Charges can show up on either your land-line or your mobile phone bills. We are not talking about small telecom fees and taxes that are not clearly explained, but rather $2 to $50 fees for goods or services that you never ordered or authorized. The FCC reports that over 15 million cases of phone bill cramming occur each year.
For example, one of my consulting clients recently told me about a phone bill charge that he contested related to a company who called him and offered him a free trial for services to improve his web site rankings. Because it was a free free trial he said, “What the heck. I’ll try it.” He never heard from the company again, but a couple of months later a $60 charge showed up on his phone bill. He called the phone company and they identified the company who offered him the free trial as the originator of the billing. He refused to pay the charge. The phone company rep said that they had already paid the fee, but he still refused to pay it because he never authorized it.
Cramming falls into a gray area. Some additional billing is legitimate, such as when ISP, cable or satellite services are added to a phone bill. Most people are aware of these charges and expect them. The additional charges occur through a process where third party telecom providers are allowed to add charges for services to customers’ telephone bills. It is probably safe to assume that this is the path used for cramming due to relationships that are set up with third parties.
Some of the worst offenders for cramming are independent e-mail, web hosting and voice mail services. The FCC has been putting pressure on the major phone companies and they have agreed to stop accepting charges for these services before 2013. But this does not appear to be a new rule or regulation and it is not clear what will happen if a phone company ignores the agreement. Many phone companies have already stopped accepting charges for these services, but crafty crammers sometimes submit charges for services that fall outside of those whose fees are denied.
Companies get away with cramming because they assume that most people will not review their bills thoroughly and do not understand all of the fees and charges. Also, many phone bills naturally vary each month. If you live in an area where time and distance fees apply to your land line charges, it is easy to exceed the limits and have additional fees added to the monthly bill. The same applied to cell phone bills when the phone minutes limit is exceeded.
The best advice is to thoroughly review every phone bill. If you see unusual or unidentifiable charges, contact the phone company’s billing department immediately and dispute the charges. You can tell your telephone services providers to block all third party charges, but they generally will not do that unless you request it.