If you have ever received your phone bill and, upon reviewing it, noticed unexplained charges for services that you did not permit or never used, it is likely that you have been crammed. Cramming is a common telephone billing scam by unethical companies that charge customers for services they do not want and did not authorize.

Charges may be small and appear as fees, often leading a client to think it is a normal part of their bill. The most typical amount for a cramming charge is $9.99, though some may be bigger, usually up to $24.95.

How Does Cramming Happen?

Characteristic deceptive practices that corrupt companies may use include the following:

  • International Calls: Adult entertainment services will commonly tell customers to call a phone number that sounds unusual. The customer dials the number, which turns into an international phone call, and the adult company rakes in cash for the time the customer spends on the line.
  • 800 Number Calls: Psychic lines, adult dating lines, and adult entertainment services will often answer with a pre-recorded message, encouraging the customer to state their name and approve the service. The customer is automatically enrolled in the service without talking to a person and charged.
  • “Free Minute” Deals: Advertisements that offer clients a “free” block of time to sample the service will place customers on hold, deducted from their free minutes.

What Should I Do If I Have Been Crammed?

If you have been crammed, contact your phone carrier and tell them to shut off third-party billing. The company should tell you more about the charge, and you should be able to debate it. You should then file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

You can also file a complaint with your state Attorney General’s office or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Even if you have received reimbursement for unauthorized charges, you should still file a complaint.

Avoid entering your mobile phone number on unsecured websites to prevent future cramping. If you receive an unsolicited text message, it could signify a scam. Check your phone bill frequently, and make sure your phone carrier blocks third-party charges.

What Is the Federal Trade Commission?

The Federal Trade Commission Act designated the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 1914. Its goal is to protect consumers and stop certain business practices that take advantage of consumers and squeeze other businesses out.

An example would be the FTC regulating companies from forming monopolies or conquering the market. This is also known as antitrust regulation. The FTC protects both consumers and businesses.

The following is a partial list of activities the FTC undertakes:

  • Defending consumers from false advertising and other forms of fraud;
  • Implementing a variety of laws related to consumer credit;
  • Regulating business marketing and warranty practices; and
  • Enforcing laws and trade regulation rules and developing new rules to protect the marketplace.

The FTC’s primary objective is to ensure that the markets are strong, efficient, and free of restrictions. Therefore, the FTC tries to enforce consumer protection laws that prevent fraud, deceit, and unfair business practices.

What Does the Bureau of Consumer Protection Do?

This Bureau of the FTC is accountable for implementing rules created by the FTC and laws enacted by Congress on consumer protections. Its actions include:

  • Managing complaints and performing investigations;
  • Suing businesses and individuals that break the law;
  • Making regulations to keep a fair marketplace; and
  • Educating consumers and companies about their rights and obligations.

The Bureau has eight regional offices in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, and Dallas. It also has eight divisions.

What Are the Responsibilities of the Bureau’s Divisions?

The FTC has a wide range of responsibilities, but within the Bureau, they have formed separate divisions that oversee the following concerns:

  • Division of Privacy and Identity Protection: handles identity theft, consumer privacy, and credit reporting issues.
  • Division of Advertising Practices: enforces federal truth-in-advertising laws.
  • Division of Consumer and Business Education: creates educational materials in various formats to help consumers and businesses stay familiarized with their privileges and obligations.
  • Division of Enforcement: litigates and coordinates with law enforcement.
  • Division of Marketing Practices: enforces consumer protection regulations by filing actions on behalf of the FTC to stop scams, stop scam artists from repeating their fraudulent methods, freeze assets, and get compensation for victims.
  • Division of Consumer Response and Operations: takes data and analyzes it to decide whether the FTC’s efforts at consumer protection are successful.
  • Division of Financial Practices: creates policy and enforces regulations related to financial and lending practices affecting consumers.
  • Division of Litigation Technology and Analysis: working with attorneys and determining the efficacy of technology used in litigation.

Who Regulates the Communications and Media Industry?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the United States communication and media industry. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and regulated interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. The FCC’s jurisdiction covers the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions.

What Are the Goals of the FCC?

The following are FCC objectives affecting the communications and media industry:

  • Promoting Competition: Help the Nation’s economy by ensuring a comprehensive and proper competitive framework for communications services. Such a framework should foster innovation and offer consumers a meaningful service choice. Such a pro-competitive framework should be encouraged domestically and overseas.
  • Broadband: Appoint regulatory policies that encourage competition, innovation, and investment in broadband services and facilities while watching progress toward deploying broadband services in the United States and abroad.
  • Media: Modify media regulations so that media ownership rules encourage competition and diversity in a comprehensive, legally sustainable manner and facilitate the mandated migration to digital delivery modes.
  • Homeland Security: Provide oversight in assessing and supporting the Nation’s communications infrastructure, ensuring rapid restoration of that infrastructure in a disturbance, and ensuring that important public health and safety personnel have adequate communications services available to them in crises.

Are There Federal & State Protections Against Cramming?

The FTC, FCC, and state Attorney Generals from 40 states have taken a firm stance against cramming, with steep penalties. For example, the FCC fined three carriers $11 million for using misleading sales practices in recent years.

Another cramming schemer was called to surrender more than $1.2 million in assets to the FTC. Protecting the consumer has become a top priority for the FTC and the crackdown on illegal activity.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Cramming Problem?

If you have been crammed, you should immediately contact your phone carrier and file a claim with the FTC and FCC. If your carrier refuses to alter the charges and the FTC/FCC does not give you any recourse, then an experienced consumer lawyer can help. Your lawyer will be able to advise you of your rights and provide guidance on the steps you should take to defend yourself.

Nevertheless, cramming and similar scams can be common, and your carrier may have a protocol for when it happens. You must contact your carrier and file a complaint, then wait for responses from both before you contact a lawyer for help. A lawyer will not be able to help you until you’ve exhausted the other options.