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Since the beginning of the 21st century and the increased popularity of cell phones, the phone scams have also increased in popularity.  I know we have all received those phones calls, that when you call the number back it has been disconnected or the number does not exist.

Well these con-artist have stepped up the game and now are trying to record certain words you say on the phone and use those recordings as your authorization to steal you money or your credit.

 

However with today's version of cell phones, we have technology to help defeat these scammers. The best defense is not to answer the phone to numbers you do not recognize. Just let the phone call go to voice mail. If it is a serious creditor or someone trying to get in touch with you, they will leave a voice message. Plus you can always call the number back to verify that it is a true entity.

If you do answer a call from an unfamiliar number, be skeptical of strangers asking questions that would normally elicit a “yes” response. The question doesn’t have to be “can you hear me?” It could be “are you the lady of the house?”; “do you pay the household telephone bills?”; “are you the homeowner?”; or any number of similar yes/no questions. A reasonable response to any of these questions is: “Who are you, and why do you want to know?”

If the caller maintains they are with a government agency -- Social Security, the IRS, the Department of Motor Vehicles or the court system -- hang up immediately. Government officials communicate by mail, not phone (unless you initiate the call). Many con artists use the aegis of authority to convince you to keep talking. The longer you talk, the more likely you are to say something that will allow them to make you a victim.

Virginia police are warning people about the scheme, which also sparked warnings by Pennsylvania authorities late last year. The “can you hear me” con is actually a variation on earlier scams aimed at getting the victim to say the word “yes” in a phone conversation. That affirmative response is recorded by the fraudster and used to authorize unwanted charges on a phone or utility bill or on a credit card.

“You say ‘yes,’ it gets recorded and they say that you have agreed to something,” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America. “I know that people think it’s impolite to hang up, but it’s a good strategy.”

But how can you get charged if you don’t provide a payment method? The con artist already has your phone number, and many phone providers pass through third-party charges. 

In addition, the criminal may have already collected some of your personal information -- a credit card number or cable bill, perhaps -- as the result of a data breach. When the victim disputes the charge, the crook can then counter that he or she has your assent on a recorded line.  

What can you do? If you suspect you have already been victimized, check your credit card, phone and cable statements carefully for any unfamiliar charges. Call the billing company -- whether your credit card company or your phone provider -- and dispute anything that you didn’t authorize on purpose. If they say you have been recorded approving the charge and you have no recollection of that, ask for proof. 

If you need help disputing an unauthorized credit card charge, contact the Federal Trade Commission. If the charge hit your phone bill, the Federal Communications Commission regulates phone bill “cramming.”

Cramming is the illegal act of placing unauthorized charges on your wireline, wireless, or bundled services telephone bill. The FCC has estimated that cramming has harmed tens of millions of American households.

Deception is the hallmark of cramming. Crammers often rely on confusing telephone bills to trick consumers into paying for services they did not authorize or receive, or that cost more than the consumer was led to believe.

Wireless consumers should be particularly vigilant. Smartphones are sophisticated handheld devices that enable consumers to shop online from wherever they are or charge app purchases to their phone bills. The more your mobile phone bill begins to resemble a credit card bill, the more difficult it may become to spot unauthorized charges.

How does cramming occur?.

Cramming most often occurs when telephone companies allow other providers of goods or services to place charges on their customers' telephone bills, enabling a telephone number to be used like a credit or debit card account number for vendors. Crammers may attempt to place a charge on a consumer's phone bill having nothing other than an active telephone number, which can be obtained from a telephone directory.

What do cramming charges look like?.

Cramming comes in many forms.  Charges – such as those described below – may be legitimate if authorized but, if unauthorized, are cramming:

  • Charges for services that are explained on your telephone bill in general terms such as "service fee,"  "service charge," "other fees," "voicemail," "mail server," "calling plan" and "membership."
  • Charges that are added to your telephone bill every month without a clear explanation of the services provided – such as a "monthly fee" or "minimum monthly usage fee."
  • Charges for specific services or products you may not have authorized, like ringtones, cell phone wallpaper, or "premium" text messages about sports scores, celebrity gossip, flirting tips or daily horoscopes.

How can you protect yourself against cramming?.

  • Carefully review your telephone bill every month, just as closely as you review your monthly credit card and bank statements.
  • Ask yourself the following questions as you review your telephone bill:
    • Do I recognize the names of all the companies listed on my bill?
    • What services were provided by the listed companies?
    • Does my bill include charges for calls I did not place or services I did not authorize?
    • Are the rates and line items consistent with the rates and line items that the company quoted to me?
  • When in doubt, ask questions.  You may be billed for a call you placed or a service you used, but the description listed on your telephone bill for the call or service may be unclear.  If you don't know what service was provided for a charge listed on your bill, ask your telephone company to explain the charge before paying it.
  • Make sure you know what service was provided, even for small charges.  Cramming often goes undetected as very small "mystery charges" – sometimes only $1, $2, or $3 – to thousands of consumers.  Crammed charges can remain on bills for years.
  • Keep a record of the services you have authorized and used. These records can be helpful when billing descriptions are unclear.
  • Carefully read all forms and promotional materials – including the fine print – before signing up for telephone or other services to be billed on your phone bill.

What should you do if you think you have been crammed?

Take the following actions if your telephone bill lists unknown or suspicious charges:

  • Call the telephone company responsible for your bill, explain your concerns about the charges, and ask to have incorrect charges removed. You can also call the company that charged you, ask them to explain the charges, and request an adjustment to your bill for any incorrect charges.
  • If neither the telephone company sending you the bill nor the company that provided the service in question will remove charges you consider to be incorrect, you can file a complaint:
    • With the FCC about any charges on your telephone bill, whether they relate specifically to telephone service or to other products or services that appear on your bill.
    • With your state public service commission for telephone services within your state (www.n a r u c.org/commissions.c f m)
    • With the Federal Trade Commission (www.f t c complaint assistant.gov) about charges for non-telephone services on your telephone bill

More information on FCC truth-in-billing rules

The FCC's truth-in-billing rules require:

  • Clear, non-misleading, plain language describing services for which you are being billed. 
  • The billing telephone company to identify the service provider associated with each charge. 
  • The billing telephone company to distinguish between charges that will result in disconnection of basic, local service if not paid and charges that will not result in disconnection if not paid. 
  • The billing telephone company to include one or more toll-free numbers you can call to ask about or dispute any charge.

In addition, wireline telephone companies must:

  • Inform consumers of any blocking options offered for third-party billing.
  • Place third-party charges in a distinct section of the bill separate from carrier charges.
  • Include a separate subtotal for the third-party charges in the distinct bill section and on the payment page.

File a Complaint with the FCC

Visit our Consumer Complaint Center at consumer complaints.f c c.gov to file a complaint or tell us your story.

 

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