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Mobile Cramming - Sneaky Phone Bill Charges

by Sybren Bakker

Info on Mobile Cramming

Phone Cramming 10 years ago

Because of phone cramming, this is what I wrote 10 years ago:" If you've ever looked - who hasn't - at your phone bill , wondered what the heck all those charges were, and then paid them anyway, you're a good target for cramming. Consumer confusion over - land line - telephone bills turns thousands of consumers into cramming victims each year. In fact, cramming is one of the fastest growing customer complaints filed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)."


Situation in 2014

That was 10 years! ago. And has mobile cramming been reduced since then? No, not at all. It's shameful that it still is a major misleading practice. FTC reports that since 2013 there were 7 cases against phone companies for unlawfully billed charges. A recent case against AT&T was just settled and there's still an ongoing case against T-Mobile, initiated by the FCC. Should we call this T-Mobile cramming?


Settlement regarding AT&T

FTC just announced - October 8, 2014 - the phone cramming settlement, forcing AT&T to pay $105 million, including refunds to consumers, penalties and fees.
It concerned unlawfully billed for unauthorized - third-party - expenses for ring tone subscriptions, for text messages (SMS = Short Message Service) about subjects such as horoscopes, fun facts and love tips.
According to FTC, carrier AT&T got a huge number of complaints about those charges.

If you've discovered phone charges made by AT&T without your authorization, you can claim a refund by going to AT&T phone bill cramming example ftc.gov/att. Also do go there if you're not sure to be eligible for a refund or not. For more information you can also call the settlement administrator at phone number: 1-877-819-9692.

Mind that AT&T has been obligated by the settlement to inform all of its current customers who were hit by those unlawful 3-party charges of the refund program. So may be you already heard from AT&T. If you're a former customer, maybe you've already heard from FTC's refund administrator. If not, you might go to the web address mentioned above or use the phone number.

AT&T is furthermore required to get definite customer's authorization before it puts third-party charges on one's phone bill. Those costs must be specified on the bill. AT&T also has to provide customers with an option to block third-party charges.


What is Mobile Cramming?

Mobile Cramming is - according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff report - the unlawful practice of placing unauthorized, misleading or deceptive charges - usually from third-party companies - on consumers' mobile phone accounts.

Such cramming happens when phone owners are signed up and billed for third-party services without their knowledge. Those 'services' have to do with recurring text messages (SMS) about horoscopes and trivia. Other 'services' is about ring tones. It can also occur when you click on a mobile web page or giving a phone number, without knowing that there will be a charge.

Often, these unlawful and mystery costs are buried in the phone bill under general descriptions such as 'usage charges', 'monthly service charges' or masked by official sounding names suggesting a relation to the carrier and are easily overlooked by consumers.

Only recently - resulted from a Commission roundtable in autumn 2013 - the 4 largest mobile carriers - u.o. Verizon Wireless - declared that they will stop the so-called Premium SMS billing.


How do you know?

How do you know if you've been crammed? The only way to avoid getting crammed is to regularly inspect your phone bill. Look at your phone bill for charges and services that you did not request or charges defined on your bill in very general terms, such as: Service Fee, Service Charge, Expanded Calling Features, Voice Mail, Membership and Subscriptions.

Note that these types of charges may be associated with legitimate services, but you're only responsible for them if you have actually authorized the services.


Avoiding cramming

Review your phone bill carefully every month. Read each line and be sure you recognize the names of all the companies listed. Check to see that their rates are in line with what you were quoted originally. Also look carefully to ensure there are no charges for calls you did not place or services you did not authorize. If a description of a service on your bill is unclear, call or email the mobile carrier that charged you for the service and ask them to explain the charge and service to you.

In case you have a prepaid plan you may not receive a phone bill, but if you have doubts about prepaid balance charges you can of course ask the carrier to specify the charges. I prefer contacting the carrier by email, so you can file it.


If you want to complain because of unsatisfied solution from your mobile carrier, you can go to www.fcc.gov/complaints. You can also call them at: 1-888-CALL-FCC, or file a complaint with the FTC at: ftccomplaintassistant.gov

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