Billing Services Suspended for 27 Suspected Offenders
December 9, 1998
NEW YORK -- Bell Atlantic this week stepped up its efforts to protect customers from cramming by eliminating 27 telecommunications service providers from its bills.
These 27 companies have been linked to thousands of customer complaints about bogus charges on their phone bills. Bell Atlantic has suspended another 59 service providers since the company launched its aggressive attack on cramming last spring.
Cramming, an unscrupulous practice that surfaced late last year, describes bogus miscellaneous charges that are unrelated to actual telephone usage.
"The vast majority of the complaints we're getting now point to these 27 service providers," said Fred D'Alessio, group president-consumer. "We are not going to sit idly by and allow our customers to be victimized."
The 27 suspended providers contract with eight billing aggregators that act as clearinghouses for providers of telecommunications and related services. The clearinghouses, in turn, contract with Bell Atlantic to provide billing services.
As a result of Bell Atlantic's actions, the clearinghouses have formed a coalition to identify and weed out suspected crammers. Some of the member companies of this coalition recently acted on their own to suspend an additional eight suspected offenders.
Bell Atlantic, which serves 22 million households from Maine to the Virginias, provides billing services for a wide variety of telecommunications providers. Many customers prefer having all of their telecommunications services on one bill.
Bell Atlantic leads the industry in actions taken to thwart the practice of cramming. It is the only telephone company in the nation to announce plans to give customers the ability to limit the service providers on their bill.
Beginning early next year, customers may request that only Bell Atlantic and their regional toll and long distance companies can put miscellaneous charges on their bill. If customers select this option, Bell Atlantic could still bill them for the telephone calls they make using other providers, such as "10-10" dial-around companies, since these are not miscellaneous charges.
Other steps taken by Bell Atlantic to combat cramming include:
- First-stop resolution -- When Bell Atlantic receives a cramming complaint from a customer, the company immediately removes the charges from the bill. This "first-stop" policy was implemented in July.
- A moratorium on providing new billing services -- In May, Bell Atlantic declared a moratorium on the billing for any new services not previously approved until the company can be assured that cramming is under control. Bell Atlantic has historically screened proposals for billing new services and has reserved the right not to bill for objectionable services.
CONSUMER TIPS TO AVOID AND DETECT CRAMMING
To avoid cramming...
- Do not divulge personal information, such as your telephone number, credit card number or social security number on sweepstakes or raffle tickets. This information may be used for unscrupulous purposes.
- Keep a copy of any applications you fill out. You may need to refer to it in the event of any disputes.
- Do not fill out entries for contests that seem vague in nature.
- Do not accept collect calls from people you don't know.
- Do not return calls to unfamiliar telephone numbers.
- Beware of faxes, e-mail, voice mail and pages requesting a return call to an unfamiliar number.
- Know the location of the area code you are dialing. If you are unfamiliar with the area code, check the front of your Bell Atlantic white pages directory .
- Do not place calls that have an unfamiliar dialing pattern. Local, domestic and international dialing is explained in the front of your Bell Atlantic white pages directory.
- Pay close attention to voice prompts on a call. You may be asked to accept charges for the call or other services you don't want or need.
- Review your telephone bill each month for all charges.
- Question the telecommunications service provider (whose name and logo appear on the same page of the bill) about any unfamiliar charges.
- Notify your local telephone company if you do not recognize a charge or if you are unable to resolve a disputed charge with the telecommunications service provider.