Keep the Garbage Off Your Phone Bill

January 22, 2008

By Karen

We know we must watch credit card bills for charges that could signal identity theft. But phone bills pose an equally insidious threat, and phone companies are complicit by listing their own legitimate charges in gibberish and by allowing anyone to place charges on your bill without authorization.

My phone has been targeted twice, but the first phony charge was only 25 cents, so I eventually paid it after protesting it for several months and getting nowhere.

Phone scam crooks depend on our lack of attention and/or comprehension of our bills, and our unwillingness to do battle with the phone company.

Last March, a suspicious $4.25 charge from Integrated Voice Services in Tampa, FL, appeared on my Verizon phone bill for a conference calling service I never ordered. It would have become a monthly charge if I hadn’t caught it.

Verizon refused to remove it, so I contacted Integrated – every month for four months. They canceled their “service” immediately, but that $4.25 hung on my bill as an overdue balance, and even accumulated finance charges. Integrated kept saying, “Just wait one more billing cycle,” for it to disappear.

All Verizon would do was waive the finance charges and put the $4.25 in dispute so it wouldn’t go against my credit rating. By law, I don’t believe they could cut off my phone service for not paying it.

By July, I was incensed enough to call the State Corporation Commission, and learned that phone companies earn a fee on these fraudulent charges (as well as any finance charges, if you give up and pay them), so they have no incentive to stop.

Once the SCC was on the case, Verizon had so many days to respond. They did, my account was cleared, and they offered to put a “cramming block” on my line, which was supposed to stop them from adding future unauthorized junk.

Anyone can call their phone company and request a cramming block (a.k.a. third-party block). You’ll never see them advertised, they’re not foolproof, and they’re not the only blocks available, but they’re a good start.


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