Mobile

Cramming 101: How to avoid hidden charges on your cellphone bill

Above: Unauthorized charges can show up on your cellphone bill -- and they can be surprisingly hard to track down.

Image Credit: FTC

Your cellphone bill may be stuffed with hidden charges you’ve never authorized or noticed.

The practice, called “cramming,” is so rampant that a Senate committee report argued earlier this week that it is costing consumers some serious money.

“Wireless cramming has been widespread and has likely cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars,” the report said — despite the fact that the FCC and other government organizations have been pressuring carriers to cut it out since 2008.

According to the FCC, “cramming” — a term for unauthorized charges hidden inside your cellphone bill — affects up to 20 million U.S. residents per year, but only one in 20 people spot cell phone bill scams.

That’s because these charges, usually from third parties (not the carrier itself), can be easy to overlook. See below for an actual example from a T-Mobile bill, in an illustration posted to the FTC’s web site. (Side note: The FCC recently launched its own investigation into bogus charges on T-Mobile customer bills.)

This article covers everything you should about cellphone cramming, including how to prevent it from ever happening to you.

How to tell if you’ve been ‘crammed’

Follow the steps below to find out if you’re the victim of a scam.

  1. Grab your bill
  2. Look for company names you don’t recognize
  3. Watch out for terms like “psychic” and “flirting tips”
  4. Check for premium (1-900) calls you didn’t place.
  5. Look for generic charges (e.g., “other fees”).

What to do if you’ve been crammed

Follow the three steps below if you believe there are unauthorized charges on your cell phone bill.

  • Contact your carrier to verify any unknown third-party charges
  • After verifying that the charges are from third-party companies, contact them and request a refund
  • If you are denied a refund, you can file a complaint with the FCC: (1-888-CALL-FCC)

Prevention

It’s the best medicine. To avoid being crammed, practice common sense.

  1. Only enter your phone number on websites you trust
  2. Ask your carrier if they can auto-block third-party charges (many will do this for free)
  3. Proactively check your bill to catch charges as soon as they hit

And there you have it. Follow the steps above and your already over-sized phone bill won’t grow any larger.

Sample bill containing hidden "cramming" charges.

Above: Sample bill containing hidden “cramming” charges.

Image Credit: FTC

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