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Unauthorized Charges Common On Cell Phone Bills

The Vermont Attorney General's office says this is one example of an unauthorized third party cell phone charge

The Vermont Attorney General’s office has settled two lawsuits involving third party phone charges for services that weren’t authorized by customers.

The settlements mean 12,500 individual Vermonters and businesses will receive refunds totaling $900,000.

Most consumers would find it difficult to recognize unauthorized third party charges on their phone bills.  Many appear to be essential services or have innocuous names like ‘usage charge’.

For years charges for third party services found their way onto the bills of Vermont land line phone customers without their knowledge or approval.  The practice is called ‘cramming’.

The settlements announced Tuesday by Attorney General Bill Sorrell cover unauthorized third party land line charges dating as far back as 2004.  Twenty five companies and 11 individuals have agreed to refund Vermont consumers and pay the state an additional $725,000.

In 2010, Vermont became the first state to pass legislation outlawing all third party charges on land line phones, but Sorrell says the problem still exists for cell phone users. 

For that reason, he says it’s important to pay close attention to monthly cell phone bills.

“Ask about charges,” Sorrell advises consumers.  “Your carrier should tell you.  If they acknowledge it’s a third party charge you didn’t know was there, you didn’t authorize, you weren’t using the service, demand a full refund.”

Sorrell says in many cases cell phone companies will offer to refund third party charges for only the most recent bills.  He says although the carriers are not levying the charges, they often receive a percentage of the fee charged by the third party.

He says a statewide survey last year by the University of Vermont showed the majority of people with third party charges on their cell phone bills were unaware of them and said they were never authorized.

“Perhaps a more important number is that 80 percent of those Vermonters had no idea that charges for third party services could appear on one’s cell phone bill,” Sorrell says.

At a news conference Sorrell showed examples of cell phone bills with unauthorized third party charges. One was simply labeled ‘data’ and another apparently referred to ring tones.

He says third parties have a variety of ways of getting on phone bills and he cautions consumers against circulating their cell phone numbers too widely or answering spam texts.

Sorrell says his office and 44 other state attorneys general are working together to address cell phone cramming, which he says is estimated to cost U.S. consumers more than $2 billion annually.

Court documents containing the names of the companies and individuals involved in the settlements:



Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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