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FTC: T-Mobile ‘Cramming’ Bills With Bogus Charges

The Federal Trade Commission is accusing T-Mobile of placing bogus charges on its users' bills, adding up to hundreds of millions of dollars.

In a complaint filed Tuesday in federal court, the FTC claims T-Mobile allowed its customers to be victimized by third-party billing schemes known as "cramming." According to the FTC's complaint, T-Mobile retained up to 40% of the amount charged to customers by these third-party companies.

What is 'Cramming'?

"Cramming" is the name given to unauthorized subscription services added to phone bills such as horoscopes, ringtones, trivia, celebrity gossip, and dating tips. The charges for these services are typically for a small amount -- $9.99, for example -- an often go unnoticed on users' bills.

In the case of T-Mobile, the charges were further hidden in users' bills, the FTC asserts. On mobile bills, these third-party billing services were classified as "use charges":

  • For T-Mobile users who receive bills online, clicking on the "use charges" field in their online bill would show a charge for "premium services" with no further explanation.
  • Those receiving paper bills -- often 50 pages or more in length -- were charged for these services under the similarly vague "usage charges," with what the FTC characterized as inadequate captions that failed to explain the origin of the charges.
  • Prepaid phone users were billed from their prepaid amounts for with no notification.

How to Avoid Being 'Crammed'

The FTC advises consumers to take some simple precautions to avoid being victimized by third-party subscription services. For example:

  • Don't provide your mobile number to suspicious websites. Entering your mobile number on an unsecured website could allow it to be compromised.
  • Watch for strange/unsolicited text messages. A strange text message can be a red flag that your number has been compromised. If you receive unsolicited texts from unknown numbers, be sure to check your next phone bill for possible fraudulent charges.
  • Tell your carrier to block third-party charges. Many mobile phone carriers allow you to block third-party services from your phone bill for free.

If You Suspect 'Cramming' On Your Bill...

Mobile phone users who find suspicious charges on their bill should first ask their carrier to explain the charges and provide information on how to dispute them.

If that doesn't solve the problem, consumers can file a complaint with the FTC online or by calling (877) FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).

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