445 state attorneys general pressured Verizon, AT&T Mobility, Sprint & T-Mobile over charges behind widespread "mobile cramming" complaints
((DES MOINES, Iowa) The four largest U.S. wireless phone carriers have agreed to stop billing customers for most third-party charges on mobile phone bills, following months of pressure from state attorneys general, including Attorney General Tom Miller.
Verizon, AT&T Mobility, Sprint and T-Mobile will cease charging customers for commercial Premium Short Messaging Services, also known as “PSMS,” or “premium text messages.” PSMS accounts for the majority of third-party charges on cell phones. It also accounts for an overwhelming majority of complaints about “mobile cramming,” when a company charges mobile phone customers charges for a service they didn’t order.
Miller is part of a bipartisan group of 45 state attorneys general who, for months, have put pressure on wireless phone companies to stop mobile cramming.
“I can’t overstate what a huge victory this is for anyone who pays a monthly wireless phone bill,” Miller said. “Here in Iowa we’ve been fighting this problem for years, and I’m glad to see our persistence has paid off.”
Iowa consumers have complained about unauthorized monthly charges—ranging from $9.95 to $24.95 per month—appearing on their wireless phone bills. The charges are for services or services that the consumer neither requested, nor used.
Consumers often don’t realize they’ve been crammed. In many cases, they had already paid cramming charges for several months, have rarely been able to get a full refund, and have had difficulty or even the inability to discontinue or block additional charges.
“While the ability to put third-party charges on wireless bills has some benefits, like charitable giving, it’s also a major contributor to the widespread mobile cramming problem,” Miller said. “We’re pleased we could help stop monthly charges going to scam artists. We’re hopeful that more carriers will soon follow suit.”
Two carriers have confirmed they will continue to allow charitable donations to be billed via PSMS.
Miller added that state attorneys general continue to work with federal regulators and the wireless phone industry to address ongoing issues. “We are seeking industry reforms and will continue to help consumers recover when they’ve been victimized by cramming.”
Consumers Should Check Monthly Bills
- Check your monthly wireless phone charges. Note the services you haven’t ordered or calls you haven’t made.
- If you pay a flat rate and your bill goes up one month, even by just a few dollars, take a closer look.
- There’s no one type of cramming charge. Some charges appear just once; others are “subscription” charges that show up every month. Keep an eye out for generic-sounding services and fees, including: Minimum Use Fee, Activation, Member Fee, Voice Mail, or Web Hosting--these may be services you haven’t ordered. Are there calls you didn’t make? Charges for Internet services from a company you don’t know? Area codes you’ve never heard of, like 011 or 500? The charges could be for anything, including: long distance service, subscriptions for Internet-related services, like Web hosting, access to restricted websites, entertainment services with a 900 area code, collect calls, and club memberships.
If You’ve Been Crammed
- Contact your wireless provider. If the charge isn’t from your provider, the name of the company charging you should be listed. Your provider should be able to explain the charge, and your statement should tell you how to dispute errors on your bill. Follow-up with an email or letter sent by certified mail, and ask for a return receipt--it’s your proof that the company received your letter. Keep a copy of your bill and any other documentation for your files.
- Contact the Consumer Protection Division:
- 515-281-5926, or outside the Des Moines metro area, call, toll-free, 1-888-777-4590
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.FTC.gov, or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).