Saturday, November 9, 2013

Beware of Christmas "Crammers"

Oma just received a phone call from a gentleman who identified himself as Aaron Lewis. I am not sure if he identified himself as an AT&T Representative. However, he did leave me with the impression that he represented my provider.

Aaron went on to explain that many businesses are cancelling their landlines and relying solely on cellular telephones. Therefore, he wanted to “help” our business by saving us over $18 per month on our plan.

I told him to send me the information via email or regular mail. He stated that he was in a call center and had no access to either.

Oma about 50 years ago trying to convince Sinterklaas that she has been a good girl.
Oma trying to convince Sinterklaas
that she has been a good girl.

Ding Ding Ding – Alarm Bells when off in Oma’s head. . . . .
Did Sinterklass (Santa) bring me Christmas Crammers?

“You do not work for AT&T do you?” Oma queried.

Aaron explained that he did not work for AT&T but could not help us with our account without their knowledge. Aaron works for "Integrated Services, Inc." When you go to their website you can read their description:

ISI is an innovative telecommunications company that consistently delivers the value consumers want and expect. More and more businesses are looking to ISI to provide them with reliable and affordable telecommunications service.

Unfortunately, when you google Integrated Services, Inc., you will discover that they garnished a bunch of complaints about being a scam!

Oma was a victim of a similar scam in the past. The friendly caller tricks you into approving their “plan” and then have AT&T charge you via a “third party” billing for a service you never really use.

“I do not authorized any changes in my plan,” Oma was adamant. However, it is a sure bet that Oma will be watching her AT&T bills for the next several months to make sure that helpful Aaron did not add any “third party” charges to my telephone bill!

While I am not saying that ISI is a scam; it is a shame that there are such unscrupulous companies out there willing to take advantage of un-expecting consumers. I suspect that us Omas and Opas (Grandparents) are especially susceptible to these deceitful operations.

Here is what happened to Oma in 2008: 

Sweepers Beware Phone Bill ‘Cramming’ Spikes Again

This month, I was paying bills and noticed that my phone bill had inched its way up to $155.55 per month. That was ridiculous. It use to be just over $100.00 per month. Therefore, I examined my bill closely. On page 4 of 5, the third party billing started.

Important - If you read:

This portion of your bill is provided as a service to the company identified above. Please review all charges appearing in this section. If you have any questions or concerns, call the telephone number shown above.

You are probably the victim of a scam!

CRAMMING is one byproduct of the deregulation of the telephone industry. To open the system to increased competition, local phone companies have to lease their phone lines to outside firms who want to sell competitive services. It’s perfectly legal for a third-party company to sell a home voice mail service to you, billed through your home phone bill.

But shady telecommunications companies are taking advantage of the fact that local phone companies have no stake in verifying that consumers agreed to pay for such services, so they “cram” charges on phone bills, hoping consumers won’t notice.

I was told that when I visited certain contest sites (they did not know which ones) I unknowingly signed up for these 'services.' I had five different services on my AT&T account from three different billing company. My December 2008 bill was charged $67.79 dollars for these scams!

When it started in July 2008, it was for one charge of $14.95. I am ashamed to report that I did not even notice. However, when my bill almost doubled in five month - I woke up.

One of the offenders on my bill was ILD Teleservices. The Federal Communications Commission said it received 457 cramming complaints against ILD Telecommunications between January and December of last year, including 170 in the last three months of the year. ILD Telecommunications is ILD Teleservices’ parent firm.

Fred Lloyd, vice president of strategic planning and corporate development for ILD, said his company is merely a go-between that arranges billing for third-party companies that want to provide residential or business telecommunications services. ILD helps companies like Liberty Online construct billing arrangements with home phone carries like Quest and Verizon. Lloyd admits there have been complaints from consumers who say they’ve being charged for services they never ordered, but said the blame should fall on the third-party firm, not his company. He added that ILD generates hundreds of thousands of bills each month, and complaints are a tiny fraction of their transactions.

“From time to time, we have some billing questions,” he said. “We always work with (customers) on a case by case basis.” Lloyd said he warns third-party companies when there are numerous complaints, and will cancel their billing services if the complaints don’t stop. He wouldn’t say how many companies have been censured, other than to say “There have been a handful I’ve had to kick off.”

Bottom Line - Sweepers Beware

Consumers are responsible for discovering cramming charges on their own; so that means the only safeguard against unwanted fees is detailed examination of the monthly phone bill. But consumers can decrease their chances of getting crammed by carefully reading sweepstakes entries or other junk mail solicitations before filling them out — often they are ruses that serve as permission to switch telephone providers or add services. It also helps to avoid speaking at
length with telemarketers.

But the single best defense is to call your local phone company and ask it to shut off “third-party billing.” That prevents companies from adding charges onto local phone bills.

Consumers who have been crammed should carefully save all paperwork and immediately call their local phone provider to dispute the charge. Next, call the provider listed on the bill, and don’t back down if the company claims you authorized the charge.

With the help of an extremely pleasant and knowledgeable AT&T supervisor, I was able to secure the promise of a complete refund of $238.85.

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