Cramming and slamming

When I opened my bill recently, I joined the throngs of consumers complaining about extra, un-authorized charges on my bill. It’s called cramming, and not to be confused with slamming.

Cramming versus slamming

Slamming happens when your telephone service is switched without your permission. Usually, you find out when the fees
show up on the bill.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, cramming happens when a company adds a charge to your bill for a service you didn’t order.

The FTC says cramming charges can be spotted by looking for generic sounding services like Min. User Fee, Activation, Member Fee, Voice Mail or Web Hosting.

Typically these charges show up on a separate page of your bill. Look for company names like Enhanced Services Billing, USBI, and HBS Billing Services.

I contacted the vendors and third-party billers. Enhanced Services Billing says it’s a billing clearinghouse and processes records brought on by other companies. You’ll see both company names on your bill. The biller is typically at the top and the individual vendor is listed next to the charge. You need to call the vendor to request the charge be removed.

While cramming and slamming are different, it appears the charges are appearing the same way. In 2007, I reported on two women and their battle with Horizon attaching itself to their bills. It’s a long distance company that markets its service online. One woman told me the company told her she requested the service with an email she doesn’t own.

How cramming happens
The FTC says these fake charges can be added to your bill if you join a club that appears free. The number you call to join may require you say “I want the service.” The FTC says that may actually enroll you in a service that has a monthly fee that’s added to your phone bill. You can also get these charges if you call a 900 number to claim a prize.

Or, you may get the charges if you enroll in a contest. While you think you’re signing up for a chance to win a prize, the FTC says you’re actually giving your information to strangers who may be up to no good. Make sure you read the fine print, because sometimes that entry form is permission to enroll you in a service.

Protecting yourself
To protect yourself, you can have 900 numbers blocked from going through on your phone line. Also, make sure your computer has up to date security software so malicious software programmers can’t download what the FTC calls “dialer programs” to your computer. The FTC says these programs redirect your modem and cause it to call a 900 number.

Getting the charges removed
Many of the cramming companies will tell you that you ordered something online. Ask for proof of the order, the name, address, or email used on the account. The name given obviously wasn’t mine and the operator quickly realized that. Someone just used my phone number so I’d pay the bill. That didn’t happen.

I called the company and sat on hold for 10-15 minutes. I finally got through to a representative for the company that crammed my bill. The customer service representative gave me a name of a man and asked if I knew him. The representative explained that this individual filled out a form online for this product and in error put my phone number into the form.

This is alarming considering I pay a premium fee to have that number unlisted. Without any hesitation, the representative removed the charge but mentioned it would take 2-3 billing cycles to be credited to my account. Plus, the company already went ahead and billed for the next month so it will be on the next bill as well.

Make sure you get a cancellation number when you get the charges removed, then call AT&T and let them know that number and that you will not be paying that portion of your bill.

Phone company responds
The phone company, AT&T, told me substantially less than 1% of bills with third-party charges result in cramming complaints. My story on this, though, generated a lot of similar stories. Maybe people just aren’t complaining to the phone company. I did – I fought that $15 charge.

AT&T was helpful and made sure the charges were removed. You have to call the actual vendor, though, to get them to remove it off your bill. AT&T just verifies it and notes the dispute in your account.

Report cramming or slamming to the Federal Trade Commission or your Attorney General.


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