Submission Number: 00017
Commenter: Cindy Orr
Agency: Federal Trade Commission
Initiative: FTC Forum in May 2011 Will Examine Ways to Protect Consumers From “Cramming” of Unauthorized Charges on Their Phone Bills; Project No. P104403
Attachments: No Attachments
In August 2010 we discovered a charge on our AT&T wireless bill for $19.99 from Flycell, a third party biller. After further investigation we found this charge buried in the middle pages of our monthly 20+ page bill since February 2009. 18 months at $19.99 = $359.82. We had never heard of Flycell or the "cramming" practice of unauthorized charges being put on phone bills. We signed up for phone service only and mistakenly trusted our carrier. Since we had never heard of cramming we did not know a block was available (upon request) or that the FTC website lists guidlines to prevent cramming.
After my 3rd call to AT&T I was told they were only "authorized to credit 3 months. The rudeness, accusations, time spent and runaround I had to go through with AT&T and Flycell to get full compensation was outrageous. I ALONE was eventually able to get the full 18 month"credit". During this process I read hundreds of complaints from people who experienced what I had. Most settled for the pat "3 month credit". Not refund - credit.
Problem is these billers through an established business relationship with the carriers toss bogus charges onto the consumers bill hoping they won't notice...and they usually don't. No verification required.
This has been an issue since the 90's and little has been done to protect the consumer. The complaints continue to grow yearly. Not yet including the many consumers that are not even aware (as we were not) that they are being taken. It disgusts me that these third party billers and the carriers (as they DO get a kickback) are permitted to continually steal from the consumer. Why does it take so long to do what is right?. I think I know the answer to that question now.
I wanted to do what I could to get involved in stopping or regulating this shady practice but repeatedly ran into a brick wall with every governmental agency and politician I contacted. Most passed the buck, some sent form letters or never responded. I have written or called (some numerous times) the FCC, FTC, Public Services Commission, Dept of Agriculture, Senator Charles Schumer, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, Senator Jay Rockefeller and Senator Bill Nelson. As a consumer, constituent and taxpayer the lack of interest and assistance only adds to my frustration and disillusionment. Enforcing this on a business by business basis (i.e. Inc21) or the occasional class action lawsuit is merely a bandaid, as it continues. There needs to be some kind of federal universal regulation and enforcement and not just a slap on the wrist.
At the very least these charges should be made obvious to the consumer on the first page of the phone bill instead of buried in the middle of a 20 page bill. Better yet would be a separate invoice from the third party biller. In addition, written confirmation or entering a password for purchases should be instituted so the consumers phone number can't be used as a credit card by thieves. When a contract is being signed for phone service it should be mandatory that the consumer is told verbally about third party billing and that a block is available to prevent unauthorized charges. And not nesessarily finally, if the charges are in fact unauthorized full compensation should be returned to the consumer by his choice of credit or refund without having to jump through hoops only to be hit with the deceptive "3 month limit" speech.
Since the FTC is the governmental agency responsible for protecting consumers mobile lines and the FCC handles land lines both agencies fail in doing their job to protect the consumer. Allowing third party billers and carriers to continue cramming (since the 90's) is deceptive and dishonest and violates consumer rights and in my eyes puts these 2 agencies in the same boat as the carriers and third party billers. Based on past history I am wondering if much will come out of this forum and am trying to be hopeful. What can I do to help institute some kind of regulation so the consumer is protected?. I would be happy to testify, tell my story or do whatever is needed to help put an end to this robbery and protect the consumer.
These are comments I would like entered for Project No.: P104403; FTC Forum in May 2011 to Protect Consumers From "Cramming" of Unauthorized Charges on Their Phone Bills