Warning: phone cramming is back

August 2, 2010 Consumer Reports says cramming could be costing you money right now. It is yet another example of why it is critical you go over all your bills with a fine-toothed comb and immediately dispute any erroneous charges.

"Learned from my Mother to check every line, every time."

So Carolyn Whitaker noticed two suspicious charges on her Verizon phone bill. This happened not just once, but twice. Carolyn was billed for one minute phone calls for which the billing company, ZPDI charged her a total of $28.93.

"I was just determined, I didn't take those calls and I wasn't going to pay."

When Carolyn called her phone company:

"What Verizon said is fine 'we'll take it off your bill, but we'll let them know you are declining to pay'."

So then Carolyn dealt with the third parties responsible for putting the ZPDI charge on her bill.

"All I got from all the companies involved is 'our system shows that you or someone in your home accepted those calls'."

The parent company of ZPDI tells Action News that it billed Caroline on behalf of Legacy LD International which claims that someone at Carolyn's number accepted the collect calls, which came from a mental hospital. But Carolyn lives by herself and says she never accepted any collect calls.

"Companies other than your phone company are allowed to put charges on your phone bill for things like voicemail service or a directory listing. The trouble is charges you didn't authorize can be slipped on your bill. It's called cramming, and there are plenty of victims," said Kim Kleman of Consumer Reports.

John Arwe became a victim of cramming, too. He received three unauthorized charges on his phone bill.

"It's easy to miss. I mean you're talking about eight or maybe 15 bucks out of 150 a month."

The Federal Trade Commission had more than 3,000 complaints of cramming last year.

And Consumer Reports describes the third parties who charge the unauthorized fees as unscrupulous.

"A big problem, with so many separate companies involved in the billing, is it's tough to get any of them to take responsibility for unauthorized charges," said Kleman.

So Verizon now has a first-call resolution policy which means if a customer says charges from a third-party are unauthorized Verizon will provide a refund no questions asked.

John got his credit from Verizon and so did Carolyn.

Carolyn also called and wrote letters to the third-party companies as well as consumer protection agencies and says eventually ZPDI also told her the matter was officially resolved.

"You can protect yourself against cramming before it happens. Ask your phone company to put a cramming block on your account. That will immediately stop other companies from placing charges on your bill," said Kleman.

Carolyn did that as well.

Verizon offers collect call blocking for free. It also says it has worked diligently to reduce the frequency of cramming and to prevent its customers from becoming victims.

Meantime, ZPDI tells Action News it just acts as the billing middle man for other companies and the issue really lies with the company who told ZPDI that Carolyn accepted the collect calls.

We called that company but got no response.

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