Crammed! A Shocking Utility Tale

My cell phone is billed directly to a rewards credit card, so I usually just give it a quick glance. Bad consumer! Bad! (Keep reading to see just how bad.)

A few days ago I happened to notice a charge under “monthly subscriptions.” I was being billed $19.99 for ringtones, a service I never received. Or even asked for: I wouldn't know how to download a ringtone if it meant the firing squad. The free one that came with my dumbphone is ring enough for me — and besides, I usually keep it on “silent.”

A closer look showed that the service was attached to my son-in-law's number (we have a family plan). I called the company to say that my SIL doesn't use ringtones.

The customer service rep suggested that maybe SIL ordered it and forgot to tell me — or that maybe he clicked one of those sneaky third-party deals, e.g., a “free trial” that turns into a subscription.

This delightful practice is called “cramming.” Once the province of landlines, it's spreading among cell users like a cough in a kindergarten.

A golden opportunity
For more than 10 years phone companies have been allowed to do “third-party billing,” i.e., to bill on behalf of other businesses. (Such as a ringtone provider.) This can be totally above-board if you actually requested the service. But it's a golden opportunity for shady companies, which lure in consumers with tactics like:

  • Inviting you to enter a “contest.” By filling out the form, you're unwittingly enrolling in a service, e.g., joke-of-the-day or horoscopes. (There are plenty of legitimate online contests out there. Read all rules carefully before giving out any personal information.)
  • Promoting a “free” deal. You might be required to call an 800 number, give your name and say “I want that.” Sometimes the service isn't really free, but you don't know that until you get your cell bill. (Assuming that you actually read it. Ahem.)
  • Luring you in with something like a free IQ test or free manufacturers coupons. By participating, you're signing up for something else. (Note: Obviously, not all such offers are bogus.)
  • Sneakiest of all: Getting hold of your number somehow and slipping a charge onto your bill.

In short, crammers are lying liars who lie — and then charge you for it.

Millions of victims
The Federal Communications Commission estimates that some 20 million consumers are being victimized each year. That's because the charges are easy to overlook. They're usually small (as little as $1.99) and vaguely described as something like “long distance” or “service fee.”

But these small charges add up to big business: In mid-June the FCC singled out four major crammers, proposing forfeitures of $11.7 million.

On July 12 the FCC proposed three new rules to cut crammers off at their deceitful knees:

  • Separation. Landline companies would have to be required to show third-party charges in a separate section of the bill.
  • Blocking. Often it's possible to block third-party charges, thereby ensuring a cram-free life. (Now they tell me!) Under the new rule, phone companies would have to let consumers know this on each and every bill and also on their websites.
  • Revenge! Okay, they didn't actually call it that. The new rule would require landline and wireless providers to put FCC complaint contact info on websites and bills so that customers could report their experiences.

Why didn't I notice?
The customer service rep canceled the ringtone service and said I'd be refunded for three months' worth of payments.

Three months? Could it have gone back that far without my noticing? Then a dim corner of my brain shuddered to life. Hadn't I asked my daughter about this before?

Sure enough: My e-mail history showed a communiqué from March 20. My daughter had replied that neither of them had ordered ringtones so I should dispute the charge.

And I certainly should have. But back in March I was coming off a year-plus of very frequent travel (home only about three months total). While house-sitting in Los Angeles in January I'd fallen down some steps, causing injuries that made the next month's trip to England a lot more exhausting than it had to be.

Throughout that hectic year I'd continued my usual pace of writing for four different sites. I also suffer from “mental-pause,” i.e., brain fog related to the climacteric. Sometimes I forget what I'm doing while I'm doing it. (Is this shampoo or conditioner that I'm rinsing from my hair? Did I just swallow a multivitamin or was it the thyroid medication? Why am I on a bus?)

Crammers live for consumers like me: too inattentive, preoccupied or exhausted to pay attention to our bills. And these companies thrive because it's up to the consumer — not the phone provider — to make sure that unwanted services are not being purchased.

And I don't even LIKE ringtones!
I almost didn't write this piece. It's the electronic equivalent of a “kick me” sign — a personal finance columnist who doesn't carefully scrutinize her utility bills! Who as a result paid out almost $120 in unnecessary charges! (Or would have, if the phone company hadn't kicked back three months' worth.)

It gets worse: The bogus charges might have gone back further than six months. I don't know, because I pay the bills as they arrive and then toss them.

Frankly, I don't want to know how long this went on. It's too depressing to take in what I paid out. I don't need a kick-me sign: I'm booting my own ass right now.

I can't believe I paid for ringtones I never used. I don't even like ringtones. They're annoying. Why can't the world operate on “vibrate”? I'm with Foamy the Squirrel, the cartoon character who suggests that one antidote to cell-phone noise pollution would be a ringtone that sounded like this:

“Hey! Follow the sound of my voice and kill whoever's holding the phone!”

(Warning to those who follow the above link: Foamy uses language that's not ready for prime time. Don't come crying to me if you're upset by the F-bomb.)

I decided to write the column after all, as a cautionary tale. Sometimes we don't pay attention. Sometimes we don't do what we know we should do. Sometimes life happens.

But life also goes on. So learn from my mistakes. Read your utility bills, whether you get them on paper or online. Dispute charges you don't recognize. Don't give a crammer a dime of your business. And if you find me on a bus looking confused, please e-mail J.D. and let him know that I might miss deadline.

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SB(One Cent At A Time)
SB(One Cent At A Time)
8 years ago

It might happen on your credit card bill too. For people with auto pay set up, should look in to their statements.

One best way would be to set a ‘check bills’ time every month or in every two weeks and on set time, check your credit card bills and utility bills. And make it a family ritual.

Look for not even the crammer charges but also the fees charged by the billing company itself. Compare with previous month’s bill and look for discrepancies.

Very appropriate post.

Vanessa
Vanessa
8 years ago

Now I don’t feel so silly for writing down my credit card purchases throughout the month. I compare my total with my credit card statement. If they don’t match, it’s usually because I’ve missed recording a transaction, but for the most part, they sync. I’m rarely surprised by anything on my bill.

STRONGside
STRONGside
8 years ago

I read a few articles on this last week when it got passed. It really does not surprise me that cell phone companies practice this. I am convinced that our cable company practice similar tactics as well. I have found phantom charges for “lease fees”, “service fees” and “Maintenance fees” on our cable/internet bill that could not be explained, and were immediately taken off when i called to complain. It definitely pays to be proctive in reviewing utility bills every month.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  STRONGside

This particular post refers not to the cell phone service providers but rather to third-party companies that put on phantom charges.
Although I’m in agreement about all the fees — the fact that a bill is so hard to read makes it easier for crammers to do what they do.

Jen
Jen
8 years ago

I was actually just listening to a congressional hearing on this on CSpan Radio – they held a hearing last Wednesday led by Jay Rockefeller of WVirginia. They mainly focused on landlines, but acknowledged that it is becoming a big problem with cell phones too. They are trying to figure out how to deal with it, whether by banning third party billing all together on landlines, or creating an “approved type of charge” list and banning everything else. If you are as upset about it as you sound, write to him and let him know he has your support! On… Read more »

elena
elena
8 years ago

Thanks for sharing this, for both the information about the different cramming scams and the reminder that stuff falls through the cracks sometimes.

Kevin
Kevin
8 years ago

I have a related billing problem with my own cell phone. It seems that in the past, someone else had my phone number. They canceled their service, and when I got my phone, they “recycled” the number and assigned it to me. I know this because for the first few months, I’d get the occassional text or phone call that was clearly meant for someone else. The problem, however, was that the previous owner had signed up for MSN Mobile alerts. Whenever he received an email at his Hotmail account, the service alerted him with a text message (and charged… Read more »

TomF
TomF
8 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

Did you contact MSN? Or send an email to the address (or can you not see the email address)? Paying for incoming messages and calls is a big scam. Of course not nearly as big as the rates for messages, which is an astronomical cost if considered in cost per megabyte. I have lived in several countries where you pay for outgoing and not incoming. I don’t mind paying for what I use. But if you cannot control incoming, why should you pay for it? Sure the airwaves are used, but then make the caller pay? The least the cell… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

My cell phone number used to belong to a professional party girl named Tiffany.

Once in a blue moon I still get a message, usually from some drunk-sounding guy calling from what sounds like a bar, and I used to get texts alerting me to the next great party.

But I don’t think I ever got charged for any of that. Just annoyed that the beyotch was still giving out that number.

Everyday Tips
Everyday Tips
8 years ago

This is a great reminder to not take our bills for granted. Scams are so prevalent. I admit I do not scrutinize my cell phone bill either, but the amount has always been the same. We have gotten billed on our credit card for something each quarter. The company is so hard to get a hold of that I haven’t been able to cancel yet. I don’t want to know how long that has been going on either…

By the way, I loved the “Why am I on a bus” line.

No Debt MBA
No Debt MBA
8 years ago

I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. We all make mistakes, especially when life gets busy and stressful. You could check your credit card charges or bank statements to see if your cell phone bill was higher than normal for the months you don’t have cell phone statements for.

Maureen
Maureen
8 years ago

Thanks for the warning. I’m sending this info to my kids too.

Pamela
Pamela
8 years ago

Very funny, Donna. It goes to show that tragedy is always a part of comedy, doesn’t it? This story is one reason why I keep my life as simple as possible. I’m frequently mocked for not having a cell phone, television, cable etc. and for paying my bills by check. But I hate messing with this cr*p. With my mortgage and utilities, I only pay three bills a month. And water and insurance come up less frequently. It would be more trouble to automate my payments (and make sure they’re being done correctly) than it is to just write the… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

You have to watch those bills, too – it’s easier because you have fewer, but i’ve found problems in my savings account (i was repeatedly drafted on someone else’s autopay, I assume because of a clerical error) and found the city charging me for large trash items picked up from my neighbor’s address.

Ali
Ali
8 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

Thanks, Donna. It’s good to be reminded to look at these bills very carefully. I’d notice if the grocery store charged me an extra dollar for something, but cell phone and even utility companies are regularly charging 10-15 dollars in mysterious fees and we don’t notice because of the complicated bills. I had a fee on my ComEd bill once in Chicago ages ago, and I called to ask what it was for. They said it was a fee charged because I had been paying bills late. I said, I never pay my bills late, and the rep said, oh… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

Pamela: You know the old definition of comedy and tragedy? If you slip on a banana peel, it’s comedy; if I slip on a banana peel, it’s tragedy.
I don’t have a TV, but I do have the cell. At first I got it because I managed an apartment building and needed to be available 24-7. Now I found it essential for doing my job while traveling.
I don’t have a text package, though, which some people find completely astounding. Just don’t see the need right now.

Pamela
Pamela
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

I think Mel Brooks updated it to say comedy is when someone else falls into an open manhole and dies. He’s a bit dark.

Speaking of comedy, did anyone notice that a raft of comments about how awful Verizon is led a Verizon ad to appear at the top of this post. Irony of ironies. 🙂

Crystal @ BFS
Crystal @ BFS
8 years ago

Three things: First, don’t keep kicking yourself. Life is busy and nobody (even pf bloggers) is perfect. It is okay and you won’t even be thinking about this in a year anyway. 🙂 Secondly, it must have been a month for buttheads. We had a $489.99 mystery charge on our credit card statement for what ended up being a fishing pole from Trinidad that we never ordered. So I had to get our cards cancelled and change my autopay on 9 different bills. Grrr… Third, “lying liars who lie” made me giggle. Love it! I hope your week gets a… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Crystal @ BFS

While I was in England, somebody used my credit card at a Wal-Mart in Florida. Since I always carry at least two forms of payment, I was okay. It turned into another cautionary post, though:
http://www.donnafreedman.com/2011/03/05/my-credit-card-got-hacked/

Kevin M
Kevin M
8 years ago

$20/month for ringtones? Recession, ha!

I’m speechless.

sarah
sarah
8 years ago

It’s hard to scrutinize every bill, especially utility bills that have such vague descriptions of charges.

For me it’s also hard because I move a lot. If a bill increases dramatically one month I’ll notice that, but in a new place I don’t even know how the bill is supposed to look and what charges are “normal.”

Debbie M
Debbie M
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

You could try talking to your neighbors, calling the company and asking for the information, or googling the charge names. I admit that I mostly assume those weird fees are okay. It’s only if I’m obviously being charged for something I don’t want, such as an extra phone service or an extra bag of trash, that I start asking questions.

Money Beagle
Money Beagle
8 years ago

We have our in-laws on our cell phone plan. One benefit is that it allows us to split the cost of a plan, saving each household about $30 per month, but the extra benefit is that, because I send them ‘a bill’ every month for their portion of the service, it makes sure that I do a line by line check of the entire bill, so something like this would definitely not slip under my radar (not that it would anyways!)

Raghu Bilhana
Raghu Bilhana
8 years ago

Feel sorry for you.

My advice, dump that cell phone. And get out of that family plan. Why are you putting your son-in-law in your plan?

Simple solution, dump that cell phone. You will be lot more peaceful and one less thing to worry about.

karla
karla
8 years ago
Reply to  Raghu Bilhana

how is dumping the cell phone a simple solution when you don’t know the particulars? Especially for someone who seems to travel a lot. I know many people who only have cell phones and could be one of them (my land line is part of my internet plan otherwise I wouldn’t even have it)

and why would extended family be on a plan that makes it cheaper? (well, duh)

after looking at my cell phone bill (all 8 pages of it–in French) I’m ready to put the daughter’s boy friend on our cell phone family plan too.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Raghu Bilhana

We have my husband whole family on our plan – by combining the plans we were able to completely offset moving both me and my sister in law to unlimited data plans. As well as get his mom a cell phone for $10- something she needed but really didn’t have the time to manage. So we have more service for the same money – yea, I handle all the billing – but they auto send me money each month to pay it. And if we ever have an issue – I have a HUGE account and they work much harder… Read more »

ali
ali
8 years ago
Reply to  Raghu Bilhana

Did you even read Donna’s post? She was only home 3 months of the past year. If she didn’t have a cell phone it would be very hard for her to be contact with people. And frequently she was staying with family or friends out of state. If she wanted to make phone calls she’d have to tie up their phones and either have to pay back the charges or buy a calling card. AND for anyone to call HER she’d have to give out her host’s phone numbers. And again their phone would be tied up by her phone… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Raghu Bilhana

What Ali said: I travel a lot and need to do interviews for my MSN Money column. It isn’t always possible to use the host’s phone (and if I’m in a hostel, there isn’t a phone). When I’m in Alaska, I stay with a friend who’s a night owl so I can’t leave the number for folks on the East Coast to call me back. Etc. etc. I have the family plan because for an extra $10 a month I can ensure that my daughter and son-in-law have phone service no matter what. Both of them have chronic illnesses and… Read more »

Tanya
Tanya
8 years ago

I’m going to check my cell phone bill immediately! Thanks for the warning; there’s just ALWAYS something we need to be vigilant about!

Allyson
Allyson
8 years ago

We had this issue with our AT&T landline. One day my husband noticed that our monthly bill had a $19.99 charge for voicemail – which we never ordered because we had an answering machine and therefore had no need for voicemail. He called AT&T’s customer non-service, which turned out to be the first of MANY calls, which is when he was first introduced to the wonders of third-party billing. When we looked at our past phone bills, we had been paying this extra $19.99 for MONTHS. My husband went several rounds with AT&T who said that they couldn’t reimburse us… Read more »

jennypenny
jennypenny
8 years ago
Reply to  Allyson

We had the same problem with our Verizon landline. Months of calls, credits, assurances that it was taken care of, and other annoying crap. We now have only cell phones. (not because I think cell phones are immune but I just couldn’t deal with Verizon anymore)

Kelly
Kelly
8 years ago
Reply to  jennypenny

Yep, happened when we had Verizon, too. Fortunately the rep was incredibly nice and helpful when I called and told me what probably happened to get the third party charge on the bill. And she was right. My husband had signed up for a trip givaway via Conde Nast. He *thought* it was legit, but apparently, by doing so, he gave them permission to add this charge to our bill. I couldn’t believe it. It screamed “That should be illegal” to me. I kicked myself for ignoring it for a few months, but fortunately, it was removed and I was… Read more »

CincyCat
CincyCat
8 years ago
Reply to  Allyson

See my post #77 below about surprise AT&T bills for services never signed up for.

Craig
Craig
8 years ago

You should check out Manilla.com. It’s a free service that will keep track of your bills. I don’t use the payment reminders because my bills are paid automatically. But it’s great for something like this where you want to go back and look at old bills.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago

The other one for this is the Free Credit Score people. My husband (who swears he was SUPER diligent in insuring he didn’t sign up for anything) managed to sign up for credit monitoring at a price of $20 a month – billed to one of our cards. It was the same price as the gym membership on on of our other cards – so it took me 2mo to catch it was bogus – now I go line by line on all credit cards. The nice thing about our online bill pay is that it shows me the last… Read more »

Ginger
Ginger
8 years ago

If your cell phone contract is set up like my DH’s, you should be the only with the ability to sign up for ring tones/anything else. We have my MIL and BIL on our place and they cannot sign up for anything. When a crammer did sign my MIL up for something we called them and told them that she had no legal right to sign up for something through our phone and to remove it. They did. You might want to try that.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Ginger

Already did. Third-party blocking is our friend. 🙂

Jennifer F.
Jennifer F.
8 years ago

Great article! This happened to me as well. I was listening to the radio when the DJ said they were giving away tickets to theTaylor Swift concert (which fell on my daughter’s birthday and I knew she would LOVE to go.) So, I bit and texted win to the number they said. I immediately got a text saying I was signed up for “ticket king” (or something like that) and to text back STOP to unsubscribe. I instantly texted STOP but guess what? That was enough to have a $9.99 monthly subscription show up on my bill! It took me… Read more »

Marlon
Marlon
8 years ago

Donna,

This actually happened to me less than a week ago. Like you, I usually just push the “make payment” button (I pay my credit cards online).

I was surprised to see a charge for a netflix account. I haven’t been using that credit card for a while so it was kind of easy for me to spot that transaction.

I called the credit card’s fraud department and reported that transaction. They gave me a new account number for that card.

Natalie @ Mango
Natalie @ Mango
8 years ago

Wow. I am going to have to start looking at my cell phone bills more carefully… and by that I mean, I am going to have to start LOOKING at my cell phone bills. I’m glad that they are at least adding some regulation to this, but the number of people already effected is staggering. And you know, this isn’t even just with things like cell phone ring tones. I signed up for a “trial subscription” of a magazine once, and voila, a month or so later, I was being billed for it. These little schemes to make money are… Read more »

mike
mike
8 years ago

A recent experience I had was a $19.95 charge on my credit card. I called the company who was charging me the $19.95 and they were a company that protects you from internet fraud. Of course the fraud was the company itself.

I went back to how long I’d been paying, and it turned out to be over $1700. Ouch.

LD
LD
8 years ago

This happened to me a couple years ago on my cell phone. I noticed it the first month because I’ve set up a ‘budget’ item on Mint that alerts me if any autopay bills are over a certain amount, even by $1. If it’s over, I go over the bill with a fine tooth comb. So when I noticed my bill was a clean $10 over, I found a weird charge and called in. The customer service lady was very nice & refunded it immediately. She told me what probably happened was that I received a text and simply looked… Read more »

brooklyn money
brooklyn money
8 years ago
Reply to  LD

Yes on Mint.com. There is no way to miss these types of random charges when you check Mint.com regularly. I check it daily. Good for catching any fraud like ID theft as well. I don’t understand frankly why everyone does not use it.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  LD

I *still* don’t text. Maybe that’s why I forget why I’m on the bus.

KSK
KSK
8 years ago

I have my landline set up to block 3rd party billing, but didn’t think to add my cellphone. Thanks for the tip!

Last week, I had a company call to inform me that Verizon long distance was changing to a new provider (????????) I told the person that called that I needed to verify this with Verizon because I had not received any notice directly from Verizon. The person on the other line said that “Verizon is going to tell you the same thing,” and immediately hung up.

I will need to scrutinize my bill next month, just in case.

Heather
Heather
8 years ago

We were almost overcharged $700 by the mortgage company for a mistake in our escrow account. It took 6 weeks and countless frustrating phone calls to the mortgage company and the title company that took care of our refi (and didn’t pay our county taxes) to get it settled, but it’s finally taken care of.

Pays to look at and question everything!

Donna
Donna
8 years ago

I had two instances of fraudulent collect call charges on my landline. These calls supposedly came from prisoners. The companies who do this will refund your money if you catch them and call them to dispute it. However, they still tried to scam me by only refunding 80% of the charge. So I had to call back a second time to inform them that they were not allowed to steal 20% of my money. So it took two months to get a full refund. Of course, the CEO of AT&T has an incemtive to allow scammers to charge my AT&T… Read more »

Kathryn
Kathryn
8 years ago

This happened to me once, I inadvertently signed up for a service that would text me weather updates. The good news is, I knew it as soon as it happened (the four back to back text messages were a good clue) and immediately cancelled the “service”. The bad news is, I still got pinged for $14.99 on the next bill. I called this an “educational” expense and paid it, with the mental note to never ever put my cell phone number on a website. EVER. The only problem with this is my cell phone is my only phone, so I… Read more »

Vanessa
Vanessa
8 years ago

I wish more people would consider switching to prepaid. If all you need a phone for is to make calls, it could be the answer. I never worry about roaming, going over minutes, or bogus charges. You couldn’t pay me to sign a contract for a cell phone.

I finally changed my default ringtone to something unique after hearing so many people with the same one. It can get confusing trying to figure out if you’re ringing or not. And never pay for ringtones! I found a website where I can make my own very simply for free.

Ash
Ash
8 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

If you don’t mind, what’s the name of the website? I’ve found plenty of “free” ones, but nothing actually free (and not full of spyware/adware).

Vanessa
Vanessa
8 years ago
Reply to  Ash

It’s http://makeownringtone.com. It doesn’t ask you for any personal information, and I’ve had no bad experiences with spyware so far. I also prefer to download the file manually than have it sent to my phone, just to be safe.

But first check to see if you have programs on your computer that let you edit audio files. I know Quicktime has a “trim” feature that pretty much does the same thing, though the ringtone website lets you do more fine tuning, like adjusting bass, treble levels, etc.

Ash
Ash
8 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

Thanks Vanessa!

tas
tas
8 years ago

I had this happen — also on a family plan — and likewise never signed up for the service in the first place. (I also never received the “service” until after I cancelled it…)

When At&T refused to give me more than 3 months back, I filed an FCC complaint — mainly bc they cldn’t even confirm how I ‘signed’ up for it — and I am tech savvy enough to not sign up for those things (I think!). At any rate, they eventually refunded the entire amount. So escalate to the FCC.

MutantSuperModel
MutantSuperModel
8 years ago

See Donna? You are not alone!

Happened to me too but I caught it right away and blocked 3rd party billing. No es bueno!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago

Es muy mal. But it IS good to know I’m not alone in this.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago

I don’t even look at my utility bills. I have them set to auto pay, I have paperless billing, and I ignore the emails that I get.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago

That’s how this happened, though: I wasn’t reading the bills closely enough. (Or following up when I did notice something.) I’ll take the rap for both but in the future I’ll know better than to pay something without making sure I’m paying the RIGHT something.

babysteps
babysteps
8 years ago

almost got caught in a scam at my work once, they cover story was checking information for an independent telephone directory – then they started asking if I was authorized to make charges on the phone account (I was, but my internal alarm went off and I claimed that I wasn’t). I think they were trying to cram our phone service. Not sure if it’s still the case, but a few years ago some scammers would record all calls and then play back your saying “yes” (likely out of context) to get out of rebating the charges. It’s always something!… Read more »

Erika
Erika
8 years ago

It happened to me, too! In the case of ATT Wireless, you can also ask to have a block put on your account. This block prevents any extra charges or subscriptions on your cell phone bill.

(Unless you use a special PIN [which obviously you will lose the instant you get it]).

It means I can’t text HELP to 12345 to donate $10 to Haiti or whatever. (Because I lost my special PIN the instant I got it.) But that’s a small inconvenience, given the benefit!

Mary L
Mary L
8 years ago

This has happened to me several times with my previous cable service. I finally switched companies. I now get the same service, better quality, for less money and so far no bogus charges.

BTW…thanks for introducing me to Foamy the Squirrel! LOL

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Mary L

I don’t always agree with Foamy, but some of his squirrelly wrath cracks me up.

Shannon
Shannon
8 years ago

Just got back $3.98 in unauthorized data that I thought was fully blocked (only “partially blocked”) from my phone. Thanks for the reminder!

I also looked over an old medical bill (the type that has 57 different charges) a couple weeks ago and realized 1 visit hadn’t been billed to insurance. That vigilance saved me $200.

Tara@riceandbeanslife
8 years ago

One of many reasons I use a prepaid cell phone and skip cable. I spent way too much time chasing down absurd charges and too many hours on the phone fixing problems and wanting to pull my hair out over it. I’m happy to pay a few cents extra a minute not to have to deal with this garbage and I’ve gotten so used to life with an antenna on the tv I just don’t miss cable! Don’t have time to watch more than news anyway!

krantcents
krantcents
8 years ago

I am little surprised to learn that your cell company could add $19.95 and you don’t notice it. I have called customer service for as little as a $1. I check my bill if it varies pennies. Before you criticize me, I am a former CFO and this was my career. My bills are fairly consistent and I will do a thorough check if they are different.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  krantcents

I was a little surprised myself. Also embarrassed. But I wrote it so others will check their bills, too. From the look of the comments it seems some already are…

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago

This happened to me only the charge was 9.99. I caught it but the 2 nd chg had gone through. Co refunded both!!

Diana
Diana
8 years ago

A similar thing happened to me at a fast food restaurant. I was giving my order for a sundae and only wanted a small because the next size up was two dollars more. Not paying attention I paid the bill and sat down. When the food was brought out it was much larger than I had wanted. It turns out that it was too big for me to eat and I paid two extra dollars to boot. Next time I will pay more attention.

MelodyO
MelodyO
8 years ago
Reply to  Diana

An entirely different kind of cramming. :0D

Lisa
Lisa
8 years ago

Here’s my story. I was online and this pop-up website said I won a FREE ipad! Then,it had all of these comments from people saying how it really was free and shipped to their home! All it wanted was an address and phone number to ship it to. Anyway, I filled out the address/phone and the next thing I know, my phone gets a text message about dialing an 800 number to get free stuff. Then other texts started coming in and claiming for me to call and get free stuff…HHHmmmm. I called the cell phone company and told them… Read more »

John
John
8 years ago
As a consultant, I used to work on billing systems for large telephone companies. If you are worried about cramming charges, most phone companies can apply what is called a cramming block (or a third party block) to your account free of charge. This should prevent any further cramming charges from getting to your bill.
Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  John

I did mention that in the piece. Here’s hoping that others take advantage.

Phil S
Phil S
8 years ago

I had a fun cramming experience last year. I am self-employed, with an office an a couple business phone lines with AT&T. I started getting voicemails (3 or 4 over the course of a month) purportedly from AT&T asking me to call them so they could “discuss my account”. I wasn’t late with my bill, and had no desire to make any changes, so I ignored the messages. Imagine my surprise when my next phone bill came, and I saw it had more than doubled – to over $200! And the bill said that I had verbally authorized the changes!… Read more »

Mr. ToughMoneyLove
Mr. ToughMoneyLove
8 years ago

This is precisely why auto-paying bills like this using a credit card is a bad idea. The details are filtered and lost through the credit card billing cycle and through consumer laziness. All bills that are not fixed in amount should be carefully checked each month before you “click to pay.” Yet another reason why credit cards are bad for personal finance.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago

I disagree that credit cards are the problem here. The fault was my own, for not checking the paper statement.
If used incorrectly, credit cards can be bad for personal finance — just as a hammer, used incorrectly, can be bad for a thumb. But I use the mileage and rewards points to prop up my budget.

Mr. ToughMoneyLove
Mr. ToughMoneyLove
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Donna – Your argument and experience makes my point. Credit card companies are quite skilled at creating many ways for consumers – even sophisticated consumers such as yourself – to use them “incorrectly.” As for your mileage and rewards points, don’t kid yourself. You are paying for those also. The card company charges transaction fees to the merchants which are then passed on to you and other consumers as higher prices.

Slackerjo
Slackerjo
8 years ago

Foamy is a god to me. An inside voice god!

Rochelle in SD
Rochelle in SD
8 years ago

I constantly find errors in my billing. It seems like every month I have to reverse this overcharge or the other.

Most recently – I renewed my Sattelite Radio in my car – a luxury but I really enjoy it.I purchased it for the cut-rate of $99 per year only to find I was charged $201. It was reversed but if I hadn’t reviewed my charges I would have probably not noticed.

It’s a good idea to look over your bills each months so that these “surprises” don’t cost you.

Matthew Sawyer
Matthew Sawyer
8 years ago

My wife and I almost got zinged by this back in late winter. I recall one day hearing her phone going bonkers with the text message tone of incoming messages, and she was frantically replying “STOP” to opt out of these. When I asked what happened, she said that they started popping up on her phone one after another, offering to subscribe her to various services–dating, ringtones, wallpapers, etc. I noticed the “problem” when reviewing the online phone statement. I was going through some of our services seeing what we don’t use and what could be eliminated to trim our… Read more »

CincyCat
CincyCat
8 years ago

AT&T tried “cramming” us for a “convenience 800#” service charge. They claimed that I signed up for the service, and that someone had used the #. (We haven’t been AT&T customers since Clinton was in office.) I disputed the charge for almost 40 min on the phone (including 3 transfers w/ 10 min wait in between) because I knew that to pay it = “accepting” the service. The amount? Roughly $3.75. (They were probably betting that I would be like most people, who would just pay the bill & “cancel” the service.) I figured they were making a pretty penny… Read more »

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