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Beware ‘cramming’ on phone bills

By Claes Bell ·
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Posted: 4 pm ET

Cell phone bill seem a little high this month? You might be a victim of "cramming."

The FTC defines as adding unauthorized charges to consumers' phone bills. This week the FTC took aim at T-Mobile over the practice, which in this case involved third-party billing for "services" like horoscopes and "premium texting."

Here are some of the major allegations contained in the FTC complaint:

  • Companies other than T-Mobile were allowed to add charges to users' bills without their consent, paying T-Mobile a taste of the action.
  • Those charges weren't itemized on customers' billing summaries; customers would have to dig through their full phone bills, which can 50 pages or longer, to find the itemized list of charges.
  • Even when a customer was able to track them down, the charges were described in opaque terms such as "8888906150BrnStorm23918" making it difficult to figure out what the heck they were for, according to the FTC allegations.


Not just T-Mobile
Cramming isn't a problem exclusive to T-Mobile or even mobile phones. Verizon settled a class-action law suit in 2012 over similar practices on its landlines, and AT&T paid $5.5 million to settle a similar lawsuit over cramming on its landlines.

Clearly the onus for preventing cramming should be on service providers themselves; they are sending these bills out to customers attesting that the charges are fair and correct. By sending out bills with bogus charges, they are at best abetting the fraud of these third-party companies, and at worst participating it, especially when you consider they're often getting a substantial cut of these companies' ill-gotten gains.

Still, mobile customers need to be on the lookout for fraudulent charges on their bills, and be willing to make a call to the company to call them out.

U.S. customers already pay an absurdly high price for mobile services as it is, with mobile data prices among the highest in the world according to a 2013 study by the International Telecommunications Union. There's no need to let phone companies add more fuel to the rip-off fire by allowing bogus charges to go unchallenged.

What do you think? Have you ever seen "crammed" charges on your cell phone bill?

Follow me on Twitter: @claesbell.

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Sandra Pruette
July 14, 2014 at 11:18 pm

When under contract with verizon I was charged for "items that were downloaded" to our phones. Neither my husband or myself had knowledge of what these downloads were, nor how to or not to down load them. This I explained to Verizon both on the phone and in person, This occurred repeatedly from Sept 2011 to December 2013. I took both phones in numerous times and asked these downloads be removed and "lock" the phones. I live in a town that had 5 verizon stores. I went to all 5 during this 2 year period. I was billed for downloads to my husbands phone even when his phone was broken. I had not worked for over 6 months. I was not able to get all charges dropped. Verizon has no record of my complaints nor the instances that an employee "locked" my phones to prevent further downloads. The day I terminated my contract with Verizon I went to their office on Greenville Blvd in Greenville, NC. Gave my phone to the employee and asked that my service be terminated (my 2 year contract was up) and phone # transferred to a trac phone. I paid all fees and thought I was finished.The next month I recieve a bill from Verizon charges for downloads that occurred on the day I terminated the contract. After a heated discussion on the phone with Verizon I was told they would be take care of. I have kept most of my Verizon records.

Mr. Gene Fenderson
July 14, 2014 at 9:55 pm

T - Mobile are always pulling piracy scams on the innocent. I purchased a blackberry curve back in 2009-2010 and even though the termination charges of 200.00 is a time-barred debt, they managed some way of placing it on my credit report in 2014.