What is "Cramming?"
Cramming is the act of placing unauthorized charges
on your wireline, wireless, or bundled services telephone bill.
Deception is the hallmark of cramming. Crammers often rely
on confusing telephone bills to trick consumers into paying for services they did
not authorize or receive, or that cost more than the consumer was led to
Wireless consumers should be particularly vigilant.
Smartphones are sophisticated handheld devices that enable consumers to shop
online from wherever they are or charge app purchases to their phone bills. The
more your phone bill begins to resemble a credit card bill, the more
difficult it may become to spot unauthorized charges.
How does cramming occur?
Cramming most often occurs when telephone service providers allow
other providers of goods or services to place charges on their customers'
telephone bills, enabling a telephone number to be used like a credit or debit
card account number for vendors. Crammers may attempt to place a charge on a
consumer's phone bill having nothing other than an active telephone number,
which can be obtained from a telephone directory.
What do cramming charges look like?
Cramming comes in many forms. Charges – such as those
described below – may be legitimate if authorized but, if unauthorized, are
Charges for services that are explained on your telephone
bill in general terms such as "service fee," "service
charge," "other fees," "voicemail," "mail
server," "calling plan" and "membership."
Charges that are added to your telephone bill every month
without a clear explanation of the services provided – such as a "monthly
fee" or "minimum monthly usage fee."
Charges for specific services or products you may not have
authorized, like ringtones, cell phone wallpaper, or "premium" text
messages about sports scores, celebrity gossip, flirting tips or daily
A list of legitimate typical charges you may see on your bill according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can be found at: fcc.gov/consumers/guides/understanding-your-telephone-bill
How to protect against cramming
Carefully review your telephone bill every month, just as
closely as you review your monthly credit card and bank statements.
Ask yourself the following questions as you review your
Do I recognize the names of all the companies listed on my
What services were provided by the listed companies?
Does my bill include charges for calls I did not place or
services I did not authorize?
Are the rates and line items consistent with the rates and
line items that the company quoted to me?
When in doubt, ask questions. You may be billed for a call
you placed or a service you used, but the description listed on your telephone
bill for the call or service may be unclear. If you do not know what service
was provided for a charge listed on your bill, ask your telephone company to
explain the charge before paying it.
Make sure you know what service was provided, even for small
charges. Cramming often goes undetected as very small "mystery
charges" – sometimes only $1, $2, or $3 – to thousands of consumers.
Crammed charges can remain on bills for years.
Keep a record of the services you have authorized and used.
These records can be helpful when billing descriptions are unclear.
Carefully read all forms and promotional materials,
including the fine print, before signing up for telephone or other services to
be billed on your phone bill.
What to do if you have been crammed
Take the following actions if your telephone bill lists
unknown or suspicious charges:
Call the telephone company responsible for your bill,
explain your concerns about the charges, and ask to have incorrect charges
removed. You can also call the company that charged you, ask them to explain
the charges, and request an adjustment to your bill for any incorrect charges.
If neither the telephone company sending you the bill nor
the company that provided the service in question will remove charges you
consider to be incorrect, you can file a complaint with the Wisconsin
Department of Consumer Protection.
What is "Slamming?"
"Slamming" is the illegal practice of switching a
consumer's telephone service provider without permission. FCC rules also prohibit unreasonable
delays in the execution of an authorized switch by your local provider. The rules provide a remedy if you have been slammed, discourage
slamming by removing the profit and protect consumers from illegal switches.
How to protect against slamming
Always examine your telephone bill immediately and
thoroughly. If you see a new provider name on your bill, call the
number that is shown on that portion of the bill and ask for an explanation.
Be sure you understand that switching providers may also mean switching your international service. Ask whether any international
calling plans you have with your current provider will be offered
by the new provider.
Ask your provider to place a
"freeze" on your account to keep anyone other than you from changing
your authorized provider selection. Your written or verbal
authorization will be required to remove the freeze.
Authorized switching methods
Your new telephone service provider will verify the switch by one of the following methods:
Using an independent third party to verify your oral
authorization to switch.
Obtaining your signature on a letter that indicates, in
writing, that you want to switch authorized providers.
Providing a toll-free number that you can call to confirm
the order to switch authorized providers.
What to do if you have been slammed
If your authorized telephone company has been switched
without your permission:
Call the slamming provider and tell them that you want the
problem fixed and, under FCC rules, you do not have to pay for the first 30
days of its service. You also do not have to pay your authorized telephone company for any charges for up to 30 days. After 30 days, you must pay your authorized company for service, but at its rates, not at the slammer's rates.
Call your authorized provider to inform it of the slam, and
that you want to be switched back with the same calling plan you had before the
Also, tell your authorized local provider that you
want all charges for switching companies removed from your bill. If you discover you have been slammed after you have paid the bill of the slamming company, the slamming company must pay your authorized company 150 percent of the charges you paid the slamming company. Your authorized provider will reimburse you 50 percent of the charges you paid the slamming company. Alternatively, you can ask your authorized provider to recalculate and resend your bill using its rates instead of the slamming company's rates.