Avoid getting 'crammed' for unwanted cell phone charges, BBB warns

Teens using a cell phoneIf you've noticed unusual charges on your cell phone bill lately, you're not alone. Fees that have nothing to do with your calling plan are making their way onto your bill, the BBB warns.

Known as "cramming," the charges are tacked on by third-party entities such as subscription services that a consumer may have knowingly or unknowingly signed up for. These services could be "free" ringtones, daily jokes, horoscopes or even applications. Consumers may not have realized they would later be billed monthly for these services, even though they were marketed as "free." The charges could also come from entertainment services with 900 area code numbers, access to restricted web sites or club memberships.

"You might think that nothing bad can happen from giving out your cell phone number, but you should guard your phone number like you would a credit card or social security number," Charlotte BBB president Tom Bartholomy said in a statement. "You should also monitor your monthly statements closely because even if you are careful, cramming can still occur."

The BBB offers the following advice for consumers to avoid cramming charges:
  • Keep a close eye on monthly statements and monitor them diligently.
  • Know your rights and contact your service provider to find out if you can restrict third-party billing on your account.
  • Know whom you can trust online. Before giving out personal information, research the business first at www.bbb.org.
  • Guard your personal information closely and be wary of providing personal information when signing up for a free trial or entering a sweepstakes.
  • Always read the fine print. The company's privacy should disclose how it will use your personal information.
  • Know where to complain. If you can't resolve the issue through your service provider or with the business, file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission for charges related to the telephone service. For all other cramming charges, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. You can also file a complaint with the BBB.
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