2002-10-05 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

We all rely on our telephone service for everything from business to keeping in touch with family to reporting emergencies. This article warns about scams with your telephone service. The two most notable scams are called "Cramming" and "Slamming". These scams occur due to competition in the telephone industry.

Cramming occurs when unauthorized charges for miscellaneous telecommunication services are placed or "crammed" in a customer's telephone bill. These charges are for calls you didn't make or for services you never asked for, from companies of which you may never have heard. Typically, these charges are for phone-related services such as pagers, voice mail, calling cards or teleconferencing. These charges generally appear on a separate page of your telephone bill under the billing company's name and logo. Plain and simple - this is fraud.

To protect yourself from cramming, review your telephone bill each month for all charges. If you believe you received a cramming related charge, question your service provider about any unfamiliar charges and notify your local telephone company and alert them of the situation. It is most carriers' policy to remove any unauthorized charges.

"Slamming" is the unauthorized switching of a consumer's telephone service to another telephone company. Hundreds of New York Consumers have had their long distance service slammed from their interstate long distance company to another.

Consumers who are slammed are entitled to have their service switched back to their original long distance carrier at no charge and are not responsible for any call higher than those that would be charged by the original service provider.

One way to lessen your chances of being slammed is to ask you local telephone company to freeze your regional long distance. This will better protect you from having your service switched.

Both state and federal laws prohibit slamming. If you encounter difficulty with unauthorized charges or your provider is switched without authorization, two state agencies can help you resolve your problems. The NYS Office of the Attorney General - Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection can be reached toll free at 1-800-771-7755. The NYS Department of Public Service can be reached toll free at 1- 800-342-3377.

The following tips may help prevent your service from being changed without your express permission: Never enter into a contest or sweepstakes without reading the fine print.

Make it clear to other telephone companies solicitations that you are not interested in switching services; Pay close attention to services billed to your telephone bill; Contact your telephone company with any unfamiliar charges; Freeze your long distance carrier.

Increased competition and deregulation led to the growth of scams such as slamming. New York State responded to make such practices illegal. In the last few years, reports of slamming and cramming have decreased in the State.

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