I apologize for the lack of news on All Consuming these past few weeks while I enjoyed a much-needed vacation. While exploring Italy – and wearing my money belt to prevent pickpockets from pilfering my Passport or Euros – All Consuming readers were busily sending their comments and questions. A few of them are worth special mention. Here's a recap of some phone-related inquiries:
1. Donna wrote: “I discovered in June that (my phone company) had been billing me an additional $9.99 per month for "DirectPrize" something. I never subscribed to this. …”
Donna may be a victim of what’s called “cramming.” Third-party companies bill you for services you never authorized by stuffing fees into your phone bill or credit card. If you don’t study your bills carefully, these bogus charges may sneak by undetected.
Businesses may claim you consented to the services during a phone call or by signing your name to a form. In fact, any explanation of the charges was either buried in fine print or glossed over by a fast-talking telemarketer. I’ve also seen situations where a family member (often a teenager) has signed up for a service without the parent’s consent.
The Internet is becoming a growing source for these sorts of charges, as consumers fill out contest forms, sign up for “free gifts” or register for free trials – not realizing that the fine print says that by completing the form, they authorized the charge. Sometimes, promotions are simply a means to collect consumers’ information that they then sell to marketers. Both traditional and online marketing campaigns may use negative-option sales, where a customer’s silence is interpreted by the seller as an acceptance of an offer.
The Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission have both taken enforcement action against companies that engage in cramming or deceptive negative-option billing practices. In addition, the Attorney General’s Office plans to request legislation to address online freebie promos.
2. Vi wrote: “Can you tell me is this article still true that the federal government is NOT giving out our cell phone numbers to telemarketers or anyone else for that matter?”
Yes, it’s true.
It's a common misperception that the federal government plans to authorize a wireless phone number directory. Check out the Snopes.com report on this email hoax.
Also, your Do Not Call registration will not expire. Telephone numbers placed on the national registry will remain on it permanently due to a law that became effective in February 2008. Read more about the change.
On a related note, the Washington state Legislature unanimously passed a law in 2005 stating that radio communication service companies (eg: wireless phone companies) must obtain express opt-in consent from subscribers before publishing their wireless phone numbers in directories. When drafting the law, legislators likely did not predict the recent development of online companies that profit by compiling and selling cell phone numbers and other personal information. The Attorney General’s Office proposed a bill approved last session to require any person in the business of compiling, marketing or selling phone numbers for commercial purposes to obtain a consumer’s express opt-in consent before publishing a wireless phone number in a directory.
3. Judy responded to our post about inmates conducting a call-forwarding scam.She received a recorded phone call offering to block calls from her “prison account." Other calls indicated that someone had been in an accident and that she needed to talk to an officer. She was instructed to call a toll-free number, which she apparently did.
I questioned whether the number she called was really toll-free. Calls to 800 and 888 numbers are almost always free ( there are some exceptions) but cons sometimes encourage individuals to call other "toll-free" numbers that can actually cost you a ton. While calls to most foreign countries require dialing 011, a country code, a city code, and then the number, calls to Canada and some parts of the Caribbean can be reached by dialing the same number of digits as in the U.S. The 809 area code in the Dominican Republic is an example. Once the victim places a call, he is usually connected to a recorded message or a pay-per-call service. The scammer's foreign phone company then bills the victim’s local phone company.
The calls about someone being in an accident sound very similar to the grandparent scam All Consuming has warned you about.