Bell Atlantic Moves to Shut Down Crammers;
Delivers Ultimatum to Suspected Offenders
Customers Get New Protections
May 6, 1998
NEW YORK - Bell Atlantic today took several aggressive steps to thwart a practice known as "cramming," or the inclusion of bogus charges on a customer's telephone bill. The company has served formal notice on several billing aggregators (companies that act as clearinghouses for providers of telecommunications and related services) that it would no longer bill for their services unless they stop doing business with at least 20 providers who are generating customer complaints of cramming.
Further, Bell Atlantic has demanded these aggregators implement more stringent procedures to screen the marketing practices of their service providers.
"We will not stand by and let these companies victimize our customers," said James G. Cullen, president and CEO of Bell Atlantic's Telecom Group. "We intend to bring a stop to this."
Bell Atlantic declared an immediate moratorium on the billing of any new services not previously approved until it can be assured that cramming is under control. Bell Atlantic has historically screened proposals for billing new services and has reserved the right to reject objectionable services.
Bell Atlantic also served the required 60-day notice to all companies for which it bills that it is changing the way it addresses customer complaints about cramming. Today, when a customer complains to Bell Atlantic about a cramming charge, under existing billing agreements, he or she is referred to the telephone provider that originated the charge. Beginning in early July, when Bell Atlantic receives such a complaint, the charge will be taken off the bill with no questions asked.
Many customers appreciate getting all of their telecommunications charges on one bill. To meet that requirement, Bell Atlantic provides billing services to a wide variety of telecommunications providers.
A recent Bell Atlantic study revealed that customer complaints about cramming have escalated. Since the first of the year, the company has received thousands of complaints on the subject, prompting the strong action Bell Atlantic is taking today.
Bell Atlantic is at the forefront of the new communications, information and entertainment industry. With more than 41 million telephone access lines and 6.7 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 22 countries.
Bell Atlantic Offers Tips on Slamming, Cramming
NEW YORK -- Bell Atlantic today outlined a list of steps its customers can take to avoid being slammed and crammed.
Slamming is a long time problem in the telecommunications business, which occurs when a customer is switched from one carrier to another without the customer's approval. Cramming is the more recent problem of placing non-usage related charges on a phone bill for services or programs, such as voice mail, that the customer claims he or she did not use or request.
"We recognize we can't always be there to protect our customers from fraud. However, there are a number of things customers can do to protect themselves," said James G. Cullen, president and CEO of Bell Atlantic's Telecom Group.
Bell Atlantic offers the following tips:
- Review your telephone bill thoroughly.
- If you are not sure who your primary long distance carrier is, call 1-700-555-4141.
- Question the telecommunications service provider (whose name, telephone number and logo appear on the page of the bill) about any unfamiliar charges.
- If you are unable to resolve a disputed charge with the telecommunications service provider, notify your local phone company.
- Do not divulge personal information, such as telephone number, credit card number or social security number on any sweepstakes or raffle tickets. This information may be used to scam customers.
- Be aware of services you ordered.
- To prevent future slamming, contact your Bell Atlantic business office to put a "freeze" on your choice of telecommunications carrier. Future changes cannot be made without your authorization.
- Read the fine print on all contracts, applications and contest entry forms you sign.
- Keep a copy of all contracts and applications. This will provide a handy reference in the event of any disputes.
- Avoid filling out entries for contests that seem vague.
- 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 you receive when you are asked to call to an unfamiliar number.
- Avoid placing 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 when you make a call and reach a voice messaging system. If you're not paying close attention, you may unknowingly accept charges for the call or other services.
Also, customers can assist Bell Atlantic by reading their phone bills and by bringing any problems to the company's attention immediately.