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Taxpayers footing 'cramming' phone scam bill

November 16, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Lemon law attorney Kurt Delsack was hit by a monthly cramming charge on his phone bill for nearly two years.

Perusing his Verizon landline bill, Delsack said he discovered a third party was charging him $9.25 every month without him being aware of it.

Although it wasn't a lot of money each month, Delsack, did get his phone company to reverse most of the charges.

The overcharges come from third party billing companies for features like voicemail and call waiting.

According to Sen. Barbara Boxer, that's not the end of the story. Just about everyone may be paying for cramming scams in a different way.

"It's not right to say it's up to the consumer to opt out of something," the Democratic senator said. "If you don't order a service, don't bill for a service."

Most consumers these days use a cellphone and don't have a landline phone - and that's the problem. Local governments use landline phones almost exclusively and they too are hit by cramming charges on their bills. Those bills are paid with taxpayer money.

"It amounts to, some cases, tens of thousands a month, like in Los Angeles, thousands a month in Riverside, thousands a month in Orange County," Boxer said.

As a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce and the Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Boxer is trying to put an end to cramming.

"I do think we're going to have to write some legislation here and I'm working on it now," Boxer said. "The phone companies, according to my staff who looked at this very carefully, have made about a half a billion dollars over time doing this."

So you're not hit by cramming charges like Delsack, here's some advice:

  • Know your phone bill, so you can recognize unusual charges.
  • Don't provide your name, address or phone number for promotions, coupons or sweepstakes without knowing exactly where the information is going.
  • Contact your phone company right away to dispute any charges you didn't authorize.

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.

"This is a complete outrage," Boxer said. "It really has to stop."

According to the Federal Communications Commission, about 15 to 20 million households are overcharged on their telephone landlines.


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