Unwanted services

There was a lot of talk about telephone cramming last year. Has anything been done to protect consumers from this problem?
-T. Adams, New York, NY

You’re right. Cramming, the placement of unauthorized miscellaneous charges on consumers’ telephone bills, was a major area of concern for telephone customers and industry regulators in 1998 and through early 1999. However, cramming has declined over the last year, according to Holly Anderson, director of Communications at the National Consumer League. She says, “Cramming has fallen down to No. 3 on our list of complaints and we are expecting it to drop further.”

Local telephone companies can take much of the credit for the decline in this consumer complaint. “They’re taking a proactive approach to cramming by automatically removing the charges from the customer’s bill if there is a discrepancy,” says Anderson. “Some have also implemented a new service that requires a company to get your permission before adding a charge to your phone bill.”

But you should still read all forms and materials that accompany your phone bill every month so you aren’t stuck with services you didn’t authorize or don’t want. In addition, get an explanation for charges that come under vague descriptions such as monthly fee, call manager, basic access, minimum use fee, special plan, or 800 service. Other red flags involve services or company names designed to sound like a part of your normal telephone service, such as enhanced phone services or club membership.

Mail your consumer questions to Ask Your Advocate, black enterprise, 130 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011, or send an e-mail to brownmr@blackenterprise.com.

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