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Avoiding Fake Phone Charges

Don’t fall victim to fraudulent billing known as cramming

Cramming and other types of cellphone and telephone abuse stand in ninth position among the most reported type of fraud, the FTC says. Often, there's little you can do to prevent a crammer from targeting you. But the FTC advises that you can avoid giving would-be scammers an opportunity by becoming wise to some common ploys:

  • Enter to win. You think you're entering a contest, but you're actually giving your information to strangers who might be up to no good. Shady promoters sometimes use a contest entry form as "permission" to enroll you in a service.
  • Join the club. The ad says it's free, and in fact, the number you call to join may be toll-free. All you have to do is say your name and "I want the service." But you may end up enrolled in a club or service that comes with a monthly charge on your phone bill.
  • Free prizes that aren't. You may be told you've won a prize, but if it's a 900 number that you dial to claim it, the call itself might not be free. In some cases, you should have warning — every 900 number that costs more than $2 has to have a brief introductory message about the service, the service provider and the cost of the call. After that, you have only three seconds to hang up before you're on the hook for the fee.

If you suspect you're a victim of cramming, you should first contact your phone company — it should be able to tell you about the charge and how to dispute the error. If people there aren't being helpful, you should contact the FTC at or 1-877-FTC-HELP. (And, yes, that's a free call.)

Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For. Have a complaint about customer service? Write to Ron.

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