(WMC TV) - "Cramming" is when someone hijacks your phone bill, arranges a third-party service like e-mail or Internet, then bills it to you.
As long as there are land-line phone numbers, there will be cramming. There's a little bit of cramming on cell phone bills, too, however limited.
In 2009, I assisted a Collierville, TN, family whose 93-year-old mother's phone bill was crammed with two months worth of charges for e-mail and Internet.
The woman didn't own a computer or even know how to turn one on, much less know how to surf the web or compose an e-mail.
We tracked down the culprit and erased the charges, but her cramming situation highlighted how a lot of service providers, including AT&T, fail to protect their customers from "crammers" because they enable third-party billing services (for my Investigators story, please click here: http://www.wmctv.com/story/10390536/att-under-fire-for-enabling-phone-bill-cramming).
John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League (www.nclnet.org), offered consumer resource Bottom Line Personal magazine these keys to cramming self-defense:
* GET AN UNLISTED PHONE NUMBER. In my experience, crammers target senior citizens first because they still insist on listing their phone numbers. Pay the extra fee to hide your phone number or the number of an elderly loved one.
* REQUEST A THIRD-PARTY BLOCK ON YOUR PHONE NUMBER. For a fee, or sometimes for free, your service provider can block third-parties from accessing your account.
* LOOK FOR CRAMMING CLUES ON YOUR PHONE BILL. Phrases like "service charge," "other fees," "calling plan" or "membership" may reveal cramming charges.
* DO NOT ACCEPT ANONYMOUS COLLECT CALLS.
* DO NOT CLICK ON ANONYMOUS TEXT OFFERS ON YOUR CELL PHONE.
If you discover your phone bill has been crammed, contact your service provider immediately and demand it erase the charges. If your provider is uncooperative, contact your state's telecommunications agency:
Tennessee: The Tennessee Regulatory Authority (www.tennessee.gov/tra)
Mississippi: The Mississippi Public Service Commission (http://www.psc.state.ms.us/)
Arkansas: The Arkansas Public Service Commission (http://www.arkansas.gov/psc/)