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The Corporate Observer A Publication by Attorneys Devoted to Protecting Consumer Rights

First Party Cramming: Send in Your Phone Bills…

Posted in Consumer Protection

Verizon recently settled a class action case by agreeing to forbid cramming on landline telephone bills.  Why did it take them so long to stop what is effectively a scam on customers?  You guessed it?  Money. Verizon was making a boatload of cash, somewhere around a third, of the crammed charge.

To begin, cramming deserves to be in the “flim flam”, “con job”, Hall of Fame.  Why?  Because it operates just below the radar and is annoying enough to grouse about; but who wants to spend two hours on a phone fighting with a Verizon rep.  Before you know it, consumers at large have been fleeced out of hundreds of millions.

A recent blog by Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumer League, discusses the root of the problem: “For years consumers have been discovering unauthorized charges on phone bills and to get rid of them, have had to go through 1-800 hell to get the charges removed.”  As Ms. Greenberg points out, it is just simply not worth the hassle to save that $9.99.  Then next month the consumer is faced with the same choice.  Next thing you know it is five months and $50 later before the consumer finally gathers up enough courage to make the call to Verizon.

Phone companies know this because they are the inventors of cramming. With all the recent talk about third-party cramming everyone seems to have forgotten about “first-party” cramming.

If Verizon or AT&T can put just a couple more cents on all their customers’ bills – instant profit.  You know that odd, $1.17 “line access” charge?  Or the $0.74 for access subscription?  Or how about the $1.99 unrestricted exchange fee?  Some might be legitimate and some not.  Some might be required by regulation, some may not.  How many consumers are going to take the time to call their phone company to understand what these charges are, let alone to dispute them?  The answer: very few.  If $9.99 isn’t enough to incentivize customers to go through “1-800 hell” then you can bet $1.99 isn’t going to do the trick.

So where does that leave us? With phone companies scamming hundreds of thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars, but each individual scam is so small as to go almost unnoticed.

This practice will simply continue unless, of course, we all start talking.

Do you have a phone bill with a mysterious charge?

Have you contacted the phone company about it only to find they can’t answer your question?

Ask your neighbor. It will take all of our voices to end this practice.  Send us your phone bill – because we need ammunition for the battle ahead.

Assisted by Lauren E. Connell.