By Jim Donovan

By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Have you ever gotten one of those texts with dating tips, weight loss advice or horoscope info, and brushed it off as spam?  Well you may want to check your cell phone bill: you may have been crammed! Cramming is when companies illegally put extra charges on your account without your permission and as 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan found, cell phones are the new target!

When a text, offering 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.  Chao says, “I thought oh maybe it’s from a friend whose number I don’t have in the contacts.”

Chao called her cell phone carrier to block future mystery messages, and got some unexpected news.  She says, “I was told that by the act of opening the text message I had consented to what they were trying to sell me.” Remember that 9.99 charge? It appeared on Chao’s bill as “premium messaging”.  She says, “It’s all very sneaky.”

Industry experts say charges like this are costing consumers more than $600 million each year!   The Federal Trade Commission says it has received thousands of complaints and many others could be victims and not even know it!  FTC Attorney Duane Pozza says, “Many consumers overlook the charges on their phone bill, so the complaints that we see really are just the tip of the iceberg.”

That’s because the charges often appear as innocuous sounding fees like: standard rate plan, member fee, and voicemail.  So why don’t cell phone companies, that also profit when third party companies charge your bill, make these fees more prominent?

John Walls with CTIA, the wireless industry trade association says, “If you have thousands of different kinds of services available that wouldn’t be practical for a billing system to be able to specifically list those thousands.  I mean that would be a pretty expensive proposition.”

CTIA says carriers haven’t received a lot of cramming complaints.  There’s no federal law giving you the right to dispute questionable cell phone charges like there is with your credit card, and it’s a carrier-by-carrier decision.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering requiring cell phone companies make third party charges more obvious on phone bills.  In the meantime, you can call your provider and ask them to block any third party charges.

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