Has your mobile phone been crammed?

Wen Chao
Wen Chao
Atty. Duane Pozza
Atty. Duane Pozza

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Ever get one of those texts with dating tips, weight loss advice or horoscope info and brush it off as spam?

Check your mobile phone bill: you may have been crammed.

Cramming is when companies illegally put extra charges on your account without your permission.

This was a huge problem back in the "landline phone" days. But mobile phones are crammers new target! Costing mobile phone users hundreds of millions every year.

When a text, offering Wen Chao a deal to download mobile content for $9.99 a month appeared on her phone, she ignored it.

But when this second one popped up from the same sender, with a strange note about war and peace, she opened it, "I thought oh maybe it's from a friend whose number I don't have in the contacts," Chao said.

Chao said she called her mobile phone carrier to block future mystery messages, and got some shocking news, "I was told that by the act of opening the text message I had consented to what they were trying to sell me."

Remember that 9.99 charge? The charge appeared on Chao's bill as "premium messaging".

Chao said, "It's all very sneaky."

Industry experts say charges like this are costing consumers more than $600 million each year.

The Federal Trade Commission is cracking down, and recently filed its very first case against a company for mobile cramming.

Atty. Duane Pozza with the FTC said, "We're very concerned about what we see as a growing number of complaints."

Thousands of complaints-that's how many the FTC says it has gotten, but they say, you could be a victim and not even know it!

Pozza said, "Many consumers overlook the charges on their phone bill, so the complaints that we see really are just the tip of the iceberg."

Consumers miss these charges, the feds say, because they appear on mobile phone bills as innocuous sounding fees like: standard rate plan, member fee, and voicemail.

So why don't cell phone companies, that also profit when third party companies charge your bill, make these fees more prominent?

John Walls with CTIA said, "If you have thousands of different kinds of services available that wouldn't be practical for a billing system to be able to specifically list those thousands. I mean that would be a pretty expensive proposition."

The wireless industry trade association, CTIA, says carriers haven't received a lot of cramming complaints.

And, most major mobile phone companies and vendors follow best practices that require third parties make consumers aware they'll be charged.

Walls said, "Carriers make it very clear when they take on a relationship with a third party vendor like this, that there are certain rules of the road you have to follow here, and we're going to work awfully hard to keep you from doing anything to our consumer if you will that's not lawful."

There's no federal law giving you the right to dispute questionable mobile phone charges like there is with your credit card, and it's a carrier-by-carrier decision.

Chao was able to convince hers to remove the charges and is still stunned this even happened.

Chao said, "You really need to be vigilant when you pay your bills."

The FCC is considering requiring mobile carriers make third party charges more obvious on phone bills.  In the meantime, if you're concerned about being crammed, you can call your cell phone company and ask them to block any third party charges from being billed to your account.

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