There has been growing concern about “cramming” – the billing for unauthorized services on your local phone bill. This practice became known as “cramming” because, in some cases, the charges are positioned in your bill such that they may be easily overlooked. Common examples may include the following:
Charges for calls not made or calls placed to apparently toll-free numbers or 900 numbers;
Charges for services that are explained only in general terms such as “voice mail” or “calling plan” or “membership”;
Charges for “800 number service”
Charges identified as “monthly fee” that appear on a monthly basis.
In some cases, the charges are slipped into the bill intentionally by service providers in hopes that consumers won’t notice. In others, consumers unknowingly authorize a new service or call as a result of simply accepting a collect call, filling out a sweepstakes or raffle ticket or responding to voice prompts in the course of placing a call.
Listed below are some tips that consumers can follow to protect themselves from being crammed:
- Carefully review your telephone bill every month. Look for company names you do not recognize, charges for calls you did not make, and charges for services you did not authorize. Keep in mind that you may sometimes be billed legitimately for a call you placed or a service you used, but the description for the call or service may be unclear.
- Carefully read all forms and promotional materials – including the fine print – before signing up for telephone services.
- Keep a record of the telephone services you have authorized and used – including calls placed to 900 numbers and other types of information services. These records can be helpful when billing descriptions are unclear.
- Do not divulge personal information, such as telephone, credit card or social security numbers on sweepstakes or raffle tickets. This information is not always secure and may be used for reasons other than intended.
- Keep a copy of any applications you fill out. You will have to reference them in the event of a dispute.
- Avoid filling out entries for contests that seem vague, or do not disclose all the ways the entry information is to be used.
- Do not accept collect calls from unfamiliar persons.
- Do not return calls to unfamiliar telephone numbers.
- Beware of faxes, emails, voicemails, and pages requesting a return call to an unfamiliar number.
- If you are not interested in a product or service offered by a telemarketer say “no”. Be clear. Your delay in answering or even a “maybe” response could be mistakenly interpreted as a "yes."
- Know the area code location of which you are dialing.
- Avoid placing calls that have an unfamiliar dialing pattern. Local, domestic and international dialing is explained in the front of your telephone directory.
- Pay close attention to voice prompts on a call; they may be asking you to accept charges for the call or other services.
- Companies compete for your telephone business. Use your buying power wisely and shop around. If you think that a company’s charges are too high or that their services do not meet your needs, contact other companies and try to get a better deal.
- Your local telephone company may not be able to help you with “cramming” problems, because they only do the billing for the company who “crammed” you. You may need to contact the company directly to dispute the charges.