The Phone Handbook
Protect Yourself From Fraud
Read your phone bill closely. If you see unfamiliar charges or companies on your bill, contact the company that is billing you and demand an explanation and proof that you authorized the services appearing on your bill. Look out for common types of fraudulent activities mentioned below.
Why is My Phone Bill From a New Company?
“Slamming” is when your long distance or local service provider is switched to another company without your knowledge or permission. You may not know you were slammed until you get a phone bill from a different company often charging higher rates.
What Should I Do if I Have Been Slammed?
If you think you have been slammed, call your preferred phone company to tell them and ask to be switched back to your preferred company. Request that any switching fees be refunded to you. You should also file a complaint with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.
Under Minnesota and Federal law, the company that slammed you must prove that you authorized the change in companies. If they cannot, they are required to bear all costs of serving you and of returning your service to your preferred telephone company. You should act promptly in order for this remedy to work effectively. Many companies will offer to re-bill the calls based on the rates of your former company. If the company presents some proof that you, or an adult member of your household, authorized the change, it may be appropriate to resolve the matter by accepting such a “re-rating” of your bill.
How Can I Prevent Slamming?
You can take steps to avoid being slammed. Most importantly, put yourself in control by making it your policy not to switch telephone providers through a telemarketer. If you are interested in switching phone companies, call the companies directly and ask for their best calling plans and promotional rates. If you receive a call from a telemarketer selling telephone service and you are interested in the offer, your best move is to call the company directly to clarify any special deals or rates. Always ask for the rates in writing so you have proof of the offer.
To prevent slamming you can also ask your local telephone company for a “PIC Freeze.” This means that your long distance company cannot be switched unless you personally contact your local phone company and request the switch. Regardless of how your long distance service is billed, you need to contact your local telephone company for a PIC Freeze for technological reasons.
Finally, be careful when filling out sweepstakes forms or endorsing “free” checks from telephone companies. These are marketing techniques often used to entice people into switching their long distance service. The fine print on the document that you sign could authorize a new company to provide your long distance service.
What Is Cramming?
Cramming is the placement of unauthorized charges on your telephone bill, and can occur with both landline and wireless telephone services. Both landline and wireless telephone companies may elect to allow third parties to use their telephone bills to bill you for services that these third parties provide, such as information or entertainment services accessed through 900 numbers, premium messaging services, club memberships, voicemail, or Internet services. If you are being billed for services you did not order, you may have been “crammed.” Review your phone bill for charges you don’t recognize. Cramming charges are very easy to overlook and sometimes appear on your phone bill with ambiguous terms such as “charges and credits” or “enhanced services” to make you think they are authorized. Crammed charges are often buried as line items in your phone bill so be sure to review it carefully each month.
What Can I Do if I Get Crammed?
If you are being billed for something you did not order, contact your telephone company right away to dispute the unauthorized charges and have them removed from your bill. Be sure to ask for a refund of all payments that you may have mistakenly paid on previous bills. Protect yourself by following up in writing and keeping copies of important documents.
A Minnesota law is intended to help prevent unauthorized charges from appearing on landline telephone bills (the law does not apply to wireless telephone bills), and to simplify the process for getting such charges removed from a bill. Under the law, consumers may dispute any unauthorized third-party charges that appear on their telephone bill by contacting the local telephone company directly. The law states that the local provider is required to remove the charge and to contact the third-party biller on behalf of the consumer. The third-party biller must also provide documentation showing it had the consumer’s authorization to place charges on the local telephone bill. If such authorization cannot be provided, the charges (going back no more than six months) must be reversed by the local telephone company.
How Do I Prevent Cramming?
To prevent cramming, contact your telephone carrier to see if it offers the option to block third parties from placing charges on your bill. Most telephone companies, both landline and wireless, now offer customers the option to block some or all third-party charges from being included on customers’ bills in an effort to prevent cramming. This service is typically free of charge, and you may contact your telephone company to ask if they provide this protection against cramming. Many times you may also unknowingly give someone permission to charge you for unwanted phone service when you fill out a sweepstakes entry form, sign up for free coupons online, or use a toll-free service like a date line or psychic line. Always read the front and back of any prize registration form, sign-up sheet, or contract that you fill out, especially if it asks for your phone number.
What if I Get Billed for Unauthorized Calls to an Adult Entertainment Service?
Under Minnesota law, if a minor or a vulnerable adult made calls without your authorization to pay-per-call services, such as those to 900 numbers, you are not liable for the calls. You can dispute any charges that you believe are incorrect by calling the company whose toll-free number is listed on your bill, but make sure that you follow up your dispute in writing. Until the dispute is resolved, you can pay only those portions of the bill with which you agree. When you send in your payment, call your local phone company and indicate how you want the payment applied. Your local and long distance phone service cannot be disconnected for nonpayment of pay-per-call charges, however, your long distance company may attempt to disconnect your long distance service for nonpayment of international charges.
Charges for Downloadable Adult Access
Be wary of adult entertainment web pages offering “no credit card” access. These sites may be equipped with programs that download a new icon onto your computer. When the icon is clicked, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is disconnected and the new program redials your phone to gain access to adult sites by way of an international telephone number. Some of the dialers skirt blocks you may have put on your phone service by using dial around access codes (10-10 numbers). Internet connections that use these numbers are extremely expensive. They are also very difficult to dispute with your long distance company. If you are concerned that access to adult sites may fall into the wrong hands in your home, it may be wise to use an Internet filter or content-control software.
How Can I Prevent Pay-Per-Call Charges?
Talk to your children and other family members about these numbers so that they understand these calls are not free, and in fact can quickly mean bills for hundreds or thousands of dollars. By law, you are not liable for unauthorized calls made by minors or vulnerable adults to pay-per-call services, but getting the charges removed can be a real hassle. You can also block access to many of these services by calling your local phone company’s customer service line.
Can I Block 1-900 Numbers?
You can get 1-900 number blocking from your local phone company at no charge.