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Definition

cramming

Cramming is the addition of unexpected or unauthorized charges to a bill for landline or mobile telephone service.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that as many as 20 million United States landline customers are crammed on a yearly basis and that only one in 20 of the victims is aware of the fact. Crammed charges are purposely hard to detect. They’re often for insignificant amounts and listed as things like “other fees,” “membership” or “calling plan” rather than identifying the service in question. The problem can be even more difficult to detect on mobile accounts because wireless customers often subscribe to multiple services and it can be hard to differentiate fraudulent charges from authorized ones. Both AT&T and Verizon have recently instituted a ban on cramming for landlines but neither has instituted a similar ban on wireless cramming.

Crammed charges are often delivered through an opt-out delivery model. Here’s one example of how it works: A cell phone user receives a message offering a for-pay SMS service. The user either ignores the message or glances at it and forgets it, assuming that as long as they don’t respond positively, they aren’t activating the service. In fact, however, small print at the bottom of the message notifies the recipient that, unless they take some specific action to decline the service, they will receive it and be charged accordingly. The service may be one that is provided by the carrier or may be provided by a third party.

The FCC website recommends that consumers review their phone bills closely and ask themselves the following questions:

  1. Do I recognize the names of all the companies listed on my bill?
  2. What services were provided by the listed companies?
  3. Does my bill include charges for calls I did not place and services I did not authorize?
  4. Are the rates and line items consistent with the rates and line items that the company quoted to me?

See also: SMiShing (SMS phishing), SMS spam (cell phone spam or short messaging service spam), Twitter, chat and text messaging abbreviations

Continue reading about cramming:

The FCC explains cramming on its website.

The Haggler (AKA David Segal) reports on the cramming problem.

Cellular bill management: Setting attainable objectives

App stores, 'bill shock' drive need for smarter real-time billing

Overheard: FBI gets confused by their phone bill just like the rest of us

This was last updated in April 2012

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