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Phone roundup: The truth about unauthorized charges, cell phone directories

Phone roundup: The truth about unauthorized charges, cell phone directories

(Scams, Credit and Money Matters) Permanent link

I apologize for the lack of news on All Consuming these past few weeks while I enjoyed a much-needed vacation. While exploring Italy – and wearing my money belt to prevent pickpockets from pilfering my Passport or Euros – All Consuming readers were busily sending their comments and questions. A few of them are worth special mention. Here's a recap of some phone-related inquiries:

1. Donna wrote: “I discovered in June that (my phone company) had been billing me an additional $9.99 per month for "DirectPrize" something. I never subscribed to this. …”

Donna may be a victim of what’s called “cramming.” Third-party companies bill you for services you never authorized by stuffing fees into your phone bill or credit card. If you don’t study your bills carefully, these bogus charges may sneak by undetected.

Businesses may claim you consented to the services during a phone call or by signing your name to a form. In fact, any explanation of the charges was either buried in fine print or glossed over by a fast-talking telemarketer. I’ve also seen situations where a family member (often a teenager) has signed up for a service without the parent’s consent.

The Internet is becoming a growing source for these sorts of charges, as consumers fill out contest forms, sign up for “free gifts” or register for free trials – not realizing that the fine print says that by completing the form, they authorized the charge. Sometimes, promotions are simply a means to collect consumers’ information that they then sell to marketers. Both traditional and online marketing campaigns may use negative-option sales, where a customer’s silence is interpreted by the seller as an acceptance of an offer.

The Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission have both taken enforcement action against companies that engage in cramming or deceptive negative-option billing practices. In addition, the Attorney General’s Office plans to request legislation to address online freebie promos.

2. Vi wrote: “Can you tell me is this article still true that the federal government is NOT giving out our cell phone numbers to telemarketers or anyone else for that matter?”

Yes, it’s true.

It's a common misperception that the federal government plans to authorize a wireless phone number directory. Check out the report on this email hoax.

Also, your Do Not Call registration will not expire. Telephone numbers placed on the national registry will remain on it permanently due to a law that became effective in February 2008. Read more about the change.

On a related note, the Washington state Legislature unanimously passed a law in 2005 stating that radio communication service companies (eg: wireless phone companies) must obtain express opt-in consent from subscribers before publishing their wireless phone numbers in directories. When drafting the law, legislators likely did not predict the recent development of online companies that profit by compiling and selling cell phone numbers and other personal information. The Attorney General’s Office proposed a bill approved last session to require any person in the business of compiling, marketing or selling phone numbers for commercial purposes to obtain a consumer’s express opt-in consent before publishing a wireless phone number in a directory.

3. Judy responded to our post about inmates conducting a call-forwarding scam.She received a recorded phone call offering to block calls from her “prison account." Other calls indicated that someone had been in an accident and that she needed to talk to an officer. She was instructed to call a toll-free number, which she apparently did.

I questioned whether the number she called was really toll-free. Calls to 800 and 888 numbers are almost always free ( there are some exceptions) but cons sometimes encourage individuals to call other "toll-free" numbers that can actually cost you a ton. While calls to most foreign countries require dialing 011, a country code, a city code, and then the number, calls to Canada and some parts of the Caribbean can be reached by dialing the same number of digits as in the U.S. The 809 area code in the Dominican Republic is an example. Once the victim places a call, he is usually connected to a recorded message or a pay-per-call service. The scammer's foreign phone company then bills the victim’s local phone company.

The calls about someone being in an accident sound very similar to the grandparent scam All Consuming has warned you about.

Posted by AGO Blog Moderator at 10/09/2008 10:12:46 AM | 

Someone needs to plug this gaping security hole! [EDITED - Company name] says that they have proof that text messages were sent/received authorizing "premium text messaging services", when in fact we never sent or received anything. They have apparently acquired the technology to make our phone reply to them without it showing up on our end. Yet that's where the phone company's knowledge supposedly ends. They claim they do not have information about the companies submitting the charges, and have no control over them. They further claim that they are legally required to pass along these charges. If this is in fact true, we need legislation passed requiring any of these so called "service providers" to register with the cell phone companies, just like they do with charge cards. They would have to submit all of their information and become "approved vendors." Cell phone co.'s could then have full recourse to reverse charges, and start a fraud investigation - just like with charge cards. It simply is not right that a cell phone co. that I have a contractual obligation with can pass along a charge to me for a third party that they supposedly do not have any contractual obligation with. Make these companies accountable by law to to cell phone providers!
As it stands now, [EDITED - Company name] gave me a "one-time courtesy adjustment", removing it from my bill, so I don't have to pay it. They do, however, so in the end it affects everybody's price for service. [EDITED per AGO blog comment policy.]
Posted by: Andrew ( Email ) at 12/2/2008 9:45 AM

Hello Andrew,

Thank you for your comments. In regard to your personal situation with your cell phone provider, you may wish to file a complaint with our Consumer Resource Center to request informal mediation of any additional charges that you feel are unfair.


Posted by: Kristin Alexander ( Email ) at 12/8/2008 12:09 PM

My last 2 bills from [EDITED BY BLOG MODERATOR - NAME OF PHONE COMPANY] contained charges for text messages that we (family plan) never received. (We do not do texting due to the extra cost.) When I questioned the bill the first month I was told these were initiated from the "[EDITED BY BLOG MODERATOR - NAME OF PHONE COMPANY] office" (she had a list of phone numbers) so I was credited. This month the customer service rep gave me credit, but he did not say anything about how the charges got on my bill. I wonder if I'd not called whether or not I would have been credited. I don't think so. I'm also wondering if this happens to other folks, and if so, is the company getting some "extra" funds when consumers don't notice? This doesn't seem right to me, as I would think many people who do use texting often don't take the time to check the long list to see which ones may be in error.
Posted by: Julie ( Email ) at 12/8/2008 8:52 PM

I have been with sprint for 3 yrs and I have been paying $200.00-$400.00 a month for my bill, when the bill is supposed to be around $150.00. My husband was in charge of paying the phone bill and I didn't believe he was paying it and the bills were still so high. I called to make sure the payments were being made and they were. Finally I took a look at the bill and they were charging us for individual text messages and interent usuage, when our plan comes with unlimted text and internet. Then they were changing our plan every month saying we authorzied it. They supposedly fixed the problem, but we are still getting outrageous phone bills, that I have to personally call and fix. I don't know how long they have been over charging us, I just caught it 5 months ago. I spend more time on the phone with sprint then I do with anyone else and I'm tired of it. Can I nullify my contract and not pay the $200.00 cancellation fee per line if they are messing up my phone bill every month? [BLOG MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Hi Catherine. I can't provide you with legal advice or an interpretation of contract law. But I would suggest that you file a complaint with our Consumer Resource Center if you are unable to resolve your dispute.]
Posted by: Catherine Carr ( Email ) at 3/21/2009 12:31 PM

I discovered for the past 3 months, I have been charged $9.99 for Premium Messaging that neither my husband nor I ordered. This is [EDITED BY AGO BLOG MODERATOR - NAME OF COMPANY]. I did speak with a nice customer service person and she says she blocked it and gave me a credit for the charges. We will have to wait until next months's bill to see if it is blocked. Thank you.
Posted by: Patricia Cox ( Email ) at 7/13/2009 7:12 AM

A friend just received cramming on her phone bill from [EDITED BY AGO BLOG MODERARATOR - NAME OF COMPANY] adding $16.99 a month. What are the steps to get it stopped?
Posted by: Rosie Decker ( Email ) at 7/13/2009 11:14 AM

Patricia and Rosie, You both should contest the charges. If unsuccessful or you continue to experience problems, please file complaints with our Consumer Resource Center online at

Thanks, Kristin
Posted by: KRISTIN ALEXANDER - ALL CONSUMING MODERATOR ( Email ) at 8/6/2009 5:42 PM

We have one plan with a certain wireless company. Each month, we are charged taxes and surcharges that area almost equal to our monthly plan charges. The taxes are about $18 PER LINE. The surcharges are about $60 per line. The "surcharges" are charges to offset taxes this company pays as a cost of doing business. Has anyone successfully argued against these surcharges (one is called "effect of city tax"? Also, how can they bill us twice for all of these taxes, when we only have one plan with the company? They are billing us for taxes and surcharges of equal amounts for both lines on our plan.
Posted by: Lori ( Email ) at 12/20/2009 10:12 AM

Premium Text Message Charges. I was told nothing could be done about the charges from the previous month. I asked for blocks to be put in place to prevent additional charges. The following month two new $9.99 charges. I feel helpless, I didn't ask for the games, I don't play the games. These messages and the associated charges are getting crammed into my phone and the bill and I have no recourse. [BLOG MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Francis, please file a consumer complaint with our office.]
Posted by: Francis Hlebichuk ( Email ) at 12/21/2009 6:08 PM

It's great to see an outlet for many of these problems. "Cramming" is an especially terrible practice, and I hope to see it shut down.
Posted by: email marketing solution ( Email ) at 5/4/2010 2:48 PM

'Mobile Media Solutions' made an unauthorized $9.99 charge on our cell phone. No satisfaction received from my complaint to remove the charge.
Posted by: Janet Little ( Email ) at 11/1/2011 11:37 AM

I always check my bill to make sure for any unauthorized/ authorized without my knowledge. Some companies can be very sneaky when getting you to sign up for a 9.99 charge. These all add up very quickly.
Posted by: Joe ( Email ) at 8/31/2012 9:28 AM

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