Watch out for unauthorized charges on cellphone bill

Published July 7, 2013

Once a big problem only with landline telephones, cramming ­— the placement of unauthorized charges on phone bills by outsiders — is gaining a foothold in the mobile-phone marketplace.

The Federal Trade Commission recently filed its first mobile cramming lawsuit against a company, and the agency says more such cases are likely to follow.

The wireless industry, which self-polices against cramming, several years ago set up guidelines on when outside parties are allowed to place charges on a consumer's phone bill. One key provision is the double opt-in, in which consumers must confirm twice that they agree to a purchase before they can be charged for it on their monthly bill.

Usually, the initial opt-in occurs when a consumer signs up for a service on the Internet. Then the service or content provider sends a text message to the consumer's mobile phone number, seeking a second confirmation.

Absent new regulation, consumers are left largely at the mercy of the wireless industry, with each carrier having its own policy on dealing with cramming. It's up to the phone company, for instance, whether to refund all or some of the unauthorized charges.

Until more protections are adopted, here are some tips:

• If you get a strange text that you suspect might be from a crammer, check out the phone or code number in the message at The site lets you see what other consumers have reported about the sender.

• Review your cellphone bill each month for unauthorized charges. If you notice one, contact the phone company immediately to dispute the charge.

• Consumers also should file a complaint with the FTC or their state agency and let the phone company know they have done so.

• To prevent further cramming, ask the phone company to block third-party charges on your phone bill.