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Petition to prohibit phone ‘cramming’ filed

By Staff | Feb 17, 2009

Attorney General Bill McCollum and Public Counsel J. R. Kelly today filed a petition before the Florida Public Service Commission seeking a prohibition against all Florida telecommunication companies from placing unauthorized third-party charges on consumers’ telephone bills.
The charges are usually for products or services not requested, authorized, needed nor used by the consumer. The companies named in today’s petition include Embarq, and Verizon, as well as BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc., which does business as AT&T Florida and AT&T Southeast.
“This practice of phone companies placing unauthorized charges on telephone bills has increased dramatically in recent years and must not be allowed to continue,” said McCollum in a prepared statement. “Florida consumers have a right to expect their telephone bills will not be used as a billing and collection service for every vendor selling its wares.”
McCollum and Kelly have asked the PSC to declare that the statutory authority relating to telephone companies does not permit billing for non-telecommunication vendor products and services, and that billing for such charges by the telecommunication companies is prohibited. The petition, which addresses a practice known as “cramming,” was prepared by the Attorney General’s Economic Crimes Division with the Office of the Public Counsel. Cramming occurs when unauthorized charges are added to phone service bills often without the consumer’s knowledge or consent.
“Telecommunication companies should be concerned with serving their customers, not adding on third-party charges for profit,” said Kelly in a prepared statement. “Consumers should not have to pay for services they
neither wanted nor authorized.”
Through internet advertising and telemarketing, vendors are able to bill for their products and services by obtaining the telephone numbers of unsuspecting consumers. For example, consumers accepting free coupons and
other free benefits over the internet often do not realize that, when they provide their phone number as part of the acceptance, they may be unknowingly approving the purchase of some other unwanted product or
service. Once vendors of these services have a phone number, they forward
any charges to a billing aggregator, which in turn provides the charges to
the consumer’s local telephone companies for placement on the consumer’s
monthly bill. The local telephone companies and the aggregators both earn
a certain percentage of the total amount of charges billed to consumer
telephone bills.
Consumers frequently complain about these products and services, which
include voicemail boxes and other non-essential items, but are unaware of
whom to contact for resolution and reimbursement. Other consumers are
often unaware of the unauthorized vendor charges because of the length and
complexity of telephone bills. From July 2007 to August 2008, Florida
telecommunication companies billed approximately 387,000 Florida consumers
for third-party charges totaling over $26.9 million.
The Attorney General advises all consumers who have discovered cramming
charges on their phone bills to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office by calling 1-866-966-7226 or by filling out a complaint form online at: myfloridalegal.com/phonecompanies. Consumers may also contact their local telephone company to obtain a “block” on all third-party non-telecommunication charges on their telephone bills.
A copy of the petition is available online at: