Spot unauthorized charges on your phone bill

June 21, 2011 4:24:16 PM PDT
Unauthorized charges on your phone bill -- it is happening to millions of Americans and it could be happening to you right now. The practice is called "cramming" and the federal government is trying to crack down on it.

There are already laws on the books that are supposed to stop cramming, but it happens anyway and the Federal Communications Commission says only a fraction of victims even know they are paying for things they do not use or do not want.

It's not hard to find someone who has found unauthorized charges on a phone bill.

"There was something on there and we were like, 'What is this?' And it was not much money, but the point was what was it?" said Jordan Rzad.

He says figuring out who put the unauthorized charges on his phone bill was not easy and getting the charges removed was difficult too.

"No one could help me get any information from it and trying to find the company was next to impossible getting through to them," Rzad said.

While laws are on the books to prevent cramming, some 20 million Americans have the charges show up on their phone bills every month. The charges can run anywhere from a couple of dollars up to $20 and often show up on your bill under the heading 'miscellaneous charges' or 'subscriptions.'

"There have been people fighting with companies for weeks or even months to get the charges removed," said Monica Russo of the Houston Better Business Bureau.

Russo says part of the problem is that most people do not go over their phone bills line by line. It's something Russo says you should do every month.

"A lot of consumers are not aware of these charges because in many cases they are small and insignificant and the detail on the bill can be vague, so it is very common for people to pay these fees thinking they are legitimate and in some cases pay them for years," Russo said.

The FCC is trying to crack down on the practice. Last week, the FCC fined one company more than $11 million for placing unwanted charges on phone bills.

"I think this is a positive step forward to protect consumers from cramming," said Russo.

The FCC has a tip sheet about cramming that you can find here.

So how do the charges get on the bill in the first place? Sometimes when you are buying things on a website, a special offer will pop up asking if you want to save $10. If you click yes, you can be agreeing to fine print that allows a company to add these charges. You could be charged for voicemail services, even yoga.

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