SLAMMING AND CRAMMING
The Attorney General warns Missourians to be wary of companies "slamming" them by switching their long-distance phone carrier without their knowledge, or "cramming" their phone bill with unauthorized charges.
Each year, complaints about slamming and cramming rank near the top of all categories of complaints and inquiries received by the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division.
In addition, the number of cramming complaints is increasing as more consumers complain about being billed for unordered or unwanted phone services such as personal 800 numbers, voice mail and calling cards.
Unethical companies are betting that consumers won't read their phone bills. That is why careful review of your monthly phone charges is important.
Before paying, make sure your requested long-distance carrier is still listed on the bill and there are no questionable charges. Call your local phone company if you are being billed for unknown services, which sometimes are hidden under titles such as "enhanced services."
How you get slammed or crammed
Consumers usually get slammed or crammed when they:
- Enter contests and sweepstakes at fairs or festivals. Entry blanks may double as authorization forms to switch or add phone services.
- Deposit "bonus” or “refund” checks received by mail.
- Respond to offers of prizes and cash solicited by mail.
- Respond to a caller offering a lower-priced phone plan or verifying their current plan. Once you give your phone number or an answer, you could get slammed.
- Read the small print. Contest and sweepstakes entries, even those at fairs and festivals and on the Internet, can include language that authorizes a switch in long-distance service. Some long-distance providers use these tactics to entice consumers to sign entry forms that double as an authorization form. Also, avoid signing bonus checks or responding to offers of prizes and cash. If a form or a caller requests your phone or fax number, ask more questions, including why the number is needed.
- Carefully review your monthly phone bill. If you see an unfamiliar name instead of your long-distance company, you might have been slammed. You also might see a switching fee of about $5.
- Understand questions before you answer "yes" or "no" when phoned about switching your long-distance service. You might inadvertently agree to a switch. Get the name of the caller and company and the service's cost.
- Request a "PIC freeze" form from your local phone carrier and then sign and return it. (PIC stands for primary interexchange carrier, a technical term for long-distance carrier.) This signed form prohibits the local carrier from changing your long-distance service without your written permission. This is not foolproof since some switches are made by using a forged authorization form, but it will prevent changes from being made based on a verbal order.
What you can do if you are slammed or crammed
What to do if you are slammed
Contact your local phone company and:
- Request an immediate switch back to your preferred carrier. This is especially advisable for business customers who may have phone packages dependent on being served by the preferred long-distance carrier. It also may affect customers' phone savings plans.
- Tell your local company you believe you have been slammed and request it to remove all "switching" fees. Local companies usually assess a fee each time they switch your long-distance carrier.
- Ask your local company to remove all of the slammer's long-distance charges or at least "re-rate" them if the rates are higher than those of your chosen long-distance carrier. Although your local company usually has authority to remove or re-rate these charges, it may require you to first contact the slammer and try to resolve the problem. If so, get the slammer's phone number from your local carrier.
- Ask the slammer to remove all long-distance charges. If it refuses and is charging a higher rate, then ask it to at least re-rate the bill.
- Ask the slammer to send you a copy of the document or tape recording authorizing the switch. If the slammer cannot be reached or is uncooperative, inform your local phone company and ask it to remove the slammer's charges or at least re-rate them.
What to do if you are crammed
Local carriers provide billing services for third-party companies selling these services. When you see unauthorized charges, you should:
- Immediately contact your local carrier, say you did not authorize the charges and ask that the charges be removed. Your local carrier has authority to remove the charges, but it may require you to contact the crammer first to try to resolve the dispute. If so, ask for the crammer's phone number.
- Call the crammer and explain you did not request the services. Also, ask who authorized the services and request a copy of the document or tape recording authorizing the services.
- Ask that the charges be removed. If the crammer refuses or cannot be reached, inform your local phone carrier and say you did not authorize the disputed charges. Ask the local carrier to remove them.
File a Complaint
When you get slammed or crammed, contact:
Attorney General's Office
File a complaint or call the Consumer Protection Hotline: 800-392-8222
Contact the Federal Communications Commission
The FCC tracks slamming and cramming complaints for possible future regulatory action.
Contact the Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission, the nation's consumer protection agency, collects complaints about companies, business practices, identity theft, and episodes of violence in the media.