Cracking down on text message ‘cramming’

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Those unwanted “joke of the day” or celebrity gossip text messages are certainly annoying. But what New Yorkers may not know is that they can be costly, too.

The practice is known as “cramming,” and it’s when third parties inundate thousands of cell phone numbers with silly information sent via text. Except some people are later billed for those text messages, in charges that show up labeled as “service fee,” “other fees,” “voicemail,” “calling plan” or other vague terms.

“No one should be able to put a charge on your cell phone bill unless you have given explicit consent,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, who is calling on wireless carriers to fix the increasingly common problem. “Cell phone bills nowadays can be dozens of pages long — and if you don’t pay close attention, buried in your bill somewhere could be a $10 charge you never authorized or mistakenly agreed to by replying to an unsolicited text.”

But you can still be charged even if you ignore such a text message.

One New York City man recently received text messages with random information, such as, “Flamingos are pink because they eat shrimp.” He then got a follow-up text that stated he could end the bothersome messages by texting “STOP.”

The man didn’t reply out of fear he would only get more spam. But nonetheless he later got a suspicious charge on his monthly bill for $9.99 for “ringtone.”

Schumer is calling on carriers like Verizon and AT&T to voluntarily prohibit third-party billing if customers do not explicitly say they want such services.

It’s an onerous process to dispute the charges, and it’s one cell phone users shouldn’t have to go through, said Schumer. Specifically, Schumer said he wants the Federal Communications Commission to require wireless carriers get affirmative consent from consumers for any third-party charge — before it winds up at the bottom of a bill.


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