Some companies will bill you for services you never ordered/requested
Unauthorized, misleading, or deceptive charges placed on your telephone bill is a practice called cramming – and another way for consumers to be scammed.
The Ledger received a call recently regarding cramming. The caller stated that her telephone bill normally runs around $80, but her most recent bill reflected a charge that was higher than normal. When she called her telephone provider to inquire why, she was told the account holder – her husband – had approved the service, which was not true. When the husband made contact with the provider and stated he had not authorized the service, the company canceled the service, and agreed to credit the amount to the caller's account, after the payment was made.
The caller plans not to make the payment. This is an example of cramming.
Some companies will bill you for services you never ordered/requested until you notice it on your bill and call to inquire on it. In this case, AT&T was the primary service provider, and the company issuing the charges was Enhanced Services Billing, Inc., who was collecting for Total Protection Plus, LLC.
In contacting the Better Business Bureau in St. Louis, The Ledger found that Total Protection Plus, LLC, currently has 29 complaints filed against the business for cramming. Based on BBB files, the business has a BBB rating of D on a scale from A+ to F. Total Protection Plus is not a BBB accredited business. However, the BBB has requested basic information from the company, and has not received a response. Without this information, BBB may not have current data concerning such things as the company's management or its nature of business. Of the 29 complaints processed by BBB in the last 36 months, 8 were closed in the last year and the contract issues have been resolved.
Business contact and profile information – from the BBB website – indicate that Total Protection Plus has branches in Clearwater, Fla. and Colleyville, Texas, that are still in operation. When called, an automated message says "Thank-you for calling ESBI – which stands for Enhanced Services Billing, Inc. Further research found that ESBI also has complaints filed for cramming charges through Embarq and Verizon telephone services as well.
Complaints made this year against ESBI for cramming are quite extensive, and appear from all over the nation – Minnesota, Texas, Maryland, Florida, Pennsyl-vania, California, Washing-ton, among other places.
Cramming is on the rise, according to the Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission.
"You might think that nothing bad can happen from giving out your telephone number, but you should guard those digits like you would a credit card or social security number," said Allison Southwick, a BBB spokesperson. "Monitor your monthly statements closely because even if you are very protective of your personal information, cramming can still strike."
How does cramming occur?
In addition to providing local telephone service, local telephone companies often bill their customers for long distance and other services that other companies provide. If a local telephone company, long distance telephone company, or another type of service provider either accidently or intentionally places unauthorized, misleading or deceptive charges on your bill, you may have been "crammed."
Cramming can also occur if a local or long distance company or another type of service provider does not clearly or accurately describe all of the relevant charges to you when marketing a service. Although you may have authorized the service, you did not understand or were misled about how much it would really cost.
Cramming charges come in many forms and are often hard to detect unless you closely review your telephone bill. Charges described as follows can be legitimate if you authorize them but, if unauthorized, could constitute cramming:
• Charges for services that are explained on your telephone bill in general terms such as "service fee," "service charge," "other fees," "voicemail," "mail server," "calling plan," "psychic," and "membership."
• Charges that are added to your telephone bill every month without a clear explanation of the services provided – such as a "monthly fee" or "minimum monthly usage fee," and
• Charges for an authorized service, but you were misled about its actual charge.
BBB recommends consumers take the following five steps to fight cramming:
• Keep a close eye on monthly statements. Anyone can become a victim of cramming so monitoring your monthly bills is extremely important. The sooner you spot the charges, the sooner you can fight them.
• Know your rights. Contact your telephone provider to see if you can completely restrict third-party billing on your account.
• Know whom you can trust online. Before handing over any personal information online, always research the business with your BBB at http://www.bbb.org/us/Find-Business-Reviews/.
• Guard your personal information closely. Be wary when asked to provide personal information to sign up for a free trial or enter a sweepstakes. Always read the fine print on any offer so you understand how your personal information may be used.
• Know where to complain. If you are unable to resolve the issue either through your telephone provider or directly with the business, file a complaint with the FCC for charges related to telephone service and FTC for all other cramming charges on your phone bill. You can also file a complaint with the BBB.
For more advice on managing personal finances, and protecting your wallet, visit the Better Business Bureau online at http://www.bbb.org/us/consumer-tips-finance/.