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Understanding telephone scams: Slamming and cramming

What is slamming?

Slamming is the illegal practice of changing your local or long distance telephone service without your permission.  Before a telephone company can switch a customer, it must obtain the customer’s permission through a written or electronic letter of agency, an electronic verification from the customer’s telephone number or independent third party verification.

What is cramming?

Cramming is the illegal practice of adding charges to your telephone bill for services that you did not order.

What can I do if I discover that I have been slammed?

Contact the company you believe slammed you, and tell them that you want the problem resolved. If you have not paid the bill, tell the company you will not pay the first 30 days charges after the date on which you were slammed, and request reimbursement for any charges you may have incurred from your local phone company for the unwanted switch.

Ask your local phone company to make sure you are switched back to their service. If your long distance was slammed, ask your local phone company to switch you back to the long distance company of your choice. They can also remove any disputed charges from the slamming carrier. Once you have been switched back, check into whether or not your local phone company can put a freeze on your local or long distance account to help prevent future slamming.

Contact your authorized phone company. Tell them you were slammed and want to be restored to your original calling plan and you want switching fees removed from your bill. If you have already paid the bill for the calls that were slammed, ask your phone company how much credit you will be receiving.

Will I have to pay for disputed charges that result from slamming?

You do not have to pay for service up to 30 days after being slammed if you have not paid your bill. This means you do not have to pay either your authorized telephone company or the slamming company.  After 30 days, you must pay your authorized company for service, but at its rates, not the slamming company’s rates.  Please be sure to dispute any unpaid charges from the slamming company with your local telephone provider to avoid any interruption of service. 

If you have paid the unauthorized phone company, your authorized company will either credit you 50 percent of the charges you paid the slamming company or, if you prefer, rerate the charges based on its rates instead of the slamming company’s rates..

Can I register a complaint against the company that slammed me?

Yes, you can register a complaint against the company you believe has slammed you. Contact the PUCO.

What types of charges can be crammed onto my telephone bill?

Cramming charges can be almost anything, but usually involve some type of telecommunications-related service. These services may include, but are not limited to, non-regulated services such as voice mail, personal 800 numbers, paging service and pay-per-use ("900") calls. Services such as these are separate and distinct from your regulated local and long distance telephone service. Cramming may also include regulated local telephone service features such as call waiting or caller I.D., which are offered by your local phone company, but that you did not authorize or were misled about their actual cost.

Will I have to pay for disputed charges that result from cramming?

If you find charges on your bill for services which you believe you did not order, contact your local phone company and ask that the charges be removed. If the charge isn’t from your phone company, the name of the company charging you should be printed on the bill. Your phone company should be able to tell you more about the charge, and your statement should tell you how to dispute errors on your bill. 

And it’s a good idea to follow-up your calls with an email or letter sent by certified mail; and ask for a return receipt. It’s your proof that the company received your letter. Keep a copy of your bill and any other documentation for your files. 

Be sure to dispute any unpaid charges from the cramming company with your local telephone provider to avoid any interruption of service. 

What can I do to avoid being slammed or crammed?

While there is no foolproof way to guarantee you will not be a slamming or cramming victim, there are steps you can take to protect yourself: 

  • Become a careful consumer. Carefully review your monthly bill every month and make sure you understand every charge. Look for unfamiliar company names, calls you did not make, or services you did not order. If anything is unclear or there is a company name you have not seen before, call your local phone company for an explanation. Telephone companies must clearly highlight a change in telephone service providers.
  • Keep a note pad by the telephone and write down each phone service (e.g., voice mail) that you authorize, as well as any long distance calls and calls to informational or "900" services.
  • Carefully read all promotional forms and printed literature, including the fine print, before signing up for telephone or any other services that will be billed to your phone.
  • Be careful of "activation codes" or answering "yes" to questions that may be intended to get you to authorize a service that you do not intend to authorize.
  • Be sure you know who has been using your telephone.
  • Request appropriate blocking features such as a "900" call block, collect call block, or international call block.
  • Ask telemarketers for written information about any service they offer you over the phone.
  • Make sure you know what service was provided, even for small charges. Crammers often try to go undetected by submitting small charges of a few dollars to thousands of consumers.