Is Your Phone Bill a Little Higher? Are You Seeing Unexplained Charges? You Have Been CRAMMED!!

You get your phone bill and you find that it’s a little higher than the previous month– maybe by $10-$15. Or it could be as much as $30!! If you see these charges listed under addtional or miscellaneous fees section of your phone bill, you best contact your carrier and find out WHO is getting this money because you most likely have been CRAMMED!!

I just found it on my phone bill and not only was I crammed for one month, but it had been going on intermittantly for almost 6 months. I got the name of the company from my carrier and contacted them via googling them. Here’s the parent company site: BSG based out of San Antonio, Texas If you check the site, you will find that they have a unumber of subsidiary companies doing all these nasty little things:

Enabill
ESBI
Bill2Phone
HBS
OAN
USBI
ZPDI
All Phone Bills

What BSG says they do on their site is NOT what they really do. They don’t help you, they want to keep billing you.

One would think that these companies would be based overseas– but nope they aren’t. I got dinged by ESBI and it was based in Montana. I called them as soon as I found out about it and told them that I had not authorized these charges. The CS person danced around the issue and said she could only credit me for 3 months at a pop at $14.95 per month. The problem is that one month, they had double charged me. The claim was that I was past due — but my phone bill gets paid in full every month– so there was no past due. I argued with her and she was not budging and I wasn’t either. I asked if the call was being recorded and she said yes. I did tell her that it violated FTC regulations, PUC (California Public Utilities Commission) and that I could sue them in small claims court because they were doing business in California through by billing me through Verizon California. I also told them I would lodge a complaint with my state attorney general.

I called back to my carrier — a total of four phone calls within 24 hours to get them to do a cram block on my phone plus dispute the charges which they were happy to do. Verizon told me that they get this happening and people need to examine their phone bills MONTHLY for weird charges. I got all the charges reimbursed and they are going to do a chargeback to the ESBI people.

I did call the ESBI people again (because Verizon suggested it) and I spoke to both a CS R and a supervisor and asked again if they were recording the call. (yes, they were). I told them what they were doing was illegal and that I would lodge complaints against them with the FTC, PUC, State Atty General and could sue them in small claims court– but didn’t have to do that because Verizon was going to ding them for the money for illegally charging me for the money.
Every time I spoke to ESBI I did tell them I was a blogger and I would post this online for EVERYONE to see.

What is cramming? The FTC has a page here about cramming. Here is a partial description of it from the FTC page.

Cramming” is the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading or deceptive charges on your telephone bill. Crammers rely on confusing telephone bills in an attempt to trick consumers into paying for services they did not authorize or receive, or that cost more than the consumer was led to believe.

How Does Cramming Occur?

In addition to providing local telephone service, local telephone companies often bill their customers for long distance and other services that other companies provide. If a local telephone company, long distance telephone company or another type of service provider either accidentally or intentionally places unauthorized, misleading or deceptive charges on your bill, you may have been “crammed.”

Cramming can also occur if a local or long distance company or another type of service provider does not clearly or accurately describe all of the relevant charges to you when marketing a service. Although you may have authorized the service, you did not understand or were misled about how much it would really cost.

The WashPO just posted an update about FTC proposing stiff penalties for companies who are found to be guilty of cramming charges

And who are these guys? I did a little bit of research while I was stewing in my own juices, waiting for the next day to get here. I guess I have a couple of tidbits of info. For example, here’s some company details from November 2002 listed in a sample contract form:
Enhanced Services Billing, Inc. (“ESBI” or “Company”), a Delaware corporation, whose principal address and telephone number are 7411 John Smith Drive, Suite 200, San Antonio, Texas 78229-4898, (210) 949-7000
The San Antonio Citysearch linked above (probably more recent) gives this info:
Enhanced Services Billing, Inc., 10500 Heritage Blvd Ste 200, San Antonio, TX 78216-3631, (210) 949-7000

Different street addresses, but same phone number, and coincidentally, the same suite number. Of course, this local number for Enhanced Services Billing Inc is not the same as the toll free number 1-888-298-3724 that is provided for customer service.

.
And I found this site about cramming to be helpful. It even led me to this pdf file here.(pdf link no longer valid) While I was there, I could read all about Enhanced Services Billing Inc, and the settlement agreement they signed. More specifically, I might note that it was a “Stipulated Final Judgment and Order For Permanent Injunction and Other Equitable Relief.” This enjoins the defendants (including Enhanced Services Billing Inc.) from “violating Section 5 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. [some squiggly “S” looking symbol I can’t type] 45(a).” Where all the relevant parties have signed, I can see that a man named Joseph W. Webb, at the “John Smith” address above, is the president of the company. The agreement was likely signed by him either May 9th or May 10th of 2001, a date which also seems to fit with the “John Smith” address. You’ll see his signature on Page 34 of the pdf. So thanks, FTC, I feel my tax dollars were put to good use.

The FTC comes through again with this article, also from 2001,(article no longer available) about how the scam works. Turns out Enhanced Services Billing Inc is a billing aggregator. I’ll let the FTC tell you what that is:
ESBI and BCI each served as “billing aggregators.” Billing aggregators open the gate to the telephone billing and collection system for vendors, and act as intermediaries between the vendors and the local phone companies, contracting with the local phone companies to have charges on behalf of their client vendors placed on consumers’ telephone bills and to have the local telephone companies collect those charges from consumers. Once the charges are collected by the phone companies, the billing aggregators, after taking their fee, pass the revenues back to their client vendors.

Referencing the pdf noted above, to which Enhanced Services Billing Inc stipulated, the FTC asserts the following:
-that ESBI falsely represented that consumers were legally obligated to pay charges on their telephone bills for web sites and other items they had not ordered or authorized others to order for them;
-that ESBI unfairly attempted to collect – or arranged for local phone companies to collect – payment of charges from consumers for web sites and other items they had not ordered and that consumers were unable to prevent ESBI from causing such unauthorized charges to appear on their phone bills;

If you have been crammed, here’s what you should do:

WHAT CONSUMERS SHOULD DO

Consumers are responsible for discovering cramming charges on their own; so that means the only safeguard against unwanted fees is detailed examination of the monthly phone bill. But consumers can decrease their chances of getting crammed by carefully reading sweepstakes entries or other junk mail solicitations before filling them out — often they are ruses that serve as permission to switch telephone providers or add services. It also helps to avoid speaking at length with telemarketers.

But the single best defense is to call your local phone company and ask it to shut off “third-party billing.” That prevents companies from adding charges onto local phone bills.

Consumers who have been crammed should carefully save all paperwork and immediately call their local phone provider to dispute the charge. Next, call the provider listed on the bill, and don’t back down if the company claims you authorized the charge.

Don’t pay the charge, either — phone service cannot be disconnected for non-payment of the third-party portion of a phone bill. However, the third-party provider can put their bill into collections, with the possibility that non-payment could end up on a credit report, so it’s important to follow-up with the billing company to be sure the charge is permanently removed

Ok. there’s some tricks to this not paying the bill routine. You have to notify your phone carrier– and then tell them you didn’t authorize these charges.
Second, at that point you can safely NOT PAY THOSE specific charges. You do have to pay your carrier charges though.
Third, request your carrier put a cramming block on your phone number (both cell and landline)
Also you need to contact that third party company that levied the charges and tell them that you want to have a copy of your signed authorzation with your legal name on it and/or the recording of the consent for the charges to be billed to your carrier. Typically they don’t have all that and even if they do have it, you can usually contest this because you didn’t know what you were signing because it was in teeny tiny print (see the FTC site or the other site about cramming).

Also, if you can find out which company it is that is contact them and make sure you keep records of who, when, you spoke to them and where they are located. Find them on the web if you can. Keep copies of your phone bills. Contact your phone company along with the PUC, FTC and your state attorney general.
I saved $100 on disputing these charges in for just 4.5 months. For some people they have been charged for years. (It happened to me once before and I had been dinged for over 3 years and I could only get 18 months of compensation.) Check your bills every single month!!

Stevie Wilson,
LA-Story.com

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Author: Stevie Wilson

Digital and social media pioneer and visionary meets disruptive innovator with a passion for topics and conversations that reveal insight into the So. California lifestyle. LA-Story.com appeals to a global audience (from Asia to Africa; Middle East to Europe, No. America to Latin America) in variety of topics and sectors: style (beauty and fashion), health & fitness, entertainment (movies, TV, books, music and more) ; food, beverages & spirits; IT Security + tech , travel, special events (red carpet to green carpet) I am known for interviews ( podcasts , textual and video conversations) with notables, celebrities and companies about interesting products & brands; profiles about places that reflect the So. CA vision and special events (Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys & other events that illustrate celebrity , athletes and home-town "stars" lifestyle and initiatives.) that illuminate the insider's perspective of So. California's lifestyle . Learn what's hot in Los Angeles, NYC, MIami and stops closer to home that make this blog a must-read because the voice, attitude, authenticity and ability to grasp the essence of most sectors, brands & products make it easy for consumers to earn what makes a brand, initiative or product unique - whether, food, fashion or finance (or any other topic "on the table") With 15+ Years online launching websites, online magazines, forums, products & brands, my voice, authenticity and ability to grasp the essence of most sectors, brands & products make it easy for me to share what the online audience and consumers alike want to learn- how to shop, live and reflect the lifestyle they wish to emulate. Need to leverage digital and social media space? Reach out to me!

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