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Scamming by Cramming: Is Your Cell Phone Safe?

Guest contributor Athina K. Powers, a California attorney and certified fraud examiner, explains how easy it is to fall victim to scammers. Ms. Powers is a member of the Rocket Lawyer On Call® network.

Cramming is not a new type of scheme to take your money. But like all other scams, it has evolved.

It started a long time ago with shady operators adding unauthorized charges on landlines. When was the last time you scrutinized your phone bill, by the way? Cramming charges can be as small as $2 or $3, which make them very easy to overlook. But those small amounts add up to millions of dollars for crammers. And now, you may find these kinds of charges on your cell phone bill as well.

In April, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed its first mobile cramming case against a company that allegedly took in millions of dollars from adding unauthorized charges to consumer’s cell phone bills. The trade commission is seeking a permanent injunction to force the company to refund all customers.

The case against Wise Media LLC, Brian M. Buckley and Winston Deloney alleges that the operation sent text messages with horoscopes, flirtations, love tips and advertisements, and then charged unsuspecting consumers $9.99 monthly for “premium services.” Many people dismissed the text messages as spam, and the company hid its contact information so that it was difficult to call for a refund.

So, how do you protect yourself?

  • As you review your monthly bill, make it a habit to scan through every charge, every month, for services that you did not order or calls you haven’t made. It should be a red flag if your bill is for a different amount than in months past.
  • If the amount on your bill has changed, take a closer look and call your service provider to dispute them if they appear suspicious. Often, these illicit charges are written in abbreviated form, so it’s difficult to determine that they are.

Another form of cramming is connected with “subscriptions”:

Check your bill for words like MIN, FEE, ACTIVATION, MEMBER FEE, VOICEMAIL or WEB HOSTING. They may be related to services that you never ordered.

You may also find charges for calls to numbers that you never made or don’t recognize. Most of the time, the numbers start with 011 or 500. These charges can be for:

  • Collect calls
  • Club memberships
  • Entertainment services like 900 area code
  • Subscriptions to Internet services

 How do you protect yourself?

  • Never enter any kind of contests or subscriptions, orally or via text.
  • Never join club offers
  • Never accept an offer for “free calls” or claim a “free prize” or “free minutes”
  • Block services that start with 900

Consumers, be aware!

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