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Dec 3, 2023
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Be Wary of Cramming

For awhile, I've been familiar with the term phishing, which is receiving an email from someone who is pretending to be from a company asking for personal information. Recently, I learned about a new scam: cramming.

Cramming isn't a new scam, but it's new to me. Like every month, I get an email from AT&T saying my bill is ready to be viewed and paid. In the body of the email it gives the total amount due. When I looked at the amount I owed, I noticed it was more than it usually is. After logging in to view my bill, I saw something at the bottom called Transaction Clearing -$14.95.

I immediately started a google search to see what this thing called Transaction Clearing was about. Basically, it means I was being charged for something that I didn't sign up for. These scam companies can use your name and phone number to "charge" you a fee for long distance service, collect calls, voicemail service, web hosting, and club memberships.

Cramming charges can be small, like $2 or $3, and easy to overlook. But even when the phony charges arenít small, they may sound like fees you do owe. That makes them tough to pick out, especially if your phone bill varies month to month. These charges can appear on your cell phone bill, too.

To catch these bogus charges, take time to read your bill each month. Make it a habit to check the charges on your bill each month for services you havenít ordered or calls you havenít made. If your bill goes up one month, even by just a few dollars, take a closer look.

Also, if you pay your bill online, never set it up for AutoPay. AutoPay automatically deducts your bill payment from your checking account or your credit card each month. If you do have phony charges on your bill, it may be harder to dispute them if your bill has already been paid.

When I contacted AT&T about the charges, I was told to call the number that was at the bottom of the bill where the charges appear. When I called the number, I was told I would receive a refund. We will see.

While reading about cramming, I came across something called a "third-party bill block," which can be added to your phone service that will block all unauthorized non-AT&T charges. You can request bill block at no charge by calling 1.800.288.2020.

If you think you've been a victim of cramming, you should file a complaint. Even if you get a refund, notify the FTC at ftc.gov, or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). You also can file a complaint with your state Attorney Generalís office (visit naag.org or check the government section of your phone book for the number) or the state agency that regulates phone service in your state ó often the state public service commission or public utilities commission, which you can look up on the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners website at naruc.org/commissions.cfm. Try to include the names of all the companies involved, not just your telephone company.