Tonight I was paying some bills. Not my favorite activity, but one that needs to be accomplished whenever I have the cash to do so. Normally, I don't look at the billing detail unless there is some sort of spike. But when I noticed two charges of $9.99 by a company called "US Credit Find" on my AT&T Phone and Internet service, I started to delve into the shadowy world of billing clearinghouses such as ILD Teleservices and their involvement with the practice of "phone cramming".
The Federal Trade Commission defines "cramming" as unexplained charges on your phone bill for services you never ordered, authorized, received, or used. These charges are usually hidden at the bottom of your phone bill, and the 3rd party's information may or may not be visible. The MSNBC article states:
Cramming is one byproduct of the deregulation of the telephone industry. To open the system to increased competition, local phone companies have to lease their phone lines to outside firms who want to sell competitive services. It’s perfectly legal for a third-party company to sell a home voice mail service to you, billed through your home phone bill.
But shady telecommunications companies are taking advantage of the fact that local phone companies have no stake in verifying that consumers agreed to pay for such services, so they “cram” charges on phone bills, hoping consumers won’t notice.
According to the UCAN:
The problem has been around for about a decade. It was spawned by a combination of factors, including the breakup of the AT&T telephone monopoly into regional Baby Bells, the deregulation of local and long-distance phone service and the proliferation of wireless carriers, Internet service providers and other technology-driven telecom businesses.
As consumers got used to seeing charges from a separate long-distance provider on their local phone bills, a new class of entrepreneur emerged: the billing aggregator.
For a fee, these middlemen handle the billing for ISPs, local phone service resellers, ringtone purveyors and a host of other companies by piggybacking their charges onto a consumer’s telephone bill. The phone company charges the aggregator a fee to bundle those charges with its monthly bills.
ILD Teleservices in particular has received an 'F' rating from the BBB, a long list of complaints at Consumer Affairs, and an infamous reputation at websites like i.nconspicuo.us, Pissed Consumer, and ripoffreport. Thousands of complaints get filed every year, yet these fraudulent practices are still quite rampant, as evidenced by my phone bill and other people's all-too-common experiences.
I'm so pissed off right now. I've just spent several hours researching this phenomenon so I'll have some ammo to attack AT&T, ILD, and this US Credit Find company. I just hope there isn't some identity theft going on as well, because that would just take the cake.