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Consumer Advisory Bulletin - June 2013

Unauthorized Cellular Phone Bill Charges: Cramming

If a mysterious unauthorized charge appears on your wireless phone bill—like a monthly horoscope, a “premium service” or membership—you may have been “crammed.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), cramming occurs when a company adds a charge to your landline or wireless phone bill for a service you didn’t order, agree to, or use.  For years, landline users have filed complaints about cramming.  More recently, wireless phone users have reported relatively small charges appearing on monthly cell phone bills—often from under a dollar to under $10—for services that they didn’t order.  They may be one-time charges or monthly fees.

Protect Yourself from Cramming

  • Check your monthly wireless phone bill.  Spending just a little time checking your monthly bill, line-by-line, is the very best way to protect yourself from cramming.  If you pay through automatic billing, it’s even more important to look over your wireless phone bill.
  • Look for unauthorized charges.  Look for third party charges that you didn’t authorize and charges that appear to be unusual or have vague titles.  For example, look for “membership” fees, unusual “service” or “voice mail” fees, charges through a 900 number, or even charges for entertainment services or horoscopes.
  • Call your wireless carrier if you’re unsure about a charge—even a small one.  Your wireless carrier should be able to explain all charges on your bill, whether it’s their charge or from a third party.
  • Ask your carrier about blocking third-party charges.  See if your carrier offers blocking options.
  • Dispute unauthorized charges.  If you detect an unauthorized charge, notify your carrier.  Follow up with an email or certified letter, and save a copy of the complaint and certified letter receipt for your records.
  • Avoid providing your wireless number in exchange for “freebies.”  Crammers may lure unsuspecting consumers through websites that promise freebies.  When consumers provide their cell phone number, they may unwittingly sign up for a monthly membership or subscription fee.  Avoid providing your cell phone number to online giveaways, sweepstakes, contest entries, and surveys.  If you do provide your number, be sure you’re familiar with the company collecting the information.
  • Unsolicited text messages can lead to unauthorized charges.  Unsolicited or “spam” text messages, which could be associated with contests, sweepstakes, ringtones, or other services, generally urge the recipient to reply—and sometimes even direct the recipient to reply with the word “stop” to avoid incurring monthly charges.  Before attempting to stop the messages through replying, call your wireless carrier to verify that doing so will actually stop the texts and any associated crammed charges.
  • Avoid calls to “toll-free” entertainment lines.  Many of these numbers may transfer your call to a 900-number, which will result in charges to your phone bill.  The call could also result in your automatic enrollment in a monthly “membership” charged to your phone bill.
  • Crammers can also sneak in through downloads, apps and clicked ads.  The beautiful free smartphone background picture, the fun free app you can download, and some clicked advertisements may result in unauthorized charges.  A company may disclose the charges, but it’s often buried in fine print that few people read or understand.

To file a complaint or for more information, contact the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Bldg., Des Moines, IA 50319.  Call 515-281-5926, or (toll-free) 888-777-4590.  The website is: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov.