Phone Cramming: How to beat the scam


12 Years
Jan 27, 2007
Phone cramming (tacking charges on one's phone bill from services that have nothing to do with the communications utility you are paying for) has been sucking up petty cash for the LEC's (Local Exchange Carriers, e.g., Verizon Centel, etc.) since 1996 when the `96 Telecommunications act went active. In this law there is a `needle's eye' that the phone carriers have been slipping through. In essence, the badly worded section prevents one LEC from preventing another LEC's charges from appearing on a customer's bill (ostensibly to prevent anti-competitive/monopolistic behavior). In truth, the only purpose of including this language at all (and, why would another LEC not send out their own bill? They also make some pretty cute apologies for this, as well) was to indulge in skimming (to the tune of 10-20 billion a year). The `Third Parties' aren't other communication utilities at all (more on that in a moment).

The FCC recently held hearings on this matter, again. The FCC, agreed, the last time around, in 1999, to allow the LEC's to use `voluntary' self-regulation. This time around both the FCC and LEC's admit that it is an ongoing problem that hasn't been solved. However, the industry is still demanding "light touch legislation", i.e., "something else we can find our way around to continue milking our customers and spread the joy further into the wireless market".

How do I know the scheme is an utter fraud? Because if one is persistent and threatens to file a complaint with one's State's Attorney General, they cough up a full refund for multiple year's of charges in hope's the complainant will go away happy without actually filing a complaint (how they remain under the radar).

Step one: When signing a contract for phone service always demand that all THIRD PARTY CHARGES be blocked from your number(s). If you do not do this you WILL be `opted-in' (this `service' is a silent `opt-out' system, "hey, we're providing you with a free service, you won't complain...").

Step two: If you already have service (particularly wire-line) call your LEC and tell them to place a `pic-block'/ `crown-block' (terminology varies by carrier - just say NO **** third party charges!).

Step three: How to negotiate your way to a full refund (dealt with this in the late `90's with Verizon, for a relative - Just cleaned up a mess, today: CentLink).

Cass is old school (everything on paper and neatly organized and no bill/receipt thrown away). The digital age makes her queasy. She refuses to permit my `simplying' her system (though I have everything from `80-`02 scanned in at present - the paper trail remains boxed for future reference). When a charge appeared on the phone bill for something called Real Smart Email she called CenturyLink and asked about it. As we had just started our DSL the customer rep assured her it was `probably related to your DSL service'. She didn't check with me. I happened to be taking care of the bills last month and immediately knew what was going on (7th page of bill - Centlink included charge in total ph. amount). Charges were small $14.95 a month and had been going on since Nov. of `10. As we've never had a problem (two landlines with a total of 40yrs of service with three different LEC's) I'd never bothered to block the numbers. Had we not reached a certain age and started DSL service we'd have probably never been included in the demographic of those who will Pay and not notice or complain (they also like to hit small businesses that don't use an outside accountant to check bills and those who might fall behind on payments - sign them up on a $5.95 a month service called `We're So, it is true, I expected phone service and got trash fed down the line.

A quick call to CentLink to get the block placed on the numbers (customer rep: `we have to place those charges on your bill. It is `crack' in the law' and this "slips through" yada yada...)
Call the third party billing `aggregator' (PaymentOne) and they simply forward me to Real Smart Email (a bogus website that, if you like, will allow you to send all your email through their address and sort it all into neat folders - what most folks do in a few minutes with their own email client). They also tell you upfront, on their website, that `some' private information may be shared with other parties. I can imagine some tech clueless phone customer, seeing this on their bill, would actually go to the website and create their already paid for account with these data thieves. The phone company denies responsibility, the billing aggregator just passes on the charge from the third party client and the customer, who `signed-up' for the service (though no record exists of the email permission supposedly given - `given', I might add, through some 4th party), pays all three parties (and probably the 4th) a cut of the action out of their pocket.

Customer rep at RSEM first states that we had signed up for their service through a website: (another scam site). That a verification email had been sent (it hadn't - I have Outlook PSTs going way back and checked) and a `courtesy call' had been made but that it reached an answering machine (could be true - we never answer until spoken to and never talk to business solicitors). I demanded that a copy of the email request be sent (didn't have it, so sorry). After a bit of back and forth he agreed to refund three months of the payments (DO NOT AGREE - ESCALATE). If I had agreed to the three months and the promise to check into the rest - well, I'd have never seen any more than that three months refund. Before escalating my call to a supervisor he tried to sign me up for some other service (the cheek of these fellows my, my). On reaching a supervisor (obviously transferred back to U.S. from the sound of it) I simply stuck to my guns: The charge was fraudulent, I would be filing with the FCC/FTC/State Attorney General, regardless, and just wanted to know what I would have to report about how they handled the fraud (another ten minutes on hold). He returned and, instead of his starting position: "you signed up for it /you had over a year to complain and haven't" he stated that a full refund would be made (minus taxes - squeeze that eagle, boys...).

The full amount (charges from 11/10-1/12 $238. will be showing up as a credit on our phone bill. When it does I'll send off all the paperwork to agencies listed above. The reason these clowns continue is because they are very good at data mining for likely targets and they pay up when pressed (no complaint filed) this provides them with sufficient lobbying money to prevent any `disadvantgeous' changes to the law so as to continue to force customers to opt-out rather than opt-in to their scam. If it was so useful and beneficial to their customers why isn't ii an upfront `opt-in' pay-for-it-service?

Have fun and don't take any guff from swine.
Just a FYI on a January evening when shoveling actual chicken `poop' (sic) isn't enough
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8 Years
Apr 21, 2011
Katy, TX
Not much to say other than keep up the good fight. It is ridiculous what companies can get away with these days. We haven't noticed any cramming on our phone bills yet, but if/when it does happen I will be making a big stink about it.

Mark my words!

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