Money Monday: Deciphering Your Phone Bill

Money Monday: Deciphering Your Phone Bill

Don’t get charged extra for services you never ordered.

Published June 27, 2011


(Photo: Peggy Turbett/Landov)

You may be paying more for your phone bill and not even know it. The FCC is reporting that fifteen to 20 million people each year are affected by "cramming" — the process of placing unauthorized, misleading or deceptive charges on your telephone bill.


The average victim is charged anywhere from 99 cents to $19.99 a month.


"We've seen people getting charged for yoga classes, cosmetics, diet products and even psychic hotline memberships," Genachowski said at a news conference last week. "But they're buried in bills that can run 20 pages or more and are labeled with hard-to-decipher descriptions."


Some of those hard to-decipher terms? “Service fee,” “call plan” and “membership.”


Four telephone companies under the parent group Main Street Telephone are expected to pay $11.7 million to settle alleged cramming violations. An FCC investigation showed that one of Main Street’s companies charged customers unauthorized long-distance charges under the description, “USBI.” Only five percent of consumers knew they were being charged.  


To make sure that you are not, or don’t become, a victim of cramming:


1) Be cautious of “free trials” where companies can sign you up for services that can later be charged to your phone number or credit card.


2) Ask questions about fees you don’t recognize on your phone bill.


3) Read the terms and conditions of online surveys that demand your telephone number in order to have your results “delivered.” There could be an automatic sign-up for a subscription that could get billed to your phone.


4) Request through your service provider not to have outside vendors bill to your phone account.


If your service provider does not cooperate, contact the FCC at or call (888) 225-5322.

Written by Danielle Wright


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