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Cramming Funny Fees Onto our Phone Bills: Not so Funny

posted by Nathalie Martin

Two weeks in a row, the Haggler column in the New York Times focused on cramming, one of the most damning and profitable scams in the consumer world.  Cramming is tacking unrequested services onto land line bills and now cell phone bills, such as celebrity gossip news, daily horoscopes, even dating services. Our AGs office claims that cramming is one of the practices about which they get the most complaints. After reading last week’s Haggler column, I vowed to look over my consolidated bill with Century Link and Verizon (cell phones, landline, internet service) but never quite got around to it. It seemed to me the bill had stayed pretty much the same over the months and years. Sure enough, today I found a cram and am trying to straighten it out.  This can be a full-time job, which is why it is so easy to scam us in this way. Haggler also notes that while cramming is done by third parties, not phone companies, phone companies supposedly get one –third to one –half of the billions in revenues generated by this fraudulent practice, which is why some may be slow to correct the problem. If Haggler is right about the profits, shouldn't I be able to reverse this with my phone company?

This week’s Haggler column has an idea for the rest of you, that I’ll fadd to. Our phone providers have the capacity to block these short message services (SMSs) until we specifically sign up for them. Yes, Haggler, you are right. This should be automatic, and hopefully it will be very shortly, but in the meantime consumers can call right now and ask their carriers to block ALL third party changes on their phone bills. We can also take an additional step, that could protect us if they ignore us, and may even do something for the good of the overall cause. I suggest sending taking two minutes to send out something like this:

Dear  Phone Company:

Recent news suggests that third parties are now automatically signing consumers up for various short message services (SMSs). I (my family) have/has been a good customer of yours for __ years and request that you never allow any changes to our bill from third parties of any kind.  If we find these charges on our bill in the future, we will change phone carriers. 

We also request that you immediately begin disallowing these charges for all customers who have not specifically requested them, as we prefer to use a carrier that is protective of the rights of all its customers.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.


Who knows if it’ll work but at least you’ll have said your piece.



Corruption Responsible for 80% of Your Cell Phone Bill


Just got crammed for 10.00 a month for four months on my ATT cell phone. Called ATT and they said they were only legally responsible for refunding two months of payments. After speaking with a supervisor they refunded all four.
ATT should be banned from allowing third parties to bill through their system. That is the only way to protect the customers.

Why do cell phone carriers ever allow billing from third parties on their phone bills? I can't think of another service provider who bills and collects on behalf of third parties - and then disclaims responsibility for confirming the authorization to add the charges. Aside from the customer service that you highlight in your proposed phone company letter, I am having trouble understanding the privity and legal right to add third party charges onto the cell or landline bill as that implies some right and/or obligation to collect and receive the payment.

In this area of the law like in others there is a magic word you should use.

Tell your phone company to "Recourse the charges to the company that sent them".

They will nod knowingly and charge it back. If you don't use these words you might not get the same result, they might argue with you. But this it the telecom lingo for this.


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