When was the last time you checked your cell phone bill? I mean really checked it, not just gave it a cursory glance before paying it. Or do you even see it? If you have automatic payments set up, you may never even look at your wireless bill. So how do you know you’re being billed the correct amount, and that scammers haven’t snuck unauthorized charges in there? The thing is, they’re technically not unauthorized. You might have given them permission without even realizing it, and it’s happening more often than you may think. Cramming is a practice where scammers lure you into agreeing to pay for an electronically provided service, and then tack a fee onto your mobile phone bill. They get away with it by using a few insidious tactics. They get you to agree to the fee, even if you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing, charging a very small fee that will most likely go unnoticed, and then hiding it within your cell phone bill, sometimes on the last page. If your wireless bill is several pages long, chances are, you’ll tire of looking at it before you make it to the last page. That’s what crammers are counting on. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report last October saying that more than 3,000 people had complained about cramming during the previous year. Those complaints included landlines, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, and wireless services. That number is increasing by leaps and bounds. During the first quarter of 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has received inquiries about cramming from 2,142 consumers. That’s in just three months. The FCC received 6,714 such inquiries in all of 2009. Why is this happening? First, the agreement. How many times have you entered a sweepstakes online? You had to fill out contact information, usually including a phone number. There may be a note on the form that says the phone number will be used to contact you if you win. Of course you’re going to provide your phone number—you want to know if you win, right? The form may even specifically ask for a cell number, saying that you can receive notification by text. But because so many people are abandoning landline service for wireless service, chances are good the phone number entered will be a mobile number anyway. What you may not see if the fine print somewhere on the page, or on another page within that sweepstakes site. Buried within all that tiny lettering is the important part, which says that by providing your mobile number, you are giving whatever company running the sweepstakes (if there even really is a sweepstakes going on) permission to start charging you for some sort of service, like enhanced voicemail, for example. It’s not just sweepstakes, either. Sites that offer games, quizzes or other fun things to attract you may ask for your cell phone number to send you results of the quizzes you take. As soon as you give them your mobile number, you’re signed up for something, and they will start charging you. Then there are the charges. You would most likely notice it if a large fee suddenly appeared on your bill. Even if you don’t scrutinize your bill, or even see it if you use automatic payments, if the amount suddenly changed by $50 or $100, you’d investigate. Crammers know that, so they keep the amounts small, sometimes charging just $2 or $3 to your wireless bill. For a wireless bill to fluctuate by a few bucks isn’t unusual especially if you’re charged based on how many minutes you use. The way crammers make money is by sheer volume. So they only charged you $2. Big deal. But if they can get 500 people to fall for their scam, they just made $1,000. If they fool 1,000 or 10,000, or 100,000 people…you do the math. Earlier this month, a man in Florida was caught running a cramming scam—from his jail cell. He had several third-party companies running multiple cramming scams to the tune of $35 million. Yes, million. He received another 21 years in prison for it. In March 2010, the FTC stopped a cramming scam that had been going on for five years, charging unwitting customers between $12.95 and $39.95 per month. That scam took in $19 million. In addition to getting you to agree via fine print, and then charging tiny amounts, crammers make their money by hiding the charges in the cell phone bill you’re used to getting every month. If a new bill for something you didn’t remember signing up for suddenly showed up in your mailbox, you’d track it down and put a stop to it right away. Again, crammers took this into account. Instead, they worked out deals with wireless providers. Yes, your wireless provider too. It would be nice if Verizon, AT&T, and all the other wireless carriers refused to help crammers perpetrate their scams. You’d think they would. But they have a vested interest in allowing this to happen. Crammers pay the wireless companies a fee to use their billing systems. If a crammer is making $35 million running scams, how much of that do you think is going to the wireless carriers? The way they’re able to do this and sleep at night goes back to rule number one of cramming scams—get the customer to agree to the charge in the first place. If you were ever to complain to your carrier, or go so far as to sue them for allowing crammers to bill you, they could easily point to the site where you willingly entered your mobile number. You didn’t read the fine print? Sorry. That’s on you. Some carriers, like Verizon, are easing their consciences by providing information on how to avoid cramming scams. The FCC also provides consumer information on cramming and how to keep from becoming a victim. But the only way you’re going to completely avoid it, or at least catch it before it gets out of hand is to be vigilant yourself. Before you fill out any forms online that ask for your cell phone number, read the fine print, if you can find it. If you can’t, and the sweepstakes or game isn’t run by a reputable company you’re familiar with, think twice. It’s not just questionable sites that run these types of things, though. You may land on a cramming site by clicking on a banner ad that appears on a site you do know and trust. Facebook is a hotbed for this type of ad. Find out your IQ! What does your name mean? Learn your aura color! All your friends are taking these quizzes; why don’t you?! Seems like harmless fun, right? Don’t fall for it. You can look up your name’s meaning in a baby name book, and do you really care what color your aura is? But if you do fall for any of these cramming scams after I’ve warned you about them, you may want to go ahead and take that IQ quiz.
Cramming scams increasing
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