Smart Buying

Beware Bogus Charges on Your Mobile-Phone Bill

Take these steps to protect yourself from mobile cramming.

John Breyault is vice-president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League in Washington, D.C.

Mobile cramming refers to any unauthorized charge that appears on your bill. The fraud was initially associated with landline phones and is migrating to wireless phones. Cramming occurs when a third party signs you up for a service that you don’t know you’re paying for. Maybe you were asked to enter your number on a Web site to access a joke of the day, for example, or a horoscope. This is the first part of a “double opt in.” Then you might get a text message saying something like “reply STOP if you don’t want this.” Considering it spam, you delete it. As a result, you get signed up for these recurring charges, typically about $10 a month. Because the charges are buried in multipage phone bills, consumers don’t notice and might get charged repeatedly over the course of many months.

What is mobile cramming, and why is it a problem?

How can people protect themselves?

Treat your cell-phone number as you would cash or a credit card. Don’t just give it out. If you’re asked to enter a number to access information online that you can find free elsewhere, it could be a scam.

What should people look for on their bills?

These charges can be labeled practically anything. Carriers do a fair job of breaking out their fees, so look for additional services or miscellaneous charges that are not associated with your regular service.

If you find illegitimate charges on your bill, what should you do?

Complain to the carrier and ask it to block third-party billing. Let the regulatory agencies know. If you report the problem via our online complaint form at www.fraud.org, we’ll share that information with more than 90 law-enforcement and consumer-protection agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.

What about cramming on credit card bills? Does the same advice apply?

Again, it’s important for consumers to regularly review their credit and debit card bills to make sure they’re not getting hit with fraudulent charges. Report a suspicious charge to your credit card company or bank as soon as possible; consumers aren’t usually charged for fraudulent use of their cards if they dispute it promptly. With mobile cramming, though, carriers are under no legal obligation to waive the fees or pay for fraud that occurs over their system.

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