Mystery message could mean charges on cell phone bills

Third-party companies 'cramming' cell phone bills with fraudulent charges

By Allison McGinley - News Director

ORLANDO, Fla. - Ever get one of those texts with dating tips, weight loss advice or horoscope information? Consumer advocates say you better check your mobile phone bill.

There are currently no federal laws giving you the right to fight questionable mobile phone charges.

The third-party charges are called 'cramming' -- illegal extra charges on your account placed there without your permission.

When a strange text offered Wen Chao a deal to download mobile content for $9.99 a month appeared on her phone, she ignored it.

But when a second one popped up from the same sender, with a strange note about war and peace, she opened it.

"I thought, 'Oh, maybe it's from a friend whose number I don't have in the contacts,'" said Chao.

But it wasn't someone she knew, so she called her carrier to block future messages.

That's when she received some shocking news.

"I was told that by the act of opening the text message, I had consented to what they were trying to sell me," Chao said.

Remember that $9.99 charge? It was, on Chao's bill and marked as "premium messaging."

"It's all very sneaky," said Chao.

Industry experts say charges like this cost consumers more than $600 million each year.

Now, the Federal Trade Commission is cracking down. It just filed its very first case against a company for mobile cramming.

Consumer advocates say you could be a victim and not even know it.

Why do we miss these extra charges? The feds say it's because they appear on mobile phone bills as innocuous sounding fees like: Standard rate plan, member fee, or even voicemail.

So why don't cell phone companies, which also profit when third-party companies charge your bill, make these fees more prominent?

The Wireless Industry Trade Association, known as CITA, says carriers haven't received a lot of cramming complaints, and most major mobile phone companies require third parties to tell consumers they'll be charged.

Chao was able to convince hers to remove the charges and is still stunned this even happened.

"You really need to be vigilant when you pay your bills," said Chao.

The federal government may soon require mobile carriers make these third-party charges more obvious on your bills. In the meantime, call your cell phone company and ask them to block any third-party charges from being billed to your account.

If you think you've been a victim -- the FTC wants you to let them know. Click here to file a claim.

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