The Ripoff Alert is a new series appearing once each week on Fridays. It alerts you to the latest scams and ripoffs trying to get between you and your money, and gives you information you need to stay safe.
According to the FCC, cramming is “the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading or deceptive charges on your telephone bill.” Providers of cell phone service, traditional land line service, and business line service cooperate with third-party marketing organizations to put unauthorized charges on your account.
For individuals the charge typically ranges from $3-$5 a month, and for businesses it’s more like $20-$30 a month. The phone companies are hoping you won’t notice such a small amount. Multiplied over thousands of accounts, this is real money for service providers and third-party marketers, who split the spoils. (Doesn’t this get your blood boiling?)
A little over a year ago as I was going through our family cell phone bill, I noticed a suspicious charge for $10 on my sister’s line. It had a vague description like “membership fee”, so I called them up and asked what it was for. Apparently she had signed up for a monthly ringtone service via text and was being billed $10 a month for it. However, my sister said she hadn’t signed up for anything. So I asked them for a credit on my bill, and I was surprised when they offered to credit the entire total of charges going back 6 months.
Most consumers and small business owners, however, don’t go through their cell phone bills every month to see what they’re being charged for. Be suspicious of items like “monthly usage fee”, “service fee”, or “membership”.
Cramming can occur even if you’ve authorized a service but were misled about how much it would cost. And next time you get a spam text, don’t ignore it because it could be a warning sign that your phone company is about to rip you off.
There’s a federal law that requires phone providers to clearly explain each charge on your monthly bill, but this doesn’t mean they always follow the law. You need to go through your bill each month and check for phony charges. Basically, you should call your provider and question anything that is unclear. In most cases you’ll be offered a 2-month credit on your bill.
Has your phone company tried to rip you off with one of these charges?