Consumer Guide: Cramming
What Is CRAMMING?
CRAMMING is a practice where a company places unauthorized charges for telephone and non-telephone related services on your local telephone bill. Some of these charges may appear on your telephone bill in terms that do not clearly state what service was provided, such as "enhanced services," "access," "activation," or "minimum usage fees."
How Does CRAMMING Occur?
Some of the ways consumers become CRAMMING victims are through:
sweepstakes or contest entry forms;
advertisements for information or entertainment services that are available
through 900 numbers; and
free offers that trigger an automatic sign-up for a service such as "voice mail," along with a monthly service fee.
CRAMMING charges are often disguised on local telephone bills as every day phone services and explained in general terms such as: activation, membership, and minimum usage fees; enhanced services; equipment deposits; calling plans; travel service and discount packages; and adult entertainment chat lines.
How Do I Know I've Been CRAMMED?
You usually will not realize you have been crammed until the name of a company that you do not recognize, charging for services that you did not order, appears on your local telephone bill.
How Can CRAMMING Charges Be Placed on Local Telephone Bills?
In the past, your local telephone company was required to provide billing and collection services for an approved fee to other telephone companies. Now that telephone billing and collection services are competitive, your local telephone company can offer its billing and collection services to companies on a non-discriminatory basis, including businesses that sell products or services.
Most of the businesses that use local telephone company billing and collection services are "billing warehouses." Billing warehouses offer billing and/or customer complaint handling services to numerous other individual companies. These "billing warehouses" then bundle the billing information and contract with local telephone companies to bill and collect from the local telephone companies' customers on behalf of the businesses.
The customer charges submitted by a billing warehouse on behalf of a client appear on a separate page of your local telephone company's bill. This separate page states the name of the billing warehouse and the number to call for billing inquiries. The name of the company that actively "provided" the service should also appear on the bill. A billing inquiry number will not be listed for the company that is providing the service or products, if it has also contracted with the billing warehouse to handle customer services in addition to billing services.
This "multi-layered" billing process frequently causes confusion and makes it difficult to recognize if the charges appearing on your local telephone company's bill are legitimate or not. Bell Atlantic and other local telephone companies will remove unauthorized charges from customers' bills upon request and have started to discontinue billing services for any company that has been found guilty of cramming.
What Can I Do If I Think I've Been CRAMMED?
your monthly telephone bill carefully as you would any other bill (i.e., a credit card bill).
the company shown on your telephone bill that provided any charges that are questionable or in dispute.
the company providing the charges, or the billing warehouse, to explain the charges.
that a billing adjustment be issued for any incorrect charges. Your local and long distance services will not be terminated due to non- payment of these charges. However, you need to approach the same provider or billing warehouse to resolve the charges to avoid independent collection attempts.
your local telephone company and request the removal of incorrect charges from your bill if the company responsible for the charges or the billing warehouse will not remove them.
a complaint with the proper regulatory agency listed below.
For calls or telephone services provided within New York State,
New York State Public Service Commission
Office of Consumer Services
Three Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12223-1350
Toll-free HELPLINE: 1-800-342-3377
Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For calls and telephone services provided outside of New York State:
Federal Communications Commission
Common Carrier Bureau
Consumer Protection Branch
Mail Stop 1600A2
Washington, D.C. 20554
For non-telephone service charges to your telephone bill,
such as psychic hotlines:
Attorney General's Office
New York State Department of Law
New York, NY 10271
Federal Trade Commission
Public Reference Branch
Washington, D.C. 20580