Consumer Alert: Cell Phone Cramming : MyFoxORLANDO.com
Limitless Technology Featured on Fox 35 News to talk about “Slamming and Cramming”
“Slamming” and “cramming” are two common types of abuses involving telephone service today. Slamming occurs when a customer’s telephone service is switched from one telephone company to another without his or her authorization. Cramming occurs when unauthorized charges are placed on a customer’s telephone bill for services and products. Both state and federal agencies are taking regulatory and legal action against the perpetrators. The GAO found that slamming continues to be a significant problem for consumers.
The FCC took action this week against “cramming,” or the placement of fees on consumer phone bills for services neither wanted or ordered. According to an FCC press statement, the FCC issued fines of $12 million against four companies for cramming, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he’d be circulating new rules that would make cramming more difficult. The FCC has also issued a tip sheet for consumers to help them avoid getting ripped off. While the FCC’s actions against cramming are certainly welcome, we’ve long noted that the agency has turned a blind eye to the vast assortment of “below the line” fees many carriers use to covertly jack up the price post sale, many of which are disguised to look like they’re government mandated (like “regulatory recovery” fees) — but aren’t. The FCC even has one such fee named for it; the “FCC line charge,” which in no way goes to the FCC, but instead is pure carrier profit.
Building on his Consumer Empowerment Agenda, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski today announced plans to propose new rules to increase transparency and disclosure on phone bills, aiming to protect Americans from “mystery fees” and “cramming,” which is the illegal placement of an unauthorized fee onto a consumer’s monthly phone bill. The charges are for services like long-distance services, voicemail, or even diet plans or yoga classes that the consumer neither requested nor used.
Speaking at the Center for American Progress, Chairman Genachowski also unveiled an FCC Cramming Tip Sheet to help consumers identify and resolve this type of mystery fee if they’ve been affected. A recent expert survey showed that only five percent (5%) of consumers who were impacted by a particular cramming company were aware of the monthly charges. Based on the same survey and state data, the FCC believes an estimated 15 to 20 million American households a year potentially have these mystery fees on their monthly landline phone bills. Chairman Genachowski said: “Our Consumer Empowerment Agenda is focused on harnessing technology and transparency to empower consumers with the information they need to make smart decisions and to make the market work. When abusive practices require action, we will act. We are focused on empowerment, education, and enforcement.”
He continued: “Today, I’m also announcing that I will be circulating a proposal tomorrow to my colleagues to explore new ways to empower consumers and protect Americans against cramming and mystery fees.”
One example of cramming involves a St. Louis, Missouri woman who was charged for 25 months of long-distance service she never authorized or used. When she protested the charges, the company sent her a copy of the form that she had supposedly used to authorize the service. It had a different name, address, email and birth date than she did. Even so, the long-distance company offered to credit back only a fraction of the cost.
In addition, Chairman Genachowski discussed the FCC’s recent enforcement action against four companies, resulting in proposed penalties of $11.7 million. He said, “Cramming is not only illegal, it erodes consumer trust in communications services. The FCC will not tolerate cramming, and we are turning up the heat on companies that rip off consumers with unauthorized fees. We want to send a clear message: if you charge consumers unauthorized fees, you will be discovered and you will be punished.” The FCC Enforcement Bureau issued Notices of Apparent Liability last week to four companies for allegedly charging thousands of consumers for long distance service that they had not ordered. The companies targeted in the FCC Notices of Apparent Liability are: Main Street Telephone ($4,200,000); VoiceNet Telephone, LLC ($3,000,000); Cheap2Digital Telephone, LLC ($3,000,000); and Norristown Telephone, LLC ($1,500,000).
The unlawful billing appears to have continued for months. According to the Enforcement Bureau, only one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) of consumers in two of the cases reviewed actually used the additional services for which they were being charged.
Chairman Genachowski concluded by saying,”Today, we are saying loud and clear to consumers trying to navigate the complex and constantly changing communications landscape: the FCC is on your side. We are focused on helping all Americans seize the tremendous opportunities of communications technology.”
“Cramming” is the illegal practice of placing unauthorized charges on your telephone bill. Crammers rely on confusing telephone bills and vague or confusing wording, in an attempt to trick consumers into paying for these unwanted services. For example, charges may read “service fee,” “service charge,” “other fees,” “voicemail,” “mail server,” “calling plan,” “membership,” “monthly fee” or “minimum monthly usage fee” on your bill.
How to Prevent and Spot Cramming Charges
• Carefully read all forms and promotional materials – including the fine print – before signing up for telephone or other services to be charged to your phone bill. Be equally careful if you receive an offer by phone.
• Carefully review your telephone bill every month. Monitor it just as closely as you review your monthly credit card or bank statements.
• Ask yourself the following questions as you review your telephone bill:
> Do I recognize the names of all the companies listed on my bill?
> What services were provided by the listed companies?
> Does my bill include charges for calls I did not place or services I did not authorize?
> Are the rates and line items consistent with the information that the company quoted to me?
• Do not ignore small charges, which can add up to big amounts. Crammers often try to go undetected by submitting $1.99 or $2.99 charges to tens of thousands of consumers.
If You Suspect Unauthorized Charges:
• Ask the company for an explanation before paying when you don’t know what service was provided for a charge on your bill. If you don’t receive a clear and accurate explanation:
• Immediately call the company that charged you for services you did not authorize and request adjustment to your bill for any incorrect charges. If that doesn’t work:
• Call your own telephone company and request to have the incorrect charges removed. And if that doesn’t work:
• You can also file a complaint with the FCC for charges related to telephone services between states or internationally; with your state public service commission for telephone services within your state; and with the FTC for non-telephone services on your telephone bill.
If you manage multiple carriers or own your own company, Limitless Technology can help you SAVE MONEY and IMPROVE SERVICE by reviewing your bills and optimizing them based on your real telecom needs. We can even negotiate the contracts on your behalf, so there is complete transparency in your telecom spend. Contact us today at 407.330.4466 and let us help.
NOTE:To file a complaint with the FCC for free, visit www.fcc.gov/complaints or call 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY. Or write to the Federal Communications Commission Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau, Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division, 445 12th Street, SW, Washington, D.C., 20554.