MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Have you ever gotten one of those texts with dating tips, weight loss advice or horoscope info, and brushed it off as spam? Well you may want to check your cell phone bill because you may have been crammed.
Cramming is when companies illegally put extra charges on your account without your permission and cell phones are the new target.
When a text, offering Wen Chao a deal to download mobile content for $9.99 a month appeared on her phone, she ignored it. But when a second one popped up from the same sender, with a strange note about war and peace, she opened it.
“I thought oh maybe it’s from a friend whose number I don’t have in the contacts,” said Chao.
Chao called her cell phone carrier to block future mystery messages and got some unexpected news.
“I was told that by the act of opening the text message I had consented to what they were trying to sell me,” said Chao.
Remember that 9.99 charge? It appeared on Chao’s bill as “premium messaging”. Chao called the scam “very sneaky.”
Industry experts said charges like this cost consumers more than $600 million each year. The Federal Trade Commission said it has received thousands of complaints and many others could be victims and not even know it.
“Many consumers overlook the charges on their phone bill, so the complaints that we see really are just the tip of the iceberg,” said FTC Attorney Duane Pozza.
That’s because the charges often appear as innocuous sounding fees like standard rate plan, member fee and voicemail. So why don’t cell phone companies that also profit when third party companies charge your bill, make these fees more prominent?
“If you have thousands of different kinds of services available that wouldn’t be practical for a billing system to be able to specifically list those thousands,” said John Walls with CTIA, a wireless industry trade association. ”I mean that would be a pretty expensive proposition.”
CTIA said carriers haven’t received a lot of cramming complaints. There’s no federal law giving you the right to dispute questionable cell phone charges like there is with your credit card, and it’s a carrier-by-carrier decision.
The Federal Communications Commission is considering requiring cell phone companies make third party charges more obvious on phone bills. In the meantime, you can call your provider and ask them to block any third party charges.
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