FCC Chair: 15 To 20 Million Americans Are Seeing Mystery Fees On Landline Bills

Eight months after the FCC settled with Verizon Wireless for $25 million over mystery charges on cell phone bills, the Commission’s Chairman Julius Genachowski says he’s ready to take on the bigger problem of so-called “cramming” on landline bills.

Julie G. said earlier today that the FCC is going to announce new rules to increase transparency and disclosure on phone bills, all with the goal of making it harder for companies to place unauthorized fees for everything from long-distance service to yoga classes on your monthly bill.

The FCC believes an estimated 15 to 20 million American households a year face these false charges on their phone bill, but as few as 5% actually notice the charges among the sometimes dozens of pages of itemized charges.

Genachowski cited one example of a St. Louis woman who was charged for 25 months of long-distance service she never authorized or used. She fought the bill, so the phone company sent her a copy of the form it said proved she’d authorized the service. Wouldn’t you know, the name, address, email and birth date were all different from hers. And even then, the long-distance company only offered to settle for a portion of the amount.

Sayeth the Chairman:

Our Consumer Empowerment Agenda is focused on harnessing technology and transparency to empower consumers with the information they need to make smart decisions and to make the market work. When abusive practices require action, we will act…
Cramming is not only illegal, it erodes consumer trust in communications services. The FCC will not tolerate cramming, and we are turning up the heat on companies that rip off consumers with unauthorized fees. We want to send a clear message: if you charge consumers unauthorized fees, you will be discovered and you will be punished.

The FCC has posted this helpful tip sheet for identifying possible cramming on your phone bill. They also drew up the following infographic to illustrate the scope of the problem:

cramminggraphic.jpg