FCC Targets 'Cramming' of Phone Bill Fees
NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- The Federal Communications Commission is working on a set of rules to protect consumers from "cramming" -- when companies illegally place an unauthorized fee onto monthly phone bill.
"Americans shouldn't be nickel and dimed by companies on their phone bills," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a speech at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., on Monday. The FCC estimates that as many as 20 million Americans may have unauthorized charges hidden on their landline bills.
|The FCC is cracking down on companies who 'cram' unauthorized fees onto phone bills.|
The charges are often for long-distance services, voicemail or even diet plans or yoga classes consumers never requested or used. The fees typically range from $1.99 to $19.99 per month, and charges are typically put on by phone service providers and third parties. The charges are more prevalent on landline bills than on those for wireless carriers.Complaints with the FCC indicate that many consumers have spent hundreds of dollars on these bogus charges, which are often difficult to spot. "These mystery fees are often buried in bills that can run 20 or so pages, and they are labeled with hard-to-decipher descriptions like 'USBI,'" Genachowski said. The FCC offered few specifics about the cramming laws it was considering, but did say its agenda would focus on improving consumer information and transparency for broadband and other services. Additionally, the commission plans to address mystery fees such as the ones for data that led to a multimillion-dollar settlement with Verizon Wireless, to facilitate better disclosure of early termination fees and help consumers avoid bill shock from their wireless bill. The FCC also warned companies engaging in illegal cramming practices to expect to be investigated, citing that just last week it had proposed fines totaling $11.7 million against four long-distance companies that put crammed charges on hundreds of thousands of bills. As part of its initiative, the FCC released a tip sheet to help consumers spot charges crammed onto their phone bill. These tips include carefully reviewing your monthly phone bill and paying extra attention to small charges ($1.99 or $2.99), since many carriers often use low amounts to avoid detection. The commission also said to carefully review charges with phrases such as "service fee," "service charge," "other fees," "voicemail," "mail server," "calling plan," "membership," "monthly fee" or "minimum monthly usage fee." You can find the rest of the tips on the FCC website. And those who feel like they have been a victim of cramming can file a complaint with the FCC by visiting its online complaint department or calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) (voice) or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322). >To submit a news tip, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow TheStreet.com on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.
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