Phone cramming: Companies tacking charges on your phone bill - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Phone cramming: 3rd party companies tacking charges on your phone bill


MADISON (WKOW) -- Got a phone line? Then listen up. You could be billed tens, hundreds, even thousands of dollars for services you don't want or even ask for.

It's called phone cramming. It's happening all over the country and our area is no exception.

When UW-Platteville student Emily Neal took out her phone bill one month, she found something buried in the fine print. It was a $10 charge for a premium text messaging service.

"I was really confused and rather angry because I had no recollection at any point in time of ever signing up for anything like this, I didn't even really know what it was, "said Neal.

The fees can get so much worse.

Mai Vue of Madison says her family's phone company claims they owe $1,500. And that's not even counting the $750 Vue's family has already paid.

Her parents were charged for supposedly accepting 50 collect calls in one month, sometimes six in a single day. The phone bills show all the calls came from the same city, where the family says they don't know anyone.

"To me, when your local phone bill is an average of $25 to $65 a month and it skyrockets to $700 to $1,500, something, a lightbulb is going to go off and say something's wrong here," said Vue.

Both of these cases have something in common: Their charges came from third party companies and that's exactly how phone cramming usually works. Fraudsters fool your phone company into thinking you used a special phone service. Your phone company then tacks the charge onto your bill.

But in the cases of Neal and Vue, the third party companies insisted the charges were legitimate, so neither has been able to get them off.

Vue has been fighting the fees for two years.

"It's just been a nightmare for my parents ever since," Vue said. "Now they have a bill of $1,500 that's gone to collections and it's affecting my dad's credit."

Across the country, the Federal Communications Commission estimates 20 million Americans get hit with false charges every year with $2 billion paid out.

And it's not just people that fall victim.

According to documents obtained by 27 News, the City of Madison has paid $4,637.31 in unauthorized fees since 2009.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin's staff has been working for months to get that money back and finally started getting re-imbursement checks from AT&T last month. City staffers are now working to get charges back from before 2009.

"What's important is the principle," said Soglin.

Consumers who have been less lucky say they're hoping their stories help others in the fight to hang up on cramming fees for good.

So what can you do to fight the fees?

  • Review your phone bill closely every month
  • Protest any charge that seems mysterious
  • Avoid calling 900 numbers
  • And most important -- Call your phone company and have them to block all third party charges.

There are a few helpful links at the top of this page.

Powered by Frankly