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BBB Tip of the Week: Phone bill cramming

Is your phone bill crammed with illegal charges? Phone cramming occurs when a third party places a charge to your phone account without your consent. Cramming can occur on landlines and cell phones. Charges can be less than a dollar and are usually less than $10 – the highest amount that will likely go unnoticed. Cramming can occur as a one-time fee or a monthly subscription.

Cramming can be especially tricky to detect on cell phone bills because many owners might accept legitimate charges for things such as ringtones, wallpaper and charitable donations.

The types of “services” you could find crammed on your phone bill include international and long distance services, web services, entertainment services, collect calls and club memberships. Most times the service will be labeled as “min. use fee,” “activation,” “member fee,” “miscellaneous,” or “third party.”

To detect cramming on your phone bill, check your detailed phone bill every month. If you find that your bill has been crammed with fraudulent charges, the Better Business Bureau suggests that you take action:

• Call your phone service provider to get the details about the charge and the company.

• Dispute the charge with your phone service provider. Even if your phone service refunds your account, write to the company that illegally placed the charge.

• File a complaint about the illegal cramming with your local, state and federal authorities, even if you are refunded.

• Consider blocking all third-party services, if your phone service provider is willing.

Wondering how cramming could happen to you? Companies that promote contests and “free” offers or trials may in fact be looking to cram your bill with charges. To avoid being crammed, avoid all “enter to win” contests, “free” calls to 900 numbers, and joining “free” clubs using 800 numbers.

If your phone bill has been crammed, you can file a complaint at the BBB at or by calling (509) 455-4200; at the FTC at or by calling (877) 382-4357; at the Washington State Attorney General’s Office at FileAComplaint.aspx or by calling (800) 551-4636; and at the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission at or by calling (888) 333-9882.

Erin T. Dodge, BBB Editor

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