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Attorney General's News Release

March 7, 2012

Attorney General Koster sues telephone cramming companies for unauthorized charges to Missouri consumers

Jefferson City, Mo. – Unauthorized charges crammed onto consumers’ telephone bills are an unfortunately common way that consumers are taken advantage of in Missouri. Today, as part of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Chris Koster is shining a light on cramming as he works both to prevent people from falling victim to crammers and to obtain justice for existing victims.

Koster today filed lawsuits for consumer fraud against six telephone cramming companies: Coast to Coast Voice of Concord, NH; Green Certification of Miami, FL; and Family Contact 911 of Clearwater, FL in Jackson County; and SBO Online of Los Angeles, CA; Odyssey Communications of Tenafly, NJ; and ID Life Guards, Inc. of Glendale, CA in St. Louis County. The lawsuits charge the companies have placed unauthorized charges on thousands of consumers’ telephone bills for products and services they did not purchase, want, or use.

Telephone cramming occurs when various companies charge for their products or services through a person’s telephone bill, often without the person’s knowledge or authorization. Commonly crammed products and services include toll-free voicemail, internet faxing, grocery coupons, identity theft protection, emergency contact calling or texting, small business services, streaming radio, and environmentally friendly business services.

A consumer’s telephone bill can operate much like a credit card. Thus, companies can charge consumers monthly for services unrelated to their telephone subscription. The crammer, or “content provider,” will repeatedly bill the consumer through his or her telephone bill, even in cases where the consumer did not actually sign up for the crammer’s purported service.

These charges generally appear on the last page of the consumer’s bill as “enhanced services” or in the name of the billing aggregator, such as OAN, ILD, or ESBI. Many consumers do not realize that they are being charged, or they believe it is from their telephone provider. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been unknowingly charged to Missouri consumers in 2010 and 2011. Missouri consumers who were charged for the services of the six defendants Koster sued today complained to the Attorney General that they never visited the defendants’ websites, never ordered or registered for defendants’ products or services, and would never use or register for such products or services. Some companies bet that consumers won’t read their phone bills. That is why careful review of your monthly phone charges is important.

Koster said that before paying, make sure only 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.”

“Telephone cramming costs Missouri consumers tens of thousands of dollars each year and something must be done to stop this abuse,” Koster said. “Disregard for the consumer protection laws and regulations of the state of Missouri will not be tolerated.”

The Attorney General is seeking restitution for consumers and a permanent injunction against the defendants to stop the unfair practices and return to Missouri consumers the money that was unlawfully charged. If you have been charged by any of these companies without your consent, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-800-392-8222 or online at ago.mo.gov and file a consumer complaint.

How you get crammed
Consumers usually get crammed when they:

  • Enter contests and sweepstakes online or at fairs or festivals. Entry blanks may double as authorization forms to switch or add phone services.
  • Sign “bonus checks” received by mail.
  • Respond to offers of prizes and cash solicited by mail.
  • Otherwise give out their phone number and other contact information online when it is not necessary.

How to avoid getting crammed

  • Read the small print. Contest and sweepstakes entries, even those at fairs and festivals and on the Internet, can include language that can sign consumers up for unwanted services. Some crammers 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 under the “enhanced services” section, you might have been crammed. Contact the listed billing service to protest the charges.

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.

The Federal Communications Commission tracks cramming complaints for possible future regulatory action. Report cramming to the FCC at:

FCC
Common Carrier Bureau
Consumer Complaints
Mail Stop 1600A2
Washington, DC 20554
Or, call toll-free: 888-225-5322

The Federal Trade Commission also tracks cramming complaints to help in its law enforcement initiatives. Contact the FTC at:

Consumer Response Center
FTC
Washington, DC 20580
Phone: 202-326-3134



 
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