Those of you familiar with the scam called “cramming” from either the list of scams on the right hand side of the Scamicide home page or having read my book, “The Truth About Avoiding Scams” know that cramming is the name given to the scam that occurs when someone unwittingly agrees to phony charges that keep reoccurring on your phone bill. At first, the most common way cramming occurred was when people completed contest applications without reading the fine print that also signed them up for a service that would be charged to their phone. Many times the charges were listed in a vague manner or were for small monthly amounts such that they did not raise suspicion. Smartphones have recently become the primary target of cramming, which often now starts when you receive a text message about a contest. When you respond to the text message, once again you get signed up for a monthly service that you never intended to purchase. Often the crammed amount shows up on the phone bill as “premium text message.” These charges can range from as little as $2 per month to as much as $25 per month. Recently the Vermont Attorney General settled cramming claims with 25 different companies accused of cramming who agreed to pay 1.6 million dollars to the state to be returned to cramming victims. Attorneys General in 39 other states are now actively working to eliminate smartphone cramming with AT & T, Sprint and T-Mobile to eliminate cramming and although these wireless carriers were not directly accused of cramming, their former cooperation with crammers did permit them to perpetrate this fraud.
Rarely is there ever anything fine in fine print. Always make sure, particularly if you are entering a contest that you read the entire rules carefully to make sure that you are not agreeing to charges for a service you do not want. You should be particularly wary when you receive an offer by way of a text message from a company with which you do not do business on a regular basis. And, as always, it is a good practice not to click on links in smartphone messages unless you are absolutely sure that the message and link are legitimate. Too often, they come with malware that can lead to our becoming a victim of identity theft.
On my Scam of the day of April 2, 2012 I warned you about increases in the scam of cramming. Now it appears the problem is worsening to a point where it is estimated that the cost of cramming nationally is estimated to be as high as sixty million dollars. Cramming is the act of putting unauthorized charges on your telephone bill.. These charges may be a one time phony charge or, more commonly, they may turn into a regular monthly charge on your phone bill Telephone bills today are so complicated, long and full of fine print that many people do not bother to read their bills. Landline phones have long been a target of scammers for cramming, but the problem is increasingly focusing on cell phone users and their bills. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to cramming because unknowingly many people authorize the charges when they enter a sweepstakes or download a ringtone or other “free” service that carries with it buried within the fine print an agreement for the crammed charge.
There are no free lunches so if you are going to receive something free or entering a contest, make sure that you read the fine print, as boring as it may seem so that you can make sure that you are not signing up for a continuing service for which you will be charged. Carefully go through your cell phone bill each month and look for charges that you don’t recognize. Often these charges may appear characterized as “miscellaneous charges and credits” or “member fees.” If you find such fraudulent charges, contact your wireless provider and have the charge removed.
Many of you may be familiar with the scam of “cramming” where unauthorized charges are added to your phone bill. Often due to phone bills being so lengthy and confusing, people may not spot small recurring bills for services that they do not recognize and just ignore them while the scammer continues to steal the victim’s money. Since October of 2011, customers have been permitted to block third party billing on their landlines, however, the ability to add such third party charges on your smart phone is still legal and abused by scammers who do this for illegal purposes.
Sometimes cramming is the result of a scammer just getting the information to access your phone and add charges, but other times, people may not realize that they have given permission for such additional charges in the fine print contained on documents, such as a contest form, that they might find at a fair or other public event. The lesson is to first, always read the fine print of anything you sign and second to read your smart phone bills carefully each month and make sure that you understand what every charge is for and dispute any charges that are bogus.
Today’s scam of the day came about as a result of a postcard that one of my neighbors recently received that you might well have also gotten. The postcard congratulated her on being selected to receive two free round trip airline tickets to anywhere in the continental United States along with two night’s stay in a hotel. A telephone number to call and claim her prize was prominently displayed. Less prominently displayed was the fine print that said the “Certain restrictions apply. Call for details of participation. Taxes and reservations fees are the responsibility of the recipient.” As always the devil is in the details and there is nothing fine about fine print. This is a scam and if you get a similar postcard, ignore it.
In some cases this is a scam to get you to sign up for an expensive travel club. Often the taxes and fees cancel out the value of the “prize” in the contest that you have won that you never entered. Sometimes these are promotions for time shares and you may have to go to a hard sell time share promotion in order to obtain vouchers for your hotel. Sometimes the restrictions on when you can travel are so restrictive as to make the “prize” worthless. The bottom line is you haven’t won anything except an opportunity to be scammed. Ignore the postcard.
This is another oldie but goodie scam that continues to scam people out of hard earned money, but recently became the subject of new legislation in Missouri although the issue is a countrywide problem. The problem are extended warranties for your automobile. Actually, they are not “extended” warranties at all because if you read the fine print you will notice that although the notice looks official, it is not from either the car manufacturer who issued your original warranty nor the car dealer who sold you the car. The warranties themselves vary from scammer to scammer with some of the “extended” warranties being relatively worthless, but with all of them based on misrepresentations, how can you trust them, in any event?
Always read the fine print of any communication you receive regardless of how official it looks. In regard to car warranties, it is always a good idea to check with your dealer as to what warranties cover your car.
Recently the Federal Trade Commission settled complaints against five automobile dealers for a misleading and deceptive advertising practice pertaining to paying off a car loan on a consumer’s trade-in when buying a new vehicle. Some car dealers promise in their ads to pay off any outstanding car loan on the car that is being traded when purchasing a new car, however, rather than paying off the loan with their own money as implied by their advertising, some dealers are merely adding the cost of the payoff into the cost of the new car, building the cost into the new car loan. Other times the consumers have even been forced to pay off the old loan in cash before they can take their new car.
When buying a new car make sure you negotiate the total price of the car and not the monthly payments on a car loan. The loan payments can be extended to make it appear that you are paying less when you are paying more over the time of the loan. Also read the fine print to make sure that you know exactly what you are paying.
Cramming is the term for unauthorized charges appearing on your telephone bill. These charges may be one-time affairs or they may be regular monthly charges. Today’s telephone bills are pretty confusing and scammers who use cramming bank on the fact that many people just don’t pay enough attention to the details of their bills. So how do these charges get on our bills? The sad truth is that we authorize them, often by signing up for sweepstakes of other contests. Booths offering free trips or free merchandise are found frequently at sporting events and other public gatherings. Read the fine print on the card that you use to sign up for the drawing and you may see that you have also signed up for a telephone service.
Always read the fine print. Rarely is their ever anything fine to be found in fine print. Always be skeptical of free contests. Make sure they indeed come without obligation and be careful of what personal information you give out to enter a contest. It also is smart to check out your phone bill each month. To determine if you have been crammed, look for terms such as “Miscellaneous charges and credits,” “member fee” or other charges that you don’t recognize.