Cramming is when companies illegally put extra charges on your account without your permission. It was a huge problem back in the land line phone days, but we've discovered mobile phones are crammers' new target. In fact, you may be paying for fraudulent charges right now and have no idea.
When a text offering Wen Chao a deal to download mobile content for $9.99 a month appeared on her phone, she ignored it. But when a second one popped up from the same sender, with a strange note about war and peace, she opened it.
"I thought oh maybe it's from a friend whose number I don't have in the contacts," Chao said.
Wen called her mobile phone carrier to block future mystery messages and got some shocking news.
"I was told that by the act of opening the text message, I had consented to what they were trying to sell me," Chao said.
Remember that $9.99 charge? It was on Wen's bill for premium messaging.
"Many consumers overlook the charges on their phone bill, so the complaints that we see really are just the tip of the iceberg," FTC attorney Duane Pozza said.
Consumers miss these charges, the feds say, because they appear on mobile phone bills as innocuous-sounding fees like: standard rate plan, member fee and voicemail.
So why don't cell phone companies, that also profit when third-party companies charge your bill, make these fees more prominent?
"That wouldn't be practical for a billing system to be able to specifically list those thousands. I mean that would be a pretty expensive proposition," said John Walls with CTIA, the Wireless Industry Trade Association.
The association says carriers haven't received a lot of cramming complaints. And most major mobile phone companies and vendors follow best practices that require third parties to inform consumers they'll be charged.
"We're going to work awfully hard to keep you from doing anything to our consumer, if you will, that's not lawful," Walls said.
There's no federal law giving you the right to dispute questionable mobile phone charges like there is with your credit card, and it's a carrier-by-carrier decision. Wen was able to convince hers to remove the charges and is still stunned this even happened.
The FCC is considering requiring mobile carriers make third-party charges more obvious on phone bills. In the meantime, if you're concerned about being crammed, you can call your cell phone company and ask them to block any third-party charges from being billed to your account.