Protect Yourself From Smartphone Bill Cramming

The term "cramming" might be new to you, but it could serve you well to familiarize yourself with the expression. Federal regulators coined the term to refer to the practice of wireless providers sneaking erroneous charges onto consumers' bills. The Federal Trade Commission has been heading up an on-going investigation which has recently singled out T-Mobile as another culprit.

How Cramming Works

In an attempt to slide fraudulent charges in without consumers noticing, crammers repeatedly place small charges for phone services on your monthly bill. There are several ways this can happen.

First, by responding to an unsolicited text message, you may elicit an unwelcome subscription or service. Perhaps, unbeknownst to you, the fine print of a giveaway or contest you entered using your phone number, granted your permission to enlist you in a digital subscription of some sort. The most brazen means of cramming occurs when a third-party places a charge on your bill that you, in no way, authorized.

Regardless of how the charges occur, your wireless provider enables cramming by allowing charges by third parties to be placed on your bill, which are typically mutually beneficial to the third-party and your provider.

Cramming is not a new practice. As early as 2009, the primary carriers all began providing, and billing customers for, the Premium SMS service on behalf of content providers that were responsible for procuring customers' authorizations. A few of the big carriers ceased that practice in 2013 as part of an industry-wide compromise on premium text messaging.

Cramming continues to be profitable for providers largely because government regulators have not demanded carriers furnish their customers with less complicated monthly statements.

Most recently T-Mobile has been accused of cramming its customers and making it difficult for customers to uncover these bogus charges on their bills. Unfortunately, they are not the first to engage in cramming-and they won’t be the last.

How To Tell If You Have been Crammed

Examine your bill thoroughly. If you are unsure about charges for memberships, subscriptions, activations, or member fees, contact your provider. The FTC notes that $9.99 is the most recurrent dollar amount for a cramming charge, although smaller amounts are also used because they are rarely detected. Look for red flag words on your bill like “memberships”, “calling plans” or “member fees”. Even buzz words like “subscriptions” and “activation fees” are used.

If you suspect you have been a victim of cramming, call your provider and request the unauthorized charges be removed and refunded. Additionally, file a complaint with the FTC online, or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.

Preventative Measures for Stopping Cramming

Before you are a victim of cramming, there are preventative ways you can protect yourself. Ask your carrier to block all third-party services on your phone plan. When you enter any contests or sweepstakes, do not use your cellphone number. When you do shop for phone services, use a separate credit card for purchases, and never enter your cellphone number on unsecured websites.

To prevent cramming, inspect your bill every month and contact your provider immediately if you detect suspicious charges- even small ones. Also, don't answer or respond to calls or texts from an area code you don't recognize- they could be cramming attempts.

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If you believe your wireless provider has placed unauthorized charges on your monthly bill, or you would like further information concerning this investigation, contact our consumer protection lawyers at Golomb Legaltoday. We will review your claim to determine if you, too, have been a victim of cramming.