A phone scam we can all hang up on
By David Kolata June 8, 2012 8:18PM
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, left, and Assistant Vermont Attorney General Elliot Burg, testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 13, 2011, before the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on "Unauthorized Charges on Telephone Bills: Why Crammers Win and Consumers Lose." (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Updated: July 11, 2012 10:16AM
Leave it to a phone scam to spark a little political harmony in no-holds-barred Springfield.
One of the 97th General Assembly’s success stories has been HB 5211, Illinois’ knockout punch to “cramming.” That’s when third-party companies slap fraudulent charges — up to $2 billion a year — on our phone bills for services never ordered or received.
HB 5211, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Burke, of Oak Lawn, and Sen. David Koehler, of Pekin, would ban third-party charges from phone bills, with some logical exceptions, such as long distance and cable charges.
No partisan bickering here: The measure, championed by Attorney General Lisa Madigan, passed the Illinois House 105-0, and the Senate completed the shutout with a recent 54-0 vote. It had to go back to the House for approval of some minor amendments, but now the bill awaits Gov. Pat Quinn’s expected signature.
That’s good news for the cramming victims who call CUB from all over the state: a nurse in Oak Lawn, the owner of an insurance company in Canton, even a state legislator in Marion. But federal officials estimate that only one in 20 victims actually realizes he or she has been crammed. Think of hard-working parents burning money on a bad charge they never spot in the bustle of their family lives, or grandparents on fixed incomes who have given up trying to understand their phone bills.
Those consumers now have a lot more protection, thanks to HB 5211. But total victory is not ours just yet. The legislation and tougher federal cramming rules approved this year cover landline phones only, so the wireless industry is the next battleground. We’ll have a lot of support, if the latest legislative session is any indication. After CUB spurred 1,700 consumers to email the General Assembly in support of HB 5211, one legislator actually high-fived CUB’s policy analyst in the halls of the state Capitol!
Yes, high-fives all around. But scammers are persistent, so be sure to read your bills. If you do spot a suspicious third-party charge:
Call the cramming company and dispute the charge. The number should be listed on your phone bill.
Call your phone company. Inform it that you’re disputing the charge and you’re only paying the undisputed part of your bill. Make sure you agree what that undisputed amount is, and record the time of the call and the full name of the person you talk to.
If you’re not satisfied with the response in steps one or two, file a complaint with the office of Attorney General Madigan. (In Northern Illinois, visit www.ag.state.il.us, or call (800) 386-5438.) Keep one copy of the complaint for yourself and send the other to the cramming company.
David Kolata is
executive director of the
Citizens Utility Board.