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Beat the new ‘cramming’ scams

Last reviewed: August 2010
Illustration of cereal box pouring dollar signs onto a bill
Illustration by Daniel Horowitz

Cramming, a major rip-off in the 1990s that involved placing unauthorized charges on telephone bills, is back with some new twists. Last year the Federal Trade Commission received more than 3,000 complaints about cramming charges on landline, cellular, and VoIP accounts. And the growing use of cell phones as a payment device, for activities such as charitable contributions and mobile banking, creates fertile ground for crammers.

A decade ago, cramming involved inflated, undisclosed charges for calls to 800 and 900 telephone numbers. Today cramming might occur when small fees are placed on your bill by “aggregators” on behalf of third-party service providers for such services as voice mail, collect calls, Web hosting, e-books, software downloads, online games, donations, and subscriptions. In most cases, the fees are legitimate, but if you didn’t order the service, the charges could violate federal law as unfair and deceptive billing practices.

Last January, John Arwe, a computer programmer from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., found a $15 charge on his Verizon bill for voice mail from Access Savings, a thirdparty biller, placed there by OAN Services, an aggregator. Arwe says he never ordered the service. The next month he found a pair of $8 charges for voice mail from My Billing Services, put there by The Billing Resource, an aggregator. He never authorized those, either, he says.