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'Cramming' scam hides fees in landline bill

November 1, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Federal Communications Commission said about 15 to 20 million households are overcharged on their telephone landlines.

The overcharges come from third party billing companies for features like voicemail and call waiting. It's called "cramming."

The scammers are making a lot of money by cramming, about $2 billion a year. Only about 5 percent of households that are overcharged even realize they are victims. That's because the charges are well buried in their telephone bill.

Like any small business owner, lemon law attorney Kurt Delsack is trying to keep his expenses down, and that includes his phone bill.

A few weeks ago, Delsack discovered something on his bill he hadn't noticed before.

"We discovered that there was some third party who was putting through a bill through Verizon, which we were paying every month, without our being aware of it," he said.

It was a charge for $9.25 buried on the last page of his 12-page bill. In talking with Verizon, he learned he had been paying this monthly fee for more than two years.

The charges, which Delsack never authorized, came from a third-party billing company called OAN. So, like most people, he ran a Google search and found out it was a company called Operated Assistant Network.

"I found a couple websites that had dozens and dozens of people complaining under different names for different amounts for different lengths of time," Delsack said. "Apparently, this is something that's been going on for a while."

What happened to Delsack can happen to anyone.

Some things to do:

  • Know your phone bill, so you can recognize unusual charges.
  • Don't provide your name, address and phone number for promotions, coupons and sweepstakes without knowing exactly where it's going. That's how the scammers get your OK to charge you.
  • Contact your phone company right away to dispute any charges you didn't authorize.

After Delsack talked to Verizon, they reimbursed him for one year of the charges. But now he checks his bill more carefully.

Most local phone companies require you to opt out or shut off any third party billing, so make sure you contact your phone company to do so.

If you do have unauthorized charges from a third party provider, contact them as well to dispute the fees and then make sure they are permanently removed.


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