Is Your Phone Bill Being Crammed?

Category: Telephony

If you haven't been reading your phone bill line by line, it's time to start. Phone bill cramming - the insertion of unauthorized charges - is a rapidly growing form of fraud. Here's how to detect bogus charges on your phone bill, and what you can do about it...

Phone Bill Cramming

According to a study conducted by the Federal Communications Commission, the practice known as cramming is on the rise. And the majority of victims don't even realize they are being scammed.

Only one in 20 victims of cramming noticed the bogus charge(s) on their phone bill, the study found. Perhaps that's because phone bills are often many pages long and crammed line items are notoriously vague. Customers tend to just pay their bills without reviewing them in detail. The result can be hundreds of dollars per year in fraudulent charges.

Unlike identity theft, cramming is scandalously easy. The perpetrator only needs your phone number, which may be had from a directory. One woman was charged for 25 months of long distance service that she never ordered. When she protested, the company sent her an "authorization form" that showed the wrong name, mailing address, email address, and birth date. Only her phone number was correct.
Phone Bill Cramming

Crammers also con victims into providing their phone numbers. You may get a call offering a "free service" with a request for your "daytime phone number" to arrange delivery. An online survey may request a phone number in case "followup" is needed. When you sign up for a "free trial" you may not notice the fine print that says your phone number will be billed for a subscription if you don't cancel soon enough.

Crammed charges typically range between $1.99 and $19.99. They may be described simply as "service fee," "membership," "call plan," or something equally vague, despite FCC rules requiring clear, plain-English disclosures.

How to Fight Bogus Charges

If you discover an unfamiliar charge on your phone bill, its description should include a phone number at which you can contact the vendor. Call and demand proof that you authorized the charges, as well as an accounting of all charges that have been made since the alleged authorization. If the "authorization" is bogus, demand that the charges be refunded.

While speaking to them, mention the FCC frequently; that regulatory agency can fine a vendor who racks up too many cramming complaints. In many cases, crammers will refund money (after much wrangling) to avoid exposure. Of course, you should still report any cramming incident on the FCC's Web site ( or you can call (888) 225-5322.

If the vendor won't refund your money, contact your phone company. Phone companies make money from third-party cramming, but they'd often rather keep a bread-and-butter customer.

You can ask your phone company to block all third-party billing on your phone bill. But that may prevent you from buying services you actually want.

As a general rule, do not provide your phone number to anyone you have no reason to trust. Examine your phone bill for bogus charges every month. If you get burned by a crammer, persistence and loud complaints are your best hope of a refund.

Have you found evidence of cramming on YOUR phone bill? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Is Your Phone Bill Being Crammed?"

Posted by:

29 Jun 2011

Excellent article. Once again, Bob, timely, as usual.

I learned years ago, to never give my information over the phone, to anyone. I haven't ordered anything by phone in years, for that same reason.

I haven't experienced any 'cramming' on my phone bill, to date. I usually, look over my phone bill on a monthly basis, especially when it is more than normal.

You know, some things are just common sense. I live in an area now, where people still leave their home doors and cars unlocked & they are amazed that some would dare to rob them. I grew up in the Los Angeles area & learned decades ago, to protect myself & my property.

Many times, the simplest way to prevent bad things from happening, is to just lock things up or checks things routinely, like your bills. It's called common sense & continually checking everything in your life. Now, that may sound paranoiac, but that is the way of the world, these days

Posted by:

Tom S.
29 Jun 2011

Also watch out on your c.c. bill as well. I am seeing unauthorized charges in the range of between $7 to $9 every few months as well.

Posted by:

Stan Cobb
29 Jun 2011

I am using comcast cable for my phone. However, I have been receiving countless phone calls from a 1-800 service and have placed block on them but I continue to get these calls. If I let them go into voice mail, there is no message, and if I answer the call, no one is on the other end. This is at all ours of the day. I receive 3-5 calls per day. I would like to know if anyone else has this problem and what is going on. I have an unlimited call plan so I should not be getting billed for calls.

Posted by:

30 Jun 2011

I was a victim of cramming. I was charged 19.99 plus taxes and fees for an online fax service, which was absurd. My husband and I are the only residents, so we knew the authorization was totally bogus and unfounded. Trying to explain this to our phone company at first was useless. They merely gave us the number of the "crammer", who assured us they would remove the charges and reimburse our money. The "crammer" stopped answering their phone. Imagine that?! Well, after several months of frustration and calling our phone company finally refunded our money. They offered to block third party billing, for a fee of course. I think it's ridicuous! When I call my phone company I have to provide my account number and the last four digits of my social security number to get any information, but a third party crammer can waltz in and place a bogus charge on my account without so much as an authorization. But my phone company wants me to pay to block them! Where is the justice?! Just another shaft for the honest, hard-working American citizen in my book. If I sound angry, I guess it's because I am. No apologies for this one.

Posted by:

30 Jun 2011

@ Stan Cobb,

I have had those phone calls, as well. Boy, are they very, very annoying, too!!! Mostly, on my home phone, but one call was on my cell phone.

In doing research, I found this website that handles almost ALL of these kinds of phone calls, as well as other 'odd' phone calls.

Check it out. It is interesting what other people have found out about these kind of calls. Note: not all the phone numbers listed are '800' numbers, many are regular Area Code numbers, that are doing the same thing or more.

Posted by:

Rohan Wickramasinghe
09 Jul 2011

In some locations/phone companies, the customer has the option of receiving his monthly phone with/without details of individual calls. To receive a detailed breakdown of individual calls, one has to pay a small supplementary charge (around $1 in my country)each month. Interestingly, once I asked the phone company to include the detailed breakdown on my monthly bill, the monthly bill became very noticeably reduced! Rohan

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