Two of the largest national cellphone companies are paying the government millions for bogus charges, and some of that money could be yours. Follow along and I'll show you how to get your share.
The FCC says Verizon and Sprint slipped unwanted charges into customers' bills for years, going back all the way to 2010. The charges were for about $10 each month for so-called "premium SMS services." Basically these are things like horoscopes and flirting tips delivered to customers' phones by text. Just one problem though, the government says the cellphone giants added these charges to bills without the customers' permission. They were charging as much as $168 every year for something some consumers never even asked for.
"For too long, consumers have been charged on their phone bills for things they did not buy,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “We call these fraudulent charges ‘cramming,’ and with today’s agreements we are calling them history for Verizon and Sprint customers.”
The settlement totals a whopping $158 million dollars. While the federal government and states that participated in the investigation will get some of that cash, the bulk of the fines will go to consumers who were hit with the cramming fees.
In addition to the $158 million in fines, Verizon and Sprint also promised to take additional steps to prevent this from happening again. Among their agreements include:
- No longer offer commercial third-party PSMS (premium SMS) charges
- Obtain informed consent from customers prior to allowing third-party charges
- Clearly and conspicuously identify third-party charges on bills
- Offer a free service for customers to block all third-party charges
- Regularly report to the FCC on compliance and refunds to customers
Unfortunately, this is not the first time big cellphone companies have been caught red handed adding cramming charges to customer bills. Since January of last year, the FCC has levied a total of $391 million in fines. Prior to today's actions, the largest fines for mobile cramming were against AT&T for $105 million and T-Mobile for $90 million.
Have you been a wireless customer of Verizon or Sprint for any time since 2010? If so, there could be a refund in your future. The FCC says current and former Sprint and Verizon wireless customers should review their bills and contact Sprint and Verizon if they suspect unauthorized third-party charges were wrongly added to their bills.