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How to protect yourself from smartphone bill cramming

Brian S Hall | July 21, 2014
You might not be familiar with the term "cramming." But if you're not careful, it could be costing you money on your mobile phone bill each month.

Is T-Mobile being singled out?
Unlikely, despite the public protestations of the "Uncarrier." A central element of the FTC's complaint against T-Mobile is that its bills, including its online bill site, made it extremely difficult for customers to uncover any bogus charges. In addition, the FTC alleges that rather than offering a full or even partial refund when its customers spotted a charge they didn't authorize, in many cases T-Mobile simply referred the customer to the third-party operating the disputed service.

Can I get a refund on a charge, even if the cramming has stopped?
T-Mobile declined to directly answer my questions on cramming, though a spokesperson pointed me to its Premium Services Refund Program FAQ. The FAQ says that refunds for "unauthorized premium text message charges" have already been issued to some customers, with the remainder scheduled to receive their refunds between the end of this month and September.

Don't want to wait that long? The company has a dedicated website available for you to file a claim. (You'll also find a more extensive FAQ linked on that page.)

Note: if you believe you are the victim of cramming for a charge other than "premium text message" services, you should contact T-Mobile directly.

Isn't cramming easy to spot?
No. When the FTC examined cramming on landlines back in 2012, they estimated only 1 in 20 victims were aware of the unwarranted charges. Blame your bill, which is oftentimes long and confusing. The FTC's investigation of T-Mobile for example, revealed a 123-page bill, with many hidden charges inside.

But T-Mobile is hardly alone here. AT&T's own sample bill, which the carrier uses to educate consumers, contains three pages of charges, fees, taxes, plan descriptions and advertisements--and this does not include the numerous additional pages which break out the various calls, texts, and data services for the prior month.

How can I prevent from getting crammed?
Start by reviewing your bill every month--yes, that won't be a highlight of your month, but it's the best way to spot unauthorized charges. Contact your carrier as soon as you spot any charge that looks suspicious. Even small amounts, such as $1.99, add up. If you did not authorize a charge, you are not responsible. However, there are no set rules for how long a carrier must refund a disputed charge.

The CTIA, a lobbying organization for the wireless industry, told me that if you are still receiving a "premium content subscription" you wish to cancel, simply text "stop" to the content provider. If the provider is following industry rules, your text will stop the recurring charges.


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