Why is my Phone Bill so High?

– Jan Walker, Office Manager

You’re looking at your phone bill thinking that someone must have made a mistake. How can you be charged for web hosting when you don’t know what web hosting is? Why does your phone bill list a couple of international calls when all your friends and business contacts are stateside? Chances are that you’ve been crammed.

Unethical phone companies are betting that consumers won’t read their phone bills. Careful review of your monthly phone charges is important. There’s no one type of cramming charge. Some charges appear just once; others are “subscription” charges that show up every month. Look out for generic sounding services and fees like Min. Use Fee, Activation Fee, Member Fee, Voice Mail, or Web Hosting. Pay special attention to sections of your phone bill labeled “Miscellaneous” and the long-distance, 900-number, and “third-party” charge sections of your bill.

If you are slammed or crammed, you may contact your telephone company, say that you did not authorize the charges, and ask that the charges be removed. Call the crammer and explain that you did not request the services. Also ask who authorized the services and request a copy of the document or tape recording authorizing the services. It’s a good idea to follow-up with a letter sent certified return receipt. When you get slammed or crammed you may also contact the Attorney General’s Office, Consumer Protection Hotline, Federal Communications Commission, or the Federal Trade Commission.

Consumers usually get slammed or crammed when they:

  • Enter contests & sweepstakes at fairs or festivals. Entry blanks may double as authorization forms to switch or add phone services.
  • Sign “bonus checks” received by mail.
  • Respond to offers of prizes and cash solicited by mail
  • Respond to a caller offering a lower-priced phone plan or verifying their current plan or information. Once you give your phone number or an answer, you could get slammed or crammed.

You can avoid getting slammed or crammed by reading the small print. Carefully review your monthly phone bill. Understand questions when phoned for information. Request a “PIC” freeze form from your local phone carrier and then sign and return it. This signed form prohibits the local carrier from changing your long-distance service without your written permission. (This isn’t foolproof since some switches are made by utilizing a forged authorization form).

Have a third-party charges block placed upon your telephone account. A 900-number block stops calls to 900 numbers from going through. Blocks also are available for international, long-distance, local toll calls, as well as to Third-party services. If you use a telephone modem for Internet access, you can prevent a specific type of cramming by making sure that you’re using up-to-date security software. Otherwise, you’re leaving the door open to scammers who use malicious software programs to download “dialer programs” to susceptible computers. The program directs your modem, causing it to dial an international or 900-number. You find out when you see the charge on your phone bill.