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Your Phone Bill May Be 'Crammed' With Unexpected Charges
You're reading through your phone bill when a new charge catches your eye. Paging? When did you order a paging service? You're sure you didn't ask for it, but now you're paying for it.
Cramming occurs when unordered, unwanted phone services such as personal 800 numbers, paging and voice mail are added to phone bills. The services are provided by third-party companies and billed through the customer's local phone carrier. According to the National Consumers League, which has been keeping track of cramming complaints since late October, Maryland ranks third for complaints.
The charges for these services may carry confusing names like "enhanced services" that sound as if they are coming from your local carrier. When you contact your local telephone company for specific information -- such as the phone number or address of the company that is providing the unwanted service -- the information is often hard to track down.
In some cases, consumers have been tricked into purchasing these unwanted services when they filled out a sweepstakes entry. In some other cases, the cramming charges piggyback other scams such as slamming, the name given to an unauthorized switch in your long-distance carrier.
Here are some tips for avoiding and correcting unwanted phone service charges:
Cramming's older cousin, slamming, is still alive and well. Consumers still frequently report they receive their phone bill and learn their long distance company has been switched without their permission. The result can be higher long-distance charges.
If you discover that your long-distance company has been changed without your permission, call your local phone company right away. You should not be charged for the cost to switch you back to your chosen carrier. You may also have to call your old long-distance company before you can be returned to their service.
Pay phone calling rates
Many consumers are surprised by higher than expected charges for calls made at pay phones. Some pay phones are connected to companies that charge high rates and add surcharges to calling-card rates. To avoid this, the Federal Communications Commission advises getting a calling card that allows you to access your chosen long-distance company by dialing a toll-free number and then entering an access code. After you enter your calling card information, listen carefully to the name of the carrier, which should be announced before the call goes through. If you do not recognize it as the name on your calling card, you might be subject to surcharges or higher rates than you expected.
Helpful Web Sites
For more information about telephone service scams, you may want to visit:
Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372