Last week, the Federal Trade Commission charged cell phone provider T-Mobile with making big bucks from premium text services that in many cases its consumers never authorized–a practice known as cramming.
The FTC alleges in its complaint that T-Mobile USA received 35 to 40 percent of the total amount charged for subscriptions for content that typically costs $9.99 per month, such as celebrity gossip, horoscopes and flirting tips. The FTC alleges that T-Mobile in some cases kept billing customers for services offered by scammers for years after it was aware of signs that the charges were not authorized.
The FTC alleges that T-Mobile’s billing practices made it hard for consumers to find out that they were being charged. The complaint states that the online T-Mobile bill did not show customers that they were being charged by a third party or that the charge was part of a recurring subscription. The charges were listed under Premium Services, but could only be seen after clicking a separate heading, “Use Charges.” After clicking, consumers still could not see individual charges.
The complaint also alleges that the full T-Mobile bill, which could be longer than 50 pages, made it nearly impossible to find and understand third party charges.
Here’s how to reduce the chances of paying charges crammed onto your bill without your knowledge or permission:
- Read your mobile phone bill each month – line by line, and page by page. Don’t ignore the billing statement you get in the mail or through an automated online payment system. You should know your baseline monthly bill. Taking time to read every page of your statements can help you detect potentially fraudulent charges, keep surprise charges to a minimum, and save you money.
- Consider a block on third-party charges. Many phone carriers already offer third-party blocking service for free. You just have to ask.
- Ask your mobile phone carrier for its policy on refunds for fraudulent charges. Some carriers have a 60-day period for refund requests, and many have a policy of partial refunds for fraudulent charges you detect – no matter how long the cramming charges have occurred.
- If you have a prepaid phone plan, check that you’re not losing pre-paid minutes to pay for unauthorized third-party charges. Stay on top of how many calling minutes you have, and make sure that minutes don’t go missing due to deductions unrelated to your regular phone calls. Check your accounts online or call the number your carrier gives you for account access.
If you suspect you’ve been a victim of cramming, contact your phone carrier first about the charges, then file a complaint with the FTC.