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Protect Yourself From Cell Phone Cramming

Yolander Prinzel

When was the last time you looked at your cell phone bill to make sure everything was in check? No, not just glanced at the balance due before paying it but really looked at it? When was the last time you analyzed each line item, traced the charge back to your request for the service and verified that you were being charged the right amount? If you're shaking your head, thinking that level of attention to detail is crazy, then it's possible that you haven't heard of the deceptive practice of cell phone charging called cramming.

What is Cell Phone Cramming?
When your cell phone bill has a charge that was not authorized by you, is more expensive than the company said it would be when you agreed to the service, or includes extra charges that are the result of misleading or deceiving you, it's called cramming. Cell phone cramming is often a successful way to bill unsuspecting people out of money, because few consumers bother to analyze their statements and double check that they are being charged the correct amount for services they may have agreed to months ago.

What Makes Cell Phone Cramming Dangerous?
Cramming isn't a new scam either. For more than a decade, cramming has occurred on regular landline phone bills. Cell phones offer an entirely new opportunity to cram. With special text message services sending out horoscopes, the purchase of ring tones and the proliferation of apps, cell phone bills have the ability to be much more complex than landline bills are. This creates many more opportunities for cram charges.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as many as 20 million cell phone customers are crammed annually. Only one victim out of 20 ever discovers that he or she has been crammed. A lot of money is being stolen by crammers, making this an extremely serious problem. In fact, cell phone cramming is estimated to cost consumers a total of $2 billion each year.

Getting a Handle on the Cram
In order to ensure they aren't giving their money away to crammers, consumers are advised to review their cell phone bill every month. The FCC recommends that every charge, including $1 to $3 charges, be reviewed for accuracy since crammers often stick with small numbers they feel will go unnoticed or unchallenged. Verifying the service provider of the charge is the first step in testing the accuracy of your bill, but you should go on to confirm that the amount you're being charged from an authorized vendor is the amount that you expected.

To make the process easier, consumers should keep a list of the services they've authorized and the amount they expect to be charged for that service. When you cancel an ongoing service, write down the date that you canceled it and your confirmation number or the name of the individual you spoke with to cancel it. Note the last date that you should be charged for the service. If you're charged again after that date, you can call with this information and possibly have your bill adjusted.

When It's Necessary to Take the Next Step
If you find that you've been crammed recently, look at past statements to see if you were crammed then as well. Call the company providing the service, explain the situation and ask for a credit. The FCC advises that you consider filing a complaint with both it and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if the company will not remove the charge. It also suggests that consumers notify their State Public Service Commission.

The Bottom Line
Your cell phone bill is just like every other purchase you make each month. If you were charged for extra items at the grocery store that didn't make it home with you, you'd complain and expect your money back. Your cell phone bill is no different. Make sure that you're monitoring your charges each month, and don't be afraid to ask questions if your bills look incorrect.

Photo Courtesy of alumroot

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