Are you losing money to sneaky phone bill charges? Here’s how to find out.

3 minute read

If you’re like many people, you may not even look at your monthly phone bill, much less carefully scan it for unnecessary charges. If you don’t know what each charge on your monthly phone bill is for, however, you could be paying bogus fees and not even know it, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

The BBB issued a warning in October to watch out for “cramming” – the illegal act of wireless carriers adding unauthorized service charges to your account without your approval or knowledge – onto your phone bill.

“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,” says the BBB. “Many times, they do.” In fact, the Federal Communications Division (FCC) receives tens of thousands of phone billing complaints every year.

It’s not just fly-by-night wireless companies doing the cramming, either. In 2014 and 2015, the FCC and other government regulators took action against the four largest wireless companies in the U.S. for billing customers “millions of dollars” in unauthorized third-party text messaging services, according to the FCC.

In 2019, one wireless carrier agreed to a $550,000 settlement for adding unauthorized third-party charges and fees to customers’ wireless bills. That same year, the FCC fined another wireless carrier $2.3 million for cramming and switching small businesses’ and consumers’ carriers without authorization (slamming).

So, how can you protect yourself from paying unauthorized cell phone bill fees and charges that slip by, unnoticed? Here are 6 tips from the BBB.

1. Review your phone bill each month

To spot unnecessary fees and charges, thoroughly review your wireless bill every month. Make sure you recognize any companies that added charges to your bill. Then double check that you authorized each charge. While you’re at it, make sure you weren’t billed more than you were quoted for any service listed on the bill.

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2. Investigate mystery charges

Crammers like to add tiny “mystery charges” of just a few dollars to thousands of customers’ bills at once to rake in extra money. If you don’t notice these charges, they can stay on your bill for years unless you reach out to your wireless provider to find out if they’re valid or authorized and take action if they’re not. “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,” advises the BBB.

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3. Get a refund for bogus charges

If you see unauthorized charges or questionable fees on your phone bill, contact your wireless carrier and ask for 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,” says the BBB.

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4. Block third-party charges

If you’re not using add-on services connected with your phone service, ask your wireless provider to block all third-party charges. That way, it’s impossible for third parties to cram your bill.

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5. Be careful about giving out your phone number

If you enter your cell phone number to enter contests, auctions, giveaways and surveys, that may be all a scammer needs to start cramming your phone bills, says the BBB. The same goes for entering your phone number on unfamiliar websites that ask for it in return for things like free tips, news and sports scores.

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6. Pay for services with a credit card

If you pay for a third-party service connected with your phone, pay with a credit card instead of authorizing charges through your wireless provider. “It’s much easier to dispute fraudulent charges and get your money back from a credit card company,” says the BBB.

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What to do if you’re a victim of cramming

If you find charges crammed onto your wireless bill, try to resolve the issue with your wireless provider or the third-party company associated with the charges. If that doesn’t work, the BBB advises filing a complaint with your state public service commission for telephone services and a separate complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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