Want to lower your monthly mobile phone bill? The best place to start is to end cramming.
Cramming is the term for small unauthorized charges that have been added to your phone bill by a third party.
These charges take a variety of forms, ranging from one-time fees to monthly subscriptions, and they may be listed under generic billing names that sound like regular phone services. If you’re not familiar with your bill, you may not realize you’re being charged.
Cramming has existed since the era of landlines but now it’s also becoming a widespread problem on cell phones. Luckily, most phone service providers and cell phone carriers allow you to dispute these unauthorized charges — if you catch them in time.
Let’s review how cramming happens, how you can stop it (and thereby lower your bill) and the steps you should take to prevent third parties and scammers from cramming your bill in the future.
Fine Print and Outright Scams: How Your Phone Bill Gets Crammed
There are two primary types of cramming: cramming committed by real companies practicing shady business tactics, and cramming committed by outright scammers.
A third party may cram your phone bill when you purchase extra services or download apps for your smartphone. You are opting in, but the company is deceptive about what it’s actually charging you.
There may be additional fees or subscription charges associated with your purchase, but they’re buried deep in the fine print or disguised in heavy legal jargon.
Scammers, on the other hand, can find sneaky ways to cram even if you don’t opt in to their services.
Scammers may trick you with “free” downloads for cell phone items like wallpaper or ringtones, acquire your phone number from a black market affiliate list, or even blast out spam messages and then start charging anyone who replies “STOP.”
Both types of cramming can sneak onto your phone account under innocent-sounding billing names such as Minimum Use Fee, Activation Fee, Voice Mail or Member Fee. The most devious schemes may also keep their charges as low as $2 or $3 a month.
By using a generic name and a low fee, they’re hoping you’ll overlook the charge or just assume it’s a standard part of your bill.
Take Control Over Your Phone Bill
So how can you protect yourself from cramming? It’s easy. Read your phone bill!
Check your bill every month, line by line. Most bills itemize each charge, so if you see a product or service listed that you don’t recognize, call your service provider and ask about it.
Identify the regular monthly charges that are part of your plan so you’ll be able to spot anything unusual.
Know how much you pay every month. If your bill suddenly goes up, even by a few dollars, examine it closely and find out why.
Remember, cramming won’t show up as “Scam Charge, $10” — it will be listed as something completely different, often under the name of a service that sounds legitimate. The FTC advises consumers to keep an eye open for the following kinds of charges:
- Charges for long-distance calls you know you didn’t make
- Charges from companies you’ve never heard of
- Charges associated with unfamiliar area codes
- Membership or subscription fees
If you discover an unfamiliar charge, call your service provider right away to dispute it.
Prevent Future Phone Bill Cramming
Because so many phone service providers allow charges from third parties, virtually anyone could be hit with cramming charges. We recommend you take the following steps to reduce your risk of cramming:
1. Avoid using your number in contest entries. Many contests are created for malicious affiliate marketing programs and your phone number may be sold to a scammer. If you insist on entering contests and the contest insists that it needs your number, sign up for Google Voice to get an alternate forwarding number.
2. Watch out for “toll free” numbers. Be aware that many “toll free” entertainment hotlines may transfer you to a paid 900 line or automatically enroll you in a monthly membership. Listen carefully to all the rules stated when you call, and if you think you’ve missed something, get transferred to a customer service operator or hang up and consult the hotline’s website for its full terms of service.
3. Always read the fine print! Don’t download any apps or join subscription services without reading the fine print very carefully. Shady companies may cram your bill by advertising something as free when it’s actually a free trial — and by downloading the app, you’ve just opted into monthly charges without realizing it.
4. Call your cell phone provider. Your phone carrier may have options to block third-party charges, app, collect calls and 900 numbers. Call customer service to find out how you can guard yourself from unwanted charges.
5. Be careful when sharing your phone. If you let your friends or family members play games on your smartphone, make sure they don’t click on any in-game advertisements or download apps without your permission. Your friend might open the door for cramming charges without being aware of it.
Share Your Phone Bill Horror Stories & Tips
Have you ever experienced unauthorized charges crammed onto your phone bill? Do you have any tips to prevent cramming? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
If you suspect a company has charged you without your authorization, click here to submit a complaint on Scambook.