Monday, November 20, 2006

We've been "crammed!"

That's right, crammed. And I didn't even know it.

"Cramming" is the practice of unethical companies burying charges in the pages of your phone bill for services you never authorized or even used. The charges can range from a few dollars to double-digit amounts--but often not large enough for you to notice and question the total amount of your bill.

My family was fortunate because the charge was small, we picked up on it right away, and it took just one call to get it removed. But others haven't been as lucky. Cramming can mean shelling out quite a few bucks, wasting a lot of time on the phone, and dealing with a big headache.

Getting a name pays off
I discovered we'd been crammed thanks to writing this blog--specifically the "To get better service, get a name" post a few weeks back. I was going to write about my experience following up on a $7.64 "miscellaneous charge" included in our August phone bill from a company named OAN Services, Inc. The charge was for a call from our home phone line to a strange-looking, 9-digit number, one that neither I nor my wife M could recall making.

I called the 800-number provided on the bill for OAN and told their representative that the charge was either a mistake or bogus, and we wouldn't be paying it. The OAN woman briefly tried to explain what it was for--which I still don't know, but it was something having to do with the Internet--but I stood my ground. When she finally said she'd have the charge removed, I dutifully wrote down her first and last name--just like I advise in my post--and confirmed that it had been done a few days later by checking my bill online.

I couldn't recall the woman's name, so I couldn't use the experience for my "Get a name" post. But in looking up OAN on the Internet to try and jog my memory, I discovered that the company's business is scamming people through unauthorized phone charges.

Rip-off reports galore
According to posts on www.ripoffreport.com, OAN billed one person in Illinois $53 for "non-basic service charges." "After calling the numbers provided on the Verizon Bill...we were placed on hold for a period of time, then when we disputed the call they said we had said yes to this service. Verizon would not address this issue, only tell us to call the numbers provided," the Illinois resident said.

"This company is charging me for Directory assistance in Nevada that I never used. My phone Company...said that there was nothing they could do...My charge was $7.14. Imagine multiplying that by all the phones and cell phones in the United States and you have a MULTI_MILLION dollar business," wrote Patti from Missouri.

And blogger Brian Patton had to make five calls and spend a couple hours on the phone to get a $50 charge removed from his bill.

If you're a victim, too
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are well aware of cramming. Here are a few tips from the FCC to protect yourself:



  • Review your phone bill every month (as you should do with every bill and account statement you receive). Keep an eye out for calls to unfamiliar numbers, or for services that you don't recall ordering or using.

  • Make sure you know what service was provided, even for small charges such as $2.00 or $3.00.

  • If you can't explain what a charge is for, call your phone company or other service number provided and question its authenticity.

  • Keep a record of the telephone services you have authorized and used – including calls to 900-numbers and other types of telephone information services.

  • Read the fine print in promotional materials before signing up for telephone or other services to be billed on your phone bill.
If you have been crammed, immediately call the company that charged you and request to have the charges removed. If that doesn't work, you have several options: contact your state Attorney General's office, enlist the help of your local Better Business Bureau, or escalate your complaint to the FTC or FCC. The FTC, in fact, has a special cramming hotline at 202-326-3134.

One theme consistent in "cramming resolution" success stories: Be persistent. It may take several calls and some time, but you should be able to stop it and even have your money refunded.

And if OAN is the one you're after, here's where I reached them: 800-731-7777.

Visit this week's carnival of personal finance
Everybody loves the carnival, and Everybody Loves Your Money is the host of Carnival of Personal Finance #75. The list of personal finance articles seems to grow every week. Here are my favorites:

5 comments:

Donna said...

Good article. I've been keeping on the lookout for all the "ripoffs" out there, and had not heard about this. You know the article is good when a person takes action. (While not exactly moving), I did immediately look online at my last Cellular statements. Thanks for the tip. Also, it seems to me that the phone company should be obligated to remove charges that you did not authorize. Isn't that true? I smell class action suit.

CJ said...

Thanks for your comment, Donna! I think that since it's another company making the charge, the phone company can make a case that it's off the hook. They just put the charges on the bill for the cramming vendor (and other vendors) as a service. Evidently, it's a product of the phone deregulation some years back. I think, however, I read somewhere that Sprint or some other phone company dropped these "cramming" companies because they were getting so many complaints. So it does help to raise the issue to the phone company too.

LG said...

Thank you so much for this article,

I had been charged by them last year for the same bogus number (10 15 15 800) and it was a run around getting the charge resolved so when I got my Verizon bill today I was really T'ed off to see it again, using the phone you provided for OAN I got right in and was able to talk to "Chelsy" who (after I made it plane to her I was angry and would not stand for this again) said they would "refund my Verizon account and make sure my number was blocked from future charges" and even stated that their customer service service rep would be calling me (I actually look forward to it)

Anonymous said...

OAN billed me $40 a month for 2 months
I got the charges dropped.
Same as ILD and Mercury did a few years ago.
Verizon should have some responsibility.
Files at BBB Florida and FTC.
May take them to small claims court for $3000.

Anonymous said...

http://www.cerb.org/letter.html

the coalition of phone crammers !

BSG Clearing Solutions
Sharon Gallardo
7411 John Smith Dr.
San Antonio, TX 78229
(p)210-949-7010
(f)210-949-7101 sharon.gallardo@bsgclearing.com

ILD
Kathy McQuade
3230 West Commercial Blvd, Suite 360
Oakland Park, FL 33309
(p) 954-717-6808
(f) 954-777-2795
kathy.mcquade@ildmail.com

Integretel
Ken Dawson
5883 Rue Ferrari
San Jose, CA 95138
(p) 408-362-4000
(f) 408-362-2795
kdawson@integretel.com