FTC: Illegal charges 'crammed' on cell phone bills; Team 10 looks for answers

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SAN DIEGO - Consumer advocates say chances are you've been "crammed" -- charged illegally on your cell phone bill.

It recently happened to 10News, so Team 10 Troubleshooter Cristin Severance started asking questions.

A $9.99 charged showed up on a 10News phone bill for premium messaging -- something that was never requested or agreed upon. 

A 10News manager called the cell phone provider and the charges were removed.

Consumer advocates said the station was crammed. 

"Just about everyone in the state of California has been crammed," said Charles Langley, with the Utility Consumers' Action Network.

UCAN has a hotline for people who believed they've been crammed.

Cramming is when small unauthorized charges show up on your cell phone bill.

"Consumers are just being nickled to death," said Langley.

The Federal Trade Commission receives thousands of complaints about cramming each year.

"We think the complaints are really the tip of iceberg, because many consumers don't know they've been crammed," said Stephanie Rosenthal, a staff attorney with the FTC.

Rosenthal said cramming occurs when charges just show up illegally, when consumer's unknowing sign up for a sweepstakes or buy a ring tone triggering the cramming, or customers receive a random text message.

"The text message looks like spam which they'll ignore or write back 'unsubscribe,' and it turns out that the company is just cramming and putting the charges on the bill," said Rosenthal.

The FTC said the phone companies will most likely remove the charges when asked, but said the companies cramming customers aren't so wiling. 

The FTC just filed a lawsuit against Wise Media for billing customers $10 for horoscopes and dating tips they never asked for.

The FTC is holding a roundtable discussion Wednesday in Washington D.C. to try to come up with solutions for cramming.

If you believe you've been crammed--file a complaint with the FTC.

http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0341-file-complaint-ftc

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