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TMCNet:  CUB rep says to fight wireless 'crammers'

[December 06, 2012]

CUB rep says to fight wireless 'crammers'

Dec 06, 2012 (Journal Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- PEORIA You'd be wise to check over that monthly cellphone bill because there may be charges there that you didn't order.

Cramming -- the practice by third-party companies that "cram" charges on bills for services never ordered or received -- is on the rise for Illinois wireless customers, said Patrick Deignan, a community and media planner for the Citizens Utility Board.

"It's a growing problem. Scam artists may have declared open season on Illinois cellphone bills. Over the past year, third-party charges (on cellphone bills) nearly doubled in Illinois," said Deignan at a news conference Wednesday at the Peoria Public Library.

The charges are usually small -- often $10 or less -- but they add up for crammers, he said.

"Charges are hidden behind terms such as 'premium messaging' or 'download charge.' Only one in 20 people discover these charges on their bill since they're buried in a forest of fees," Deignan said.

There's a growing market for the practice with more than 12 million cellphone subscribers in Illinois alone, he said.

"Crammers did about $1.4 million in damage (this year) in Illinois and $59 million nationally," Deignan said, pointing to research indicating that third-party charges that appeared fraudulent in the state rose to 51 percent in 2012, up more than 26 percent from the previous year.

While Illinois has some of the toughest laws in the country to stop cramming on landline phone bills, those safeguards don't extend to wireless phone service, Deignan said.

CUB is calling for federal regulators to require wireless companies to make it easier for consumers to block third-party fees but the situation is complicated as more people rack up third-party charges when ordering games or ringtones or making charitable donations by cellphone, he said.

Some wireless companies even charge for blocking third-party charges, said Deignan.

Consumers who spot a suspicious charge on their bill should call the cramming company (whose telephone number should be listed on the bill) to dispute the charge, he said.

"Then call the cellphone carrier and inform them you're disputing the charge and only paying the portion that's uncontested. Then file a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General's office," said Deignan.

Consumers should be proactive to avoid hidden fees, he said. Beware of online contests and "free" offers that require giving out a wireless number, said Deignan, suggesting that people also register with DoNotCall.gov.

"Ask your carrier if it offers free fraud protections, such as blocks on texts or data," he said.

Steve Tarter can be reached at 686-3260 or starter@pjstar.com. Follow his blog, Minding Business, on pjstar.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveTarter.

___ (c)2012 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) Visit the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) at www.PJStar.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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