You’ve probably heard about those Nigerian e-mail scams that ask people for their bank account information, or for money transfers. News about them is all over the Internet, and some news shows have done exposés on them. You might wonder how anyone could possibly fall for what seems like an obvious scam. How can people so willingly give out their personal information, or send money to strangers? Those scams may not work for much longer as more information about them becomes available, and people become a little savvier. But scams to bilk people out of hundreds, even thousands of dollars aren’t always so obvious, and people—even those who think they’re being careful—fall victim to them every day. Lately, it’s been through cell phone use and billing, a practice called “cramming,” and don’t expect your wireless carrier to look out for you. One of the most popular places for a cramming scam to catch you off guard is Facebook. The site has thousands of applications, games, quizzes, and ads that tout all of them. It’s not just Facebook, though. Those ads are all over the Internet, on gaming sites, or other Web sites that run banner ads. The most common way a cramming scam is run is through quizzes, for example, an IQ test. You see an ad for it pop up on your page, or you see that a friend just took the quiz, and you think it sounds sort of fun, so you take it too. You spend maybe five or ten minutes going through it, answering all the questions, but when you get to the end, it doesn’t display your results on the screen. Instead, you get a message telling you that if you want to see your test results, you must enter your cell phone number, and the results will be texted to you. It may even tell you that your regular text charges and fees may apply. Maybe you have unlimited texting, or maybe you figure one text isn’t that big a deal, so you enter your cell number, get your test results, and go on about your business without giving it a second thought. The next thing you know, there’s suddenly a new charge showing up on your wireless bill, maybe for $9.99 or so, for some sort of feature like “enhanced voicemail.” You don’t remember ever ordering any such thing when you signed up for your wireless service, or anytime since then. To top it off, there’s some company other than your carrier listed as the biller. How did some other company get permission to add a fee to your cell phone bill? What happened was this: When you took that quiz online, there was some fine print that maybe you didn’t see or ignored. In that fine print was an explanation that by entering your cell phone number, you were signing up for a service, and would be charged a monthly fee on your existing wireless bill. Your voluntary entering of your cell phone number is your tacit agreement to accept that service, and the charge. If you’re lucky, you notice the charge right away. But some people don’t really examine their cell phone bills. Depending on the type of plan or how many calls are made, a wireless bill can go on for several pages. Who really sits down and examines each and every line? Many people even have automatic bill pay set up, so they rarely even see the bill at all. By the time someone notices something is amiss, months or even years could have gone by, and they could have spent hundreds, or even thousands of dollars over and above their regular wireless charges. This happened to a man named Mike Cunningham in Boston. Unbeknownst to him, his 10-year-old grandson had used his grandfather’s cell phone number to sign up for free video games on a random Web site. By the time Cunningham realized what had happened, nearly two years later, he had been charged a total of $567 by two companies—ILD Teleservices, Inc., and Enhanced Services Billing, Inc., for enhanced voicemail, and additional “vmail” services. Upon discovering the charges, Cunningham contacted the two companies who both credited his account upon learning a minor had signed up for their services. But Cunningham was dismayed that his carrier, Verizon Wireless, first allowed these companies to charge him at all, and then did not refund the money, but credited his wireless account, preventing him from switching carriers. He said, “It’s like salt in the wound.” I can’t leave. I’m a captive audience.’’ Granted, cramming is a questionable practice at best, thievery at worst. But is it really up to Verizon, or any other carrier to prevent it from happening? It would be great if they didn’t allow these companies to piggyback on their wireless bills, but they do it for profit. Those companies pay wireless carriers a fee to use their billing systems. As long as AT&T, Verizon, or any other carrier is making a profit on a practice that isn’t yet illegal, albeit seemingly unethical, they’re unlikely to turn it down. In addition, wireless companies are answering for questionable billing practices on a regular basis. It’s not always third party companies that charge for unused services. Sometimes, the carrier continues charging for services that have been canceled. In one instance, Verizon continued to bill a man who had passed away. T-Mobile began charging people to receive paper bills, calling it an effort to be more green. They later rescinded the policy. And Sprint got into a bit of hot water for charging people on limited spending accounts for not signing up for automatic payments. Not only that, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was recently taken to task by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for not doing enough to protect consumers, in part from charges and practices such as these. The other thing is, wireless customers—you—need to keep an eye on your bills. Don’t blindly pay them every month without taking the time to make sure the billed amount is correct, and that nothing extra that you didn’t ask for has been added without your knowledge or express permission. Most kids are very Internet savvy these days, and can navigate the Web better than a lot of adults. But they are still naïve about billing, money, and sharing personal information. Talk to your kids, or grandkids, before you allow them to use the computer unsupervised. Better yet, supervise them as much as possible. No one wants, or has time, to stand over a kid’s shoulder every minute they’re on the computer, but you can at least check browsing histories to see where your kids have gone online, and there are programs that will allow you to block any sites that don’t seem to be on the up and up. Bottom line, no one who makes a profit off of anyone’s complacency or lack of attention is going to protect or feel sorry for you when you fall victim to scams like this. Should they be allowed to exist? In my opinion, no. But until it’s illegal, until the FCC steps in and levies some kind of penalty on the wireless companies for allowing it, or forces them to stop partnering with these third party companies, you have to look out for yourself.