debt

Don't let bill errors empty your wallet

Cramming charges
Cramming charges © GVictoria/Shutterstock.com

Excess charges, referred to as cramming, may lurk in the fine print of your telephone bill. Typically, vendors work with billing aggregators who have agreements with telephone companies to bill you for charges, says Russell Deitch, an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission. Such charges might be for Internet service that you aren't using, voice mail for a different phone number, Web hosting or other service, he says.

Charges could begin after you enter a sweepstakes, cash a supposedly free check, after a free trial, after a call claiming to confirm your Yellow Pages entry or "just made up and put on the phone bill," Deitch says. "There's no shortage of creativity when it comes to fraud."

The charges, often for amounts such as $9.99 that are easy to miss, recur every month until challenged. These charges add up. The Federal Trade Commission estimates such fraud affects 15 million to 20 million American households per year, Deitch says. In the last 15 years, the FTC has brought more than 25 cases involving numerous consumers and tens of millions of dollars in damages, Deitch says.

Takeaway: Scrutinize your phone bill as if you're a detective. "A phone bill will never make The New York Times best-seller list, but read your phone bill carefully," Deitch says.

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