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Call Kurtis: Phone Companies Cashing In on Cramming, Unauthorized Charges

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Eight-time Emmy Award winner Kurtis Ming is CBS13's consumer...
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Jon and Penny Wells live a busy life.

They love spending time with their dog and their grandkids, but instead they’ve found themselves spending time on the phone, fighting unauthorized charges that have popped up on their phone bills.

“You shouldn’t have to go through this,” said Jon Wells.

Last year the couple called Kurtis Ming when their phone company refused to remove a mysterious $14.99 fee — a charge that kept showing up each month from an unknown third-party company.

“It’s a crime,” Wells said. “I did not order these services. Nobody from my family ordered this service.”

And now Capitol Hill is investigating the practice, which has come to be known as “cramming.”

“I just don’t think we should call it cramming,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “We should call it scamming and it’s got to stop.”

Boxer sat on a committee that published this report finding there’s a possible reason your phone company may not offer much help to troubled and confused customers: The phone companies keep a cut of the money these third-party vendors make.

Exactly how much?

The Senate’s investigation found that AT&T, Qwest and Verizon have made more than $650 million in the last five years from third-party billing, but the report labels at least a quarter of these charges are totally bogus.

Boxer blamed the phone companies for not doing more to fix a growing concern.

“If the phone companies don’t remedy this, I think we need to end this whole idea of third party billing,” she said.

Qwest does not operate in California, but AT&T and Verizon told CBS 13 they will refund customers their money if you tell them about unauthorized charges.

Verizon said it also offers customers experiencing this issue a bill block service so they won’t get charged again.

With a little help from CBS 13, Jon and Penny got their charges removed from their bill, and they’ll tell you it’s no fun fighting bogus fees.

“[I feel] well, violated for one thing,” said Wells, “and quite a bit upset.”

Many customers aren’t aware of third-party charges because they don’t carefully scan their bills each month. This means many unauthorized charges go unnoticed every year, according to the Senate Committee’s findings.

The report lists by name more than 1,000 third-party vendors to watch out for, as released in this PDF the Committee published. The report also mentioned many of these companies operate under the hub companies of daData, Inc., My Service and Support, and MORE International.

If you find an unauthorized charge on your bill, the FCC asks that you contact the third party listed on your bill before contacting the phone company. If you can’t get the charge removed, you should then go to your phone company. As a last resort, if you are unable to get the issue resolved, you should file a complaint with the FCC directly.

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