Cramming

If you discover charges on your telephone bill that you cannot explain, you may have been the victim of an increasingly common but fraudulent practice known as “cramming.”   The fact that bills for your residential phone line tend to be confusing anyway makes it easier for an unethical operator to place or hide deceptive charges on your bill in an effort to mislead you into paying for services you did not authorize or receive.  You are not required to pay unauthorized charges!

Even if you did authorize the service, if the provider did not clearly or accurately describe all of the relevant charges when marketing the service to you, the charge is still considered cramming.  It is also cramming to transmit inaccurate billing data, whether accidentally or intentionally, for inclusion in your telephone bill.

While cramming charges typically appear on local phone bills, they may also be found on bills from long-distance phone companies or those specializing in cellular telephones, digital telephones, beepers or pagers.  Cramming comes in many forms and is often hard to detect unless you closely review your telephone bill every month, just as you would your credit card and bank statements.  Crammers often evade detection by submitting inconspicuous charges to thousands of consumers.

FCC Rules

As a protection from cramming and to help you make informed choices when selecting a service provider, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has rules that require telephone companies to make their phone bills more understandable to consumers.  It should be clear what services have been provided, by whom, and the charges assessed.  The company must also list a toll-free number on your statement for billing inquiries.

What to Do if You’ve Been Crammed  

  • Notify your local phone company immediately that you are disputing the unauthorized charges and ask for an explanation, even if the charges are small.  
  • Pay your phone bill on time, minus the charges you did not authorize.  Your local service cannot be disconnected if you do not pay the disputed charges.
  • Inform the company charging you that you did not order the services in question and will not pay for them.  Instruct them to remove the unauthorized charges from your bill and not to bill you again.
  • Talk directly to the service provider making the charges and not a company acting as billing agent, which may not have the authority to remove the charges.
  • Inform your local telephone company of any agreement to remove the disputed charges so that your bill can be recalculated without those charges and associated taxes or fees.
  • If the “crammer” refuses to remove the charges, notify your local carrier that you are still disputing them (during which time they may still be referred to a collection agency).
  • If neither the primary biller nor the company charging you will remove incorrect charges from your telephone bill, also file an online complaint form with the appropriate regulatory agency (below) or direct your complaint to that agency by phone or mail—with a copy of your bill if mailed. 

Filing a Complaint  

For charges for telephone-related services within Georgia, you should file your complaint with the Georgia Public Service Commission:

Georgia Public Service Commission
244 Washington Street, SW
Atlanta, Georgia 30334
Phone: 404-656-4501
Toll-free: 800-282-5813
Fax: 404-656-2341
Web site: www.psc.georgia.gov

For charges for non-telephone-related services (for example, a psychic hotline) or for interstate or international phone service, your complaint should be filed with the FCC:

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Complaints
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554
Phone: 888-CALL-FCC (888-225-5333)
TTY: 888-TELL-FCC (888-835-5322)
Fax: 202-418-0232
Web site: www.fcc.gov

Kinds of charges to watch for… 

  • Charges for unordered services that are explained on your phone bill in general terms, such as “service fee,” “service charge,” “other fees,” “voice mail,” “mail server,” “calling plan,” “psychic,” “debit card” or “membership.”
  • Charges that are added to your telephone bill every month without a clear explanation of the services provided, such as a “monthly fee” or “minimum monthly usage fee.”
  • Other charges from a local or long-distance company for a service it provides but that you did not order.
  • Charges from companies unfamiliar to you.
  • Monthly access or network charges from companies other than your long-distance carrier.
  • Charges on a separate page of the bill that appear to be state or federal fees.   Legitimate state and federal fees charged by your local or long-distance company generally appear on the same page as their other charges and should be clearly labeled as taxes.

When reviewing your phone bill, ask…   

  1. Do I recognize the names of all the companies listed on my bill?
  2. What services did I receive from the listed companies?
  3. Does my bill include charges for calls I didn’t place or services I didn’t authorize?
  4. Are the rates and line items consistent with what the company quoted me?