Your monthly phone bill can be confusing. Some less-than-scrupulous companies take advantage of this by “cramming.” Cramming is the illegal act of adding unauthorized service charges to your account without your knowledge or approval.
Usually, crammers add small charges and describe them with generic terms, such as “service fee,” “voicemail,” or “other fees,” hoping a few dollars here and there will go unnoticed. Many times, they do. In fact, the Federal Communications Commission estimates that cramming has harmed tens of thousands of American households and recently the Federal Trade Commission sent $5 million in refunds to people who lost money to cramming.
To protect yourself from cramming, BBB recommends the following tips.
How to avoid getting crammed
- Thoroughly review your phone bill each month. Make sure you know all the companies who added charges to the bill and double check that you personally authorized each charge. In addition, make sure you weren’t billed more than you were quoted for any service.
- Reach out to your service provider if you notice any charges you are unsure about. Crammers love to add tiny mystery charges for just few dollars to thousands of consumers’ bills at a time. These fees can recur and stay on your bill for years if you don’t follow up. If you notice a charge you don’t remember authorizing or the description is vague, call your service provider and ask them to explain the charge before you pay it.
- Ask for a refund. If you do find bogus charges on your account, request a refund. Some service providers will ask you to reach out to the third-party first, but in most cases they will refund the money directly.
- Request a block on third-party charges. If you don’t generally use add-on services in connection with your phone service, you can ask your provider to block all third-party charges. This will make it impossible for scammers to cram your bill.
- Don’t be quick to give out your cell phone number. Sometimes, the only thing a scammer needs to cram your bill is your phone number. Be wary about entering your cell phone number in order to enter contests, auctions, giveaways, and surveys. In addition, watch out for unfamiliar websites that ask you for your phone number in exchange for free tips, daily news, sports scores, horoscopes, and the like.
- Pay for services with your credit card. If you do decide to purchase a third-party service, it’s best to pay directly with your credit card instead of authorizing charges through your service provider. It’s much easier to dispute fraudulent charges and get your money back from a credit card company.
For more information
To learn more ways to avoid falling victim to scams, visit BBB.org/AvoidScams.
If you’ve been the victim of cramming and neither your service provider nor the third-party company will resolve the issue, file a complaint with your state public service commission for telephone services and the FTC.