National Consumers League

Baby steps towards cell phone cramming progress


By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Cell phones and “cramming”: we have had some – and I stress “some” -- progress for consumers in recent weeks. After years of pressure from consumer groups – which NCL helped to lead - and hearings in the U.S. Senate, first Verizon and then AT&T agreed to block most unaffiliated third parties from adding charges onto landline phone bills. For years consumers have been discovering unauthorized charges on phone bills and to get rid of them, have had to go through 1-800 hell to get the charges removed. I’ve been through this: sometimes you get a sympathetic operator who cancels the charges without a fuss, and sometimes you have to fight up the supervisory ladder to get the charges dropped. For an extra $9.99 how many consumers are willing to devote sometimes an hour or more to fighting with some anonymous operator. Furthermore, many consumers either don’t realize the charges are unauthorized or never look at the bill. So I said above “some” progress – while consumers won on blocking charges for landlines, what about blocking unauthorized charges on your cell phone? David Segal’s “The Haggler” columns recently asked the question, why don’t the cell phone providers block third-party charges on cell phones too? Why isn’t there an opt-in requiring consumers to say “yes” when a third-party wants to charge for an added service? Instead of forcing us to opt out if they don’t want any third-party charges? Segal also notes that the carriers get up to a third or half of the revenue so it may not be in their interest to block crammers from adding on charges. I have to agree with Segal; the pro-consumer angle is surely to give consumers the chance to opt-in if they want a third-party service and not require them to block all services on a case-by-case basis. Some consumers may actually want services, like weather updates or sports scores. Let those consumers provide an affirmative “yes” and the rest of us won’t have to get on the phone to cancel a service they didn’t order and don’t want.