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Telephone "Cramming"
Old 02-21-2012, 11:22 AM   #1
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Telephone "Cramming"

Ugh. I'm ashamed to admit this to all of you, but my lack of diligence has led to one of those consumer fraud issues we always read about.

I have a Verizon landline at home. Last year I switched the bills to AutoPay and opted for online statements. I would skim the bills each month, but I was mostly checking the general totals for outliers and making sure they hadn't adding any service fees (like Comcast, who loves to add a few dollars here and there, just to see if you're paying attention).

You can see where this is going. One day, I decided to review my bill in more detail and noticed a "Miscellaneous Charge" for a service I didn't recognize and never ordered. Further inspection uncovered a series of these charges billed to me over the past year. A quick Google search confirmed this is an ongoing consumer fraud issue that is the subject of various FTC investigations and actions.

I learned that the phone companies pass through charges from third-parties as a "convenience" to their customers. But the billing may come from another party, a "fourth party" consolidator who bills Verizon on behalf of the "third party" company. And Verizon allows this, with no proof that the charge is legitimate.

I first called the other parties who placed the charges on my account. One told me that "my number wasn't even in their system, isn't that odd?" and agreed to send a credit at some unspecified point in the future. The other never responded. After many more calls, I finally reached Verizon's fraud department, who agreed to issue a credit on a future bill.

I wish I could convey my outrage at this, no doubt fueled by self-anger for letting my guard down. I filed an FTC complaint. I removed Verizon from Auto-Pay and switched to paper billing. I also placed a "third party billing block" on both phone lines, as suggested in this FTC notice: Cramming: Mystery Phone Charges. The entire ordeal took three hours of my valuable semi-ER time.

Here's more about "cramming": FCC moves to fight mystery fees on your phone bill - CNN

Only 5% of consumers ever notice these charges, giving a great incentive to these companies to sneak them in. Some have already been indicted, yet it continues.

As in all things, Buyer Beware.
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Old 02-21-2012, 01:39 PM   #2
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Yes, you have to be diligent...

Where I work we noticed these charges at the end of a long bill... one time I was looking and wondered 'what is this for?'.... they had some kind of fee to do something (I can not remember what it was) for $15.99 per month. When I called and asked 'who authorized this charge' I was told, we will take it off. It was for 6 months!!!

We knew that it was a scam since they had this on only one line of our company and we do not give out any number but our main number.

When we did look back, we did find another company that had done the same thing, but for only 3 months. Glad to say we went with a different company that does not allow 3rd party billing.
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Old 02-21-2012, 09:57 PM   #3
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The entire ordeal took three hours of my valuable semi-ER time.
We're going to have to add this thread to the "What will I DO all day?!?" FAQ...
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Old 02-22-2012, 05:58 AM   #4
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We're going to have to add this thread to the "What will I DO all day?!?" FAQ...
Quite true! File it under "How do people with full-time jobs ever get anything else done?"

For extra entertainment, I also review my father's accounts on a regular basis.
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Old 02-22-2012, 06:31 AM   #5
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I had a similar problem with Comcast cable. They were charging me for equipment I returned almost 2 years ago. For them to stop charging me for the overcharge, they needed to charge me $5 to fix my account. Shame on me for not looking over the bill more closely!
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Old 02-22-2012, 07:08 AM   #6
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I had a similar problem with Comcast cable.
Comcast is notorious for that. The Amex rep told me that everyone complains about fraudulent charges from their telecom / cable company, so apparently it's a universal business model.

I meant to post a link to one of my favorite consumer sites, affiliated with the non-profit Consumer Reports: The Consumerist

I check it regularly to see what new tricks these companies are up to, but apparently missed the posts on cramming.
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Old 02-22-2012, 12:04 PM   #7
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A few senior execs at these companies doing the perp walk might slow this down a bit...
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Old 02-22-2012, 12:20 PM   #8
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A few senior execs at these companies doing the perp walk might slow this down a bit...
It seems to be illegal, and yet currently handled with fines.

Cramming insights from a legal expert | ITworld

"I believe nearly all of the 50 states have some sort of law against cramming. That being said, the laws against phone cramming are both civil and criminal. At its most basic level, phone cramming is fraud, civilly and criminal."

"If it seems that crammers aren’t getting as tough a treatment as they deserve, remember that in many cases, it may be difficult to prove who was actually the orchestrator and had knowledge that the scheme was a cramming operation."
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Old 02-22-2012, 04:31 PM   #9
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Doesn't even have to be third or fourth party billing... I signed up for the DSL $15 for 12 months. AT&T 'forgot' to issue the credit (they bill the full rate, then credit back the discount) after the 7th month. Sent a certified letter: ignored. Since I had not been paying the extra, they sent me a cut off threat. At that point, I finally called. Spent over an hour getting bounced around. They wouldn't do anything! Finally I said 'here is what is going to happen... I'll pay the bill to keep active, and call time Warner when this call ends to replace my isp, then I'll file suit in small claims court to get my money back. At that point, there was a reconciliatory tone, not present at all before. i'm still with at&t.
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Old 02-22-2012, 04:59 PM   #10
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How sad that they only responded to a threat.

Last year, Verizon Wireless reached an $80 million settlement with the FCC for cramming their own customers, much as your experience with AT&T. It's maddening, isn't it?
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Old 02-22-2012, 06:52 PM   #11
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Good thread. I might have just screwed up by going to credit card billing with Verizon. I got a card offer that gives me 5% cash back on packaged TV, phone and internet. Might be a good way to go but on second thought I've had so much trouble with Verizon that I question my own reasoning. I may be sorry I did this.
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Old 02-22-2012, 07:25 PM   #12
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I might have just screwed up by going to credit card billing with Verizon.
No, you did the right thing! If you bill to a credit card you have another line of defense against overbilling and fraud - chargebacks. American Express is especially helpful with that. You can Google your card issuer to see how well they stand behind their customers in case of a dispute.

I've already had my CC refund my money on the fraudulent Verizon bills. It's up to Verizon to resolve it now, to the satisfaction of both me and my CC. And amazingly, they already moved on the refund.
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Old 02-22-2012, 10:24 PM   #13
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My closest experience with cramming was when I got billed by two long-distance phone companies for the same long-distance phone call. Verizon, my LD (and loval) carrier, billed me the correct 20 cents or something nice and low for a short call from Long Island to New Jersey. But somehow, ATT billed me about $4 for the same call which appeared in the SAME bill, so it was very easy to point this out to the Verizon rep when s/he viewed my bill. The problem I had was getting Verizon to make permanent a credit for the ATT's charge on that bill. They kept granting me the credit then taking it back, doing this over and over for 6 months. They also told me I had to call ATT and start wrangling with them to get the credit. I told them (Verizon) no way I would do that and they should just withhold the money from ATT and wrangle with them instead. They eventually did that but it was a nuisance explaining the same damn problem to a Verizon rep every month for 6 months until I got the desired outcome.
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Old 02-23-2012, 09:48 AM   #14
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Great thread Wendy, and you should not feel embarrassed at all. You may have just saved many of us a lot of aggravation.

I don't have a personal cell phone (only a work-issued one), and I already do scrutinize my land-line bill....but I can see myself getting sucked into this one...but now my eyebrows will be up when I purchase a contract in some future year.

P.S. Our friends all laugh at us for not having personal cell phones. I am allowed to use my work Blackberry for nearly anything with no charge to me, and my wife has a pre-paid TracFone...so they don't even know her name.

I can handle the ribbing...it's all part of LBYM and saving for that magical time in the not too distant future.
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Old 02-23-2012, 12:33 PM   #15
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Thanks, Dave! Glad it helped, that's why I posted. BTW, I got all my money back today, so I'll score this as a win.

We are kindred LBYM spirits (along with so many others here) regarding cell phones. DH and I each have a pre-paid Virgin Mobile we only use for travel and convenience calls. Everyone is shocked at our primitive ways and can't imagine how we function in modern society.
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Old 02-23-2012, 01:37 PM   #16
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DH and I each have a pre-paid Virgin Mobile we only use for travel and convenience calls. Everyone is shocked at our primitive ways and can't imagine how we function in modern society.
It's an evolutionary drawback. We don't communicate with each other often enough to be able to socialize and breed more like ourselves...
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Old 02-23-2012, 05:01 PM   #17
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Yes, I have had this happen twice on credit cards. Monthly charges from sources unknown, and missed by me, and also by Comcast and AT&T.
My typical response was "So sorry, we'll take that off and credit your account." At&t was the only one I had to battle on with.
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