Protect Yourself from Phone Bill Cramming

Smart phone

Both landline and mobile phone users may be the victim of cramming. (Photo by Graeme Paterson, Flickr)

Have you ever received your phone bill and thought, “Whoa! Why is this so high?” If you know that you didn’t call distant relatives in the home country or spend hours on the line with the Hollywood Psychics, you may likely be the victim of cramming. But what does that mean and what do you do about it? Here’s everything you need to know.

Phone Bill Cramming

Simply put, cramming is fraud. It is when companies use your telephone or mobile phone bill like a credit card and charge you for services you did not authorize. The most common charges appear for things like daily horoscopes, ringtones, trivia, love tips, sports scores and celebrity gossip.

You should also look out for charges that aren’t clearly defined, like those for service fees, service charges, memberships, voicemail, calling plans and other fees that seem out of the ordinary. Many of the companies who scam your bill frequently apply a charge of $9.99, which can be easily overlooked.

Some companies are even so bold as to charge you recurring fees every month and provide little or no explanation as to what you are being billed for. Terms to look for would include monthly fees and minimum monthly service fees.

You might think that you’ve never faced this dilemma, but truth be told, this problem is much more common than you might think. According to the Federal Communications Commission, in 2014 and 2015, the FCC worked with other federal organizations and brought a total of $353 million in fines and restitution against the U.S.’s four largest wireless carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon) for billing customers for third-party services.

Read Your Bill

The best way to know if you’re a victim of phone bill cramming is to read your bill. I know, I know, bills are long and confusing and difficult to read. My average AT&T bill is usually around 24 pages long, so I feel your pain. In fact, I’d venture to say that most people simply pay their bill and never even glance at the charges. But if you don’t read your bill, you’ll never know if you’ve been targeted or not. So just do it!

PC World recommends looking for the aforementioned keywords, but other phrases to keep an eye out for include “member fee,” “subscription,” “activation,” or “calling plan.” If you don’t know what an item means on your bill, call your phone company. Also, know that while $9.99 is a frequently used amount in cramming, charges can also be lower, easy to overlook and add up over time.

Also, when you’re scanning your bill for unauthorized charges, make sure you look at the “miscellaneous” and “third-party” sections of your bill. These are frequent hot spots where crammed amounts accumulate. Here’s an example:

Crammed Phone Bill

Look at this T-Mobile bill. Notice the unauthorized usage charges and the unclear descriptions that indicate fraud. (Photo courtesy Federal Trade Commission)

What To Do Next

If you do find charges that look hinky, call your phone company first. The charges may be legitimate and you were just unfamiliar with how your plan actually works. Your bill will also explain how to dispute charges. You can typically call the company directly, visit the carrier’s website, or visit a store to speak to a representative in person. Just make sure you have your paper bill handy.

Finally, contact the FTC to file a complaint, even if the charge is reversed or refunded. It is important to report the cramming so the government can follow up to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. Simply go to ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

Reduce Your Risk

Although there really isn’t much you can do to protect yourself from phone bill cramming altogether short of cancelling your plan and discontinuing service, here are a few tips that will help reduce your risk of being victimized:

  1. Talk to your phone carrier about services that block third-party charges. These days most companies have a free plan that will keep these charges from appearing on your bill. The only catch is, you usually have to ask for it.
  2. Never enter your mobile number on unsecured websites. If you do, chances are your information is going to be compromised.
  3. Unsolicited text messages can indicate a scam. If you start receiving texts from someone you don’t know, it could indicate you’ve been signed up for a service you don’t want. Block the number on your phone, then check your bill regularly to make sure crammed charges aren’t showing up.
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About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

One Response to Protect Yourself from Phone Bill Cramming

  1. Jathan Fink says:

    Reblogged this on Jadeworks Entertainment and commented:

    Stop getting taken advantage of! Check your phone bill for cramming, fraudulent charges that could very well have been added to your account month after month. Learn everything you need to know about this scam and what you can do about it.

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