Cramming is the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading,
or deceptive charges on your telephone bill. Entities
that fraudulently cram people appear to rely largely
on confusing telephone bills in order to mislead consumers
into paying for services that they did not authorize
In addition to providing local telephone service, local
telephone companies often bill their customers for long
distance service and other services that other companies
provide. When the local company, the long distance telephone
company, or another type of service provider either
accidentally or intentionally sends inaccurate billing
data to be included on the consumer’s local telephone
bill, cramming can occur.
Cramming also occurs when a local or long distance
company or another type of service provider does not
clearly or accurately describe all of the relevant charges
to the consumer when marketing the service. Although
the consumer did authorize the service, the charge is
still considered "cramming" because the consumer
What do cramming charges look like? Cramming comes in
many forms and is often hard to detect unless you closely
review your telephone bill. The following charges would
be legitimate if a consumer had authorized them but,
if unauthorized, these charges could constitute cramming:
- Charges for services that are explained on a consumer’s
telephone bill in general terms – such as "service
fee", "service charge", "other
fees", "voicemail", "mail server",
"calling plan", "psychic", and
- Charges that are added to a consumer’s telephone
bill every month without a clear explanation of the
services provided – such as a "monthly
fee" or "minimum monthly usage fee";
- Other charges from a local or long distance company
for a service that it provides but, like the other
examples, could be cramming if unauthorized.
While cramming charges typically appear on consumers’
local telephone bills, they may also be included with
bills issued by long distance telephone carriers and
companies providing other types of services, including
cellular telephone, digital telephone, beeper and pager
The FCCs' Truth-in-Billing Rules
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has rules
that require telephone companies to make their phone
bills more consumer-friendly. These rules enable consumers
to more easily determine, when reading their bills,
what services have been provided, by whom, and the charges
assessed for these services. Telephone companies must
also list a toll-free number on their bills for customers
with billing inquiries.
Such basic information empowers consumers to protect
themselves from cramming and other types of telecommunications
fraud. It also helps consumers make informed choices
when they shop around to find the best telephone service
to meet their needs.
How to Protect Yourself and Save Money
- Carefully review your phone bill every month. Treat
your telephone service like any other major consumer
purchase or service. Review your monthly bills just
as closely as you review your monthly credit card
and bank statements.
- Ask yourself the following questions as you review
your telephone bill:
- Do I recognize the names of all the companies
listed on my bill?
- What services were provided by the listed companies?
- Does my bill include charges for calls I did
not place and services I did not authorize?
- Are the rates and line items consistent with
the rates and line items that the company quoted
- You may be billed for a call you placed or a service
you used, but the description listed on your telephone
bill for the call or service may be unclear. If you
don’t know what service was provided for a charge
listed on your bill, ask the company that billed the
charge to explain the service provided before paying
- Make sure you know what service was provided, even
for small charges. Crammers often try to go undetected
by submitting $2.00 or $3.00 charges to thousands
- Keep a record of the telephone services you have
authorized and used – including calls placed
to 900 numbers and other types of telephone information
services. These records can be helpful when billing
descriptions are unclear.
- Carefully read all forms and promotional materials
– including the fine print – before signing
up for telephone services or other services to be
billed on your phone bill.
- Companies compete for your telephone business.
Use your buying power wisely and shop around. If you
think that a company’s charges are too high
or that their services do not meet your needs, contact
other companies and try to get a better deal.
What to Do If You Think You’ve Been Crammed
If you find unknown charges on your telephone bill,
immediately call the company that charged you for the
services you did not authorize or use. Ask the company
to explain the charges. Request an adjustment to your
bill for any incorrect charges.
Call your own local telephone company. FCC rules require
telephone companies to place a toll-free number on their
bills for customers to contact with billing inquiries.
Explain your concerns about the charges and ask your
local telephone company about the procedure for removing
incorrect charges from your bill.
If neither the local phone company nor the company
in question will remove incorrect charges from your
telephone bill, contact the Commission’s Consumer
Affairs Division at 1-800-852-3793 Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.