Signing up for a mobile phone plan should be a painless experience. Simply select the plan that fits your needs, use the device as expected, and pay the bill at the end of the month.
It’s not been quite that easy for some people. We know about mobile phone scams where criminals can sign your number up to premium services. But what do you do if your monthly bill has unauthorized charges tacked on?
These fees can be added by shady companies and are known as cramming. Some people have been wrestling with this problem for some time now, and it only seems to be growing. Keep reading to find out what cramming is and how you can avoid these extra charges.
Here’s the backstory
Not everyone takes the time to scour their monthly phone bill looking for suspicious charges. And that’s what some shady companies are hoping for.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns how some companies stuff customers’ monthly bills with unauthorized charges. If you don’t go looking for cramming, you might end up paying hundreds of dollars extra for unnecessary things over time.
In most cases, when a mobile phone provider adds things to your bill, you need to know about it. Your consent or acknowledgment is often a requirement for it to be a legally binding agreement.
Think you haven’t been crammed? Well, go over your mobile phone bill and look for small charges listed as things like voicemail, service fee, membership or other fees. Companies hope that a slight deviation in your monthly bill won’t arouse suspicion.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), thousands of people have been caught up in illegal cramming. The FTC also refunded customers over $5 million in cramming charges.
How to avoid being crammed on your bill
The first step is to check your monthly bill in detail. Look for irregular charges, things that don’t make sense, or vague wording on itemized billing.
Here are suggestions from the BBB to avoid getting crammed:
- Thoroughly review your phone bill every month. Make sure you know all the companies that added charges to the bill and double-check that you authorized each charge. Also, make sure you’re not billed more than you were quoted for any service.
- Contact your service provider if you notice unfamiliar charges. Crammers love to add small mystery charges for a few dollars to thousands of consumers’ bills at a time. These fees can recur and stay on your bill for years if you don’t follow up. If you notice a charge you don’t remember authorizing or the description is vague, call your service provider and ask them to explain the fee before you pay it.
- Ask for a refund. If you find bogus charges on your account, request a refund. Some service providers will ask you to reach out to the third party first, but in most cases, they will refund the money directly.
- Request to block third-party charges. If you don’t generally use add-on services connected to your phone service, you can ask your provider to prevent all third-party charges. This will make it impossible for scammers to cram your bill.
- Don’t be quick to give out your cell phone number. Sometimes, the only thing a scammer needs to cram your bill is your phone number. Be careful handing out your phone number to enter contests, auctions, giveaways and surveys. Also, watch out for unfamiliar websites that ask for your phone number in exchange for free tips, daily news, sports scores, horoscopes and the like.
- Pay for services with your credit card. If you purchase a third-party service, it’s best to pay with your credit card instead of authorizing charges through your service provider. It’s easier to dispute fraudulent charges and get your money back from a credit card company.
If you think you’ve been the victim of cramming and your service provider or the third-party company won’t resolve the issue, file a complaint with your state public service commission for telephone services and the FTC.