Bell Atlantic Escalates War on 'Crammers,' Enables Customers to Block Miscellaneous Charges

Bell Atlantic Escalates War on 'Crammers,' Enables Customers to Block Miscellaneous Charges

First Phone Company in Nation to Take Such Bold Action

June 29, 1999

Media contact: Paul Miller, 804-772-1460
Mark Marchand, 518-396-1080

NEW YORK -- Starting today, Bell Atlantic customers from Maine to the Virginias can protect themselves from having fraudulent charges appearing on their phone bills. Bell Atlantic, a recognized leader in combating the fraudulent practice of "cramming," is the first telephone company in the country to offer customers the option of blocking "miscellaneous" charges. Miscellaneous charges are usually monthly expenses unrelated to actual telephone usage, like voice mail and Web-page design and maintenance.

Cramming, which surfaced late in 1997, is the practice of putting bogus miscellaneous charges that are unrelated to basic telephone use on phone bills.

"We have made it clear from the outset that Bell Atlantic has no patience for companies that use our bills to take unfair advantage of our customers," said Fred D'Alessio, group president for Bell Atlantic Consumer Services. "This is truly one of the most important customer-care initiatives our business has undertaken. Today's action hammers another nail into the coffins of those who prey on the innocent and unsuspecting."

The blocking option does not apply to charges from Bell Atlantic or the customer's selected local-toll and long distance companies. In addition, customers who choose this option could still be billed by Bell Atlantic for calls they make using other providers, such as "10-10" dial- around companies, since such charges are not considered miscellaneous.

Residential customers who wish to block such services from their phone bills can do so, starting today, by calling the appropriate toll-free number for their place of residence: 1-800-249-8719 for New York and the New England states and 1-888-579-8926 for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. Business customers can sign up by contacting the Bell Atlantic business office.

"Our customers can now make a choice as to whether they want these miscellaneous charges appearing on their bill," D'Alessio said. "Some may elect to keep the charges on the bill, because in many instances they are for legitimate services that the customer may want to use."

Bell Atlantic's efforts to protect its customers from cramming have served as a model for the rest of the telecommunications industry. Since launching its initiatives over a year ago, the company has discontinued providing billing services to some 80 telecommunications service providers. The move resulted in a decline of more than 80 percent in the number of cramming complaints from Bell Atlantic customers.

"A year or so ago we were averaging some 30,000 complaints a month related to cramming," D'Alessio said. "And most of those complaints pointed to a few bad apples." Since taking action against these suspected crammers, Bell Atlantic's complaints from residential customers have plunged to roughly 5,000 a month.

Bell Atlantic, which serves 22 million households on the east coast, provides billing services for a wide variety of telecommunications providers. Many customers prefer having all of their telecommunications services on one bill.

Last summer, Bell Atlantic was one of the first telephone companies in the country to institute a "first-call resolution" policy. Under the new policy, when a customer calls Bell Atlantic with a cramming complaint, the company immediately removes the charge from the bill, instead of referring the customer to the company that initiated the charge.

Bell Atlantic routinely screens proposals for billing new services and reserves the right not to bill for objectionable services.

Bell Atlantic is at the forefront of the new communications and information industry. With 43 million telephone access lines and nine million wireless customers worldwide, Bell Atlantic companies are premier providers of advanced wireline voice and data services, market leaders in wireless services and the world's largest publishers of directory information. Bell Atlantic companies are also among the world's largest investors in high-growth global communications markets, with operations and investments in 23 countries.

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