If you take a look at your phone bill and notice charges that don't make sense, you may be a victim of phone bill cramming. These sneaky little charges are making their way onto telephone bills and can go unnoticed for months. Victi­ms of so-ca­lled "cramming" often face a tough battle to stop being bil­led every mon­th and start getting their money back. In order to fight cramming, Better Business Bureau recommends keeping a close eye on every bill and being extremely cautious when giving out personal information such as phone numbers.

In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission enacted new rules to help protect consumers from fraudulent charges on their landline phone bills, but it can still be hard for consumers to detect these charges because they often get described in a way that makes consumers believe they are charges for services the phone company provides such as voicemail or web services.

Cramming is on the rise, said the Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission during an interview with Herb Weisbaum, consumer reporter for MSNBC.com. Cramming can come from any number of sources. Some victims may have inadvertently signed up for a subscription service — such as for "free" ringtones or a daily joke or horoscopes — not realizing they'd be billed every month. Many instances occur after a consumer signs up for a sweepstakes or enters a contest and enters his or her phone number.

The FTC recently cracked down on one company that used telemarketers to convince people into signing up for "free" trial services. Calling a psychic hotline or entering a sweepstakes can also lead to cramming. Unfortunately, in some cases, the victim is just an unlucky random target.

BBB recomme­nds taking the following five steps to fight cramming:

n Keep a close eye on monthly statements. Anyone can become a victim of cramming so monitoring you monthly bills is extremely important. The sooner you spot the charges, the sooner you can fight them.

n Know your rights. Consumers can contact their cell phone provider and request that all third party charges be blo­cked.

n Know whom you can trust online. Before handing over any personal information online, always research the business with your BBB at www.bbb.org/us/ Find-Business-Reviews.

n Guard your personal information closely. Be wary when asked to provide personal information to sign up for a free trial or enter a sweepstakes. Always read the fine print on any offer so you understand how your personal information may be used.

n Know where to complain. If you are unable to resolve the issue, either through your telephone provider or directly with the business, file a complaint with the FCC for charges related to telephone service and FTC for all other cramming charges on your phone bill. You can also file a complaint with BBB.

For more advice on managing personal finances and protecting your wallet, visit us online at bbb.org. To report a fraud or scam, call the BBB Hotline: 903-581-8373.


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