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Debt.com » Watch Out for Phone Bill “Cramming,” Warns the Better Business Bureau

Watch Out for Phone Bill “Cramming,” Warns the Better Business Bureau


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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).

What is Phone Bill Cramming?

Phone bill cramming is a deceptive practice that can lead to unauthorized charges on your phone bill, putting your finances at risk. Scammers often exploit deceptive tactics to slip these charges through, disguising them as legitimate services or fees. It’s essential to understand the concept of phone bill cramming, the tactics employed by scammers, and the steps you can take to protect yourself from falling victim to this fraudulent scheme equipping you with the knowledge to safeguard your hard-earned money.

Common Cramming Tactics:

To carry out phone bill cramming, scammers employ various deceptive tactics, including:

  1. Misleading Advertisements: Scammers use enticing ads that manipulate or mislead consumers into unknowingly accepting additional charges.
  2. Hidden Checkboxes: Crammers may include checkboxes in fine print or obscure locations on websites or forms, pre-selected to enroll you in paid services without your knowledge.
  3. Fine Print: Important details are often buried within lengthy terms and conditions, making it difficult for consumers to fully understand what they are agreeing to.

Types of Unauthorized Charges:

Crammed charges can encompass a wide range of services or subscriptions, including:

  1. Third-Party Services: Scammers may add charges for services like horoscopes, ringtone subscriptions, celebrity gossip updates, or other seemingly harmless offerings.
  2. Premium Text Message Services: Unauthorized subscriptions to premium text message services, such as joke-of-the-day texts or trivia services, can accumulate charges on your bill.

Protecting Yourself from Phone Bill Cramming:

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.

Thoroughly read and understand the terms and conditions before signing up for any services or subscriptions, especially online or through mobile apps.

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.

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.

Find out: Watch Out for These 5 Red Flags of a Moving Scam

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.

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.

When you make an in-store purchase you may be asked for your number, don’t give it, especially if you are traveling.

Find out: Don’t Get Burned by These Vacation Scams

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.

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.

Phone bill cramming can lead to unwanted and unauthorized charges on your phone bill, compromising your financial security. By understanding the concept of phone bill cramming, being aware of the deceptive tactics employed by scammers, and taking proactive measures to protect yourself, you can prevent unauthorized charges and safeguard your hard-earned money. Stay vigilant, review your bills regularly, and stay informed to ensure a secure and hassle-free phone bill experience.

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