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

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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  • Bill

    I have been a victim of cramming. It is a fraud upon people and should be prosecuted as a crime starting with the phone companies that allow it.

  • Maria

    I cancelled my local phone services with Frontier (office operating in Elk Grove, CA) this past July 2011 (last date of service July 31, 2011). During August 2011, I was given a credit (in the amount of $1.14) in my billing statement. Since I didn’t have to pay, I put the credit bill away. Today, I received a bill from Frontier in the amount of $7.49 (due October 4, 2011). The reason being, Excel Telecom (a third-party billing company) charged Frontier $8.06 + $0.57 Sacto City Users Tax minus $1.14 credit in August 2011. Frontier did not want to help me because they claimed Excel is charging me not them, Frontier. First of all, when I signed up with Citizens (former name of Frontier), I was contacted to choose a long distance carrier and I chose AT&T. So, when I found out today that Excel was a third-party long distance carrier, I don’t know why this was the case. AT&T should have taken care of my long distance calls, not a third party company like Excel. Frontier gave me the number for Excel and immediately called them to cancel/delete these charges. According to Excel, their company charge Frontier in advance. When I explained to Excel that I cancelled Frontier back in July and did not get any charges for August, now Excel is giving me the story that the $8.06 charge was due to the fact that I was late in cancelling Frontier and Excel is now charging me for July services. I don’t understand this third-party billing because with Citizens, I chose AT&T as my long distance company.

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