How to stop illegal charges on your phone bill

Some problems are difficult to solve, but others are easy. Let’s talk easy.

Two telephone customers had the same problem, but one was with AT&T and the other with Verizon. At first, neither knew what to do.

As readers of the Dave Lieber Watchdog column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram first learned, Julie Hatch found a mysterious $14.95 charge on her monthly AT&T bill going back to March. She had never noticed it before. Solo Communications was adding the charge for monthly faxing. But she already pays AT&T $5 a month for fax services.

She called Solo, but a service rep would give her credit for only three months. She called AT&T but says she couldn’t get any help with the rest.

“Why does AT&T allow other vendors to add charges to my account that I did not authorize?” she asked Watchdog Nation.

Glen Cornman looked at his Verizon phone bill and found two $12.95 charges placed there by a company named ILD for another company, Compufix. He called ILD, but no one answered.

He says he called Verizon but was put off by the service rep. But he insisted and was finally connected to ILD, which processes payments for other companies. He got credit for the two bogus charges.

He asked Watchdog Nation why Verizon didn’t quickly want to take responsibility.

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False charges, called “cramming,” are illegal under state and federal laws. Unfortunately, the onus is on the consumer to check the bill and find these charges. Even then, there’s sometimes a hassle.

Before we share the easy solution, here’s what the two major phone companies had to say.

An AT&T spokeswoman told Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation, “AT&T encourages customers to check their monthly statements and question any charges they did not authorize. AT&T has a very consumer-friendly policy on third-party billing. If a customer tells us they did not authorize the charges, AT&T will send the charges back to the billing company.”

Hatch said that wasn’t so easy for her. But after The Watchdog intervened, AT&T credited her bill going back to March.

A Verizon spokeswoman replied, “Verizon does not tolerate cramming. Third-party billing provides convenience for customers, and while Verizon receives very few cramming complaints as a percentage of overall bills rendered, we take cramming very seriously. … Because it is impractical for Verizon to know what third-party services our customers ordered, we take our customers’ word when they tell us they did not order a particular service that appeared on their bill.”

The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission regulate cramming on the national level. The Public Utility Commission of Texas takes complaints on the state level.

The FCC’s truth-in-billing rules state that companies must list all charges in “clear, non-misleading language” and that a phone number must be provided next to each third-party-billing notation so customers can complain.

Cramming charges can range from $2 to several hundred dollars. Smaller charges are more popular because they are harder for consumers to detect.

Easy ways to avoid these charges include not entering contests where fine print on coupons may explain that these charges will be added, staying away from club memberships that use enticements to get you to join and not calling 900 numbers.

Often, the FCC warns, cramming charges appear on bills using general terms such as service fee, service charge, other fees, voicemail, mail server, calling plan, psychic and membership.

OK, now for the promised easy solution. Phone companies such as AT&T and Verizon offer a free service called Bill Block or Third-Party Block. But you have to call and ask for it. And you should ask for it for both your land line and your cell phone line, too.

The free service is not perfect. It’s still important to check your phone bill every month. But if you don’t have a bill block on your bill, call and get it right away.

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Dave Lieber shows Americans how to fight back against corporate deceptions in his wonderful national award-winning book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong. Are you tired of losing time, money and aggravation to all the assaults on our wallets? Learn how to fight back with ease — and win. Get the book here.

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Comments

  1. I’d like to assure you that Compufix Online condemns and does not participate in “cramming” which is the practice of placing unauthorized or misleading charges on a telephone bill. Compufix Online currently provides consumers unlimited 24/7 online computer repair and tech support for operating systems, internet and email support, virus assistance and protection, networks and peripherals. When there are disputes, we investigate them thoroughly and ensure that credits are applied back to your credit card or phone bill. So, if you feel you have been crammed or charged without your consent, please let us know. Send an email to customerservice@compufoxonline.com or call us at 888-736-3799. We are available 24 hours a day.