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Do you know what’s hiding in your phone bill?  There may be nothing there, or you may be the victim of a scam known as “cramming.”  Cramming can include charges for 900 numbers, websites, voice mail, or other “services” that you may have never agreed to pay for.  Cramming occurs when a vendor asks your telephone company to bill you for voice mail, paging, Internet access, or other optional services that you never agreed to purchase.

Click here for more information on CrammingAll that a scammer needs to cram unauthorized charges onto your bill is your name and phone number. They may obtain these from the phone directory, or you may unwittingly provide them with the information yourself.   You can wind up being crammed and not even know it when you fill out a contest entry or a promotional offer.  There, in the fine print, you may actually be agreeing to purchase a service.  Or a crammer may call claiming to be from your phone company.  They may seem to be offering you a new service.  It may be free for an “introductory period” but then you are charged if you do not cancel it after the introductory period ends. 

Be careful when you receive phone calls from individuals claiming to be from the phone company, especially if they ask questions  about your current service and/or offer you new services.  By answering their questions – even if they seem to be innocent ones – you may unwittingly be signing up for a service you don’t want or need.   It’s a good idea in such cases to get the caller’s name, the company they work for, and their phone number.  Then call your phone company to verify that the call was legitimate.
Be careful, too, in returning calls on your answering machine or voice mail if you don’t recognize the number.  By simply responding to their message you could be signing up for a service without realizing it.

The best way to fight cramming is to carefully check your phone bill each month.  If there are charges that you don’t recognize call your phone company.   Dispute the items you don’t recognize, and deduct those disputed items from your payment while they are being investigated by your phone company.  And keep on the lookout!  Even after the charges are removed keeping checking your monthly bill to make sure they don’t reappear.

Check your credit card statements, too!  As phone companies are becoming more vigilant against cramming scams the criminals are often trying to cram their unwanted charges on your credit card.  And, of course, be careful to whom you give your credit card information…especially if you’re not the one who initiated the call or transaction!