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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.

Originally posted to aigeanta on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:14 PM PDT.

Poll

Have you ever experienced cramming?

42%15 votes
45%16 votes
11%4 votes

| 35 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for a cramming victim? (17+ / 0-)

    Any experiences you'd like to share? Advice? Warnings?

    The modern news media draws half its power from coils placed around the spinning in Edward R. Murrow's grave.

    by aigeanta on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:16:10 PM PDT

    •  The one time that happened to me (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Simplify, cfk, aigeanta

      I called my phone company (Verizon) and after having the charges reversed insisted that no third-party billing ever be authorized on my home phone line. There's a way for them to do that.

      I had a similar "lock" put on my home phone after my long distance provider was switched without my authorization years ago (I believe it was called "slamming").

      © sardonyx; all rights reserved

      by sardonyx on Thu Mar 20, 2008 at 11:28:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Time for those Evil Lawyers (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marina, Simplify, cfk, aigeanta

    This is one of those obnoxious practices against which class action lawsuits are uniquely powerful - and the reason the Right so likes to demonize trial lawyers.

  •  And, on a slight tangent (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    aigeanta

    I remember the 1-900 Diego Garcia scam. And the Brazil variant.

    Some people never know they've been bit until they see the total on the phone bill and say "Eeeeeek!"

    What is past, is prologue

    by US2oz on Fri Mar 21, 2008 at 01:06:17 AM PDT

  •  The Double Gotcha! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    vcmvo2, lotlizard, aigeanta

    The telephone companies actually encourage some of this behavior. This had its genesis during the 900-era, where service providers would make deals with phone companies.

    The contracts were unbelievable. If you were service provider, you'd pay high rates for the inbound calls, then you'd pass the billing information back to the phone carrier and they'd include it on the bill.

    But they weren't "regulated charges" and 900-numbers pretty quickly degenerated into phone-sex business and get-rich-quick schemes. And it wasn't long before the user base realized they didn't have to pay for the calls or they'd just not pay any of their bill and skip. The phone company (which got their service fees whether the client paid or not because the called party was actually on the hook for everything) had no impetus to be very aggressive in collecting it.

    It was a heads-we-win-tails-you-lose deal for the phone company (that's the only kind of deals they make).

    So 900 numbers fell a step further. 99% of the folks offering the service are crooks, and are phonying up the billing. The scam that got you could have been a valuable service, but like so many things, it was preferable to destroy the service to get the short term profits rather than regulate it and have it retain its value.

    "Your life may be monitored or recorded for quality control purposes."

    by PBCliberal on Fri Mar 21, 2008 at 01:08:10 AM PDT

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