of Unauthorized Service Charges, Membership Fees, Subscriptions
or Payments on Bank Accounts, Credit Cards or Telephone Bills
Cramming, the number one telemarketing scam of 1998, refers to
putting unauthorized or nonexistent telecommunication or service
charges on your credit card, bank account or phone bill.
Con artists have found the telephone billing and collection system
to be a fertile area to defraud consumers. Taking advantage of
changes in the telecommunications industry that began years ago
with the break up of AT&T, these cons arrange to put charges
on consumers' phone bills for services that were never ordered,
authorized, received or used.
Sometimes a one-time charge for entertainment services will be
crammed onto your phone bill. Other times it may be a recurring
monthly charge. Cramming of recurring charges falls into two general
categories: club memberships, such as psychic clubs, personal clubs,
or travel clubs; and telecommunications products or service programs,
such as voice mail, paging, and calling cards.
The charges may just appear on your phone bill as a charge for
either a regular long distance or a collect telephone call. People
who receive these bills have no way of knowing that the charges
are actually for a sex line or psychic line and not long distance
or collect calls so they pay without ever realizing.
Automated Phone Number Capture
Anyone capable of capturing a consumer's telephone number can
cause charges for a product or service to be included on that person's
phone bill. Using Automatic Number Identification (ANI), a system
similar to "caller ID," they can capture the phone number
from which a call to the party originates. Thus, the only thing
needed by scam artists that have ANI is a
method of inducing you to call them.
You don't even need to divulge credit card or other account numbers
in order to be billed. Similarly, phone numbers can be obtained,
without high-tech equipment, through purported sweepstakes that
require a phone number on an entry form, or even through simply
drawing numbers at random from the telephone directory.
It is not possible for the owner of the telephone line to block
telephone number capture through ANI on calls
that they themselves or others place from their phones, and it
is not possible to prevent others from access to their phone number.
The person placing a call or otherwise providing a telephone number
may not even be you.
Shortly after the introduction of 900 numbers, this technology
was used by unscrupulous operators to deceive and defraud consumers.
Once the call was placed, they were billed for the alleged service
or information and the unwitting victim often had no means to contest
the charge. In many cases, they never even received the promised
information or service.
Here are some common ways crooks get your phone number and cram
charges onto your bill. You may never get the service —just
800 Number Calls. You call an 800 number advertised
as a free date line, psychic line or other adult entertainment
service. A recording prompts you to give your name and to say "I
want the service," or some similar phrase, to get the advertised
free service. You may have no opportunity to speak with an operator
or ask questions, but you are automatically enrolled in a club
or service program. The phone number from which you call is captured
and billed. You often never get the "free" service you
called for, or the service you're billed for.
Sometimes a recorded voice directs you to press one or more specific
keys on your phone to be transferred to an adult entertainment
or chat line. If you do, you are connected to the service of your
choice but the charge for the service then appears on your bill
as an international long-distance call.
Contest Entry Forms. You fill out a contest entry
form, thinking you're entering to win a prize. In fact, some unscrupulous
promoter is using the contest to get your phone number, enroll
you for a calling card or some similar service, and bill you on
your phone bill. The disclosure on the entry form, which is very
difficult to comprehend and in very fine print, says that by completing
the form you agree to pay $4.95 a month for the company's services.
Direct Mail Sweepstakes. You receive a sweepstakes
promotion in the mail that tells you to dial an 800 number to enter
or claim your prize. When you call, a recording follows an automated
script to enroll you in a club or service program. The phone number
from which you call is captured and billed. Once again, the disclosure
on the sweepstakes mailer is very difficult to comprehend; is in
very fine print, or is a "negative option" billing, so
unless you respond to refuse, they sign you up.
"Instant" Calling Cards. Someone may
use your phone to call an 800 number for an adult entertainment
service, and be offered an "instant calling card." The "calling
card" isn't an actual card, but is rather an access process
linked to the phone number from which the call was placed, whether
or not they are made from your phone.
Dating Service Calls. You call an 800 number
advertised as a way to meet local people for free. You're told
your date will call you back, or you're asked to enter a code to
be "teleconferenced" with your date. What you're not
told is that you'll be charged a hefty fee for your conversation
with your date.
International Calls. Some ads for adult entertainment
services tell you to call a number starting with 011, 500, or another
unfamiliar area code. The ads don't explain that these numbers
are for expensive international calls, and that the entertainment
provider is making money every minute you stay on the line.
"Free Minutes" Deals. You may see ads
promising "free time" for a date line, psychic line,
or other adult entertainment service. When you call, you're put
on hold but told that you won't be charged for this time. Sometimes,
the "hold time" is deducted from your free minutes. In
fact, you may be billed for some of your hold time as well as your
Hurry Up and Call
You get an e-mail, fax or even a call on your pager which says
to call this number immediately, there's been an accident or sickness
in your family, or outstanding bills you owe are past due, but
it turns out to be just a mix-up when you call.
While connected you get a lengthy recorded message or person
pretending not to understand what the call is about so as to keep
you on the phone longer. You are actually being billed for the
call at anywhere from $6.99 - $25 per minute. It pays to ask the
operator for the location of any strange number prior to calling.
Cell Phone Spamming Becomes Indirect Cramming
Cell phone users in Tokyo are regularly bombarded with hundreds
of unwanted e-mail messages as well as the newest mobile come-on:
the one-giri spam scam.
One-giri is Japanese shorthand for computers that dial numbers
randomly, ring once and hang up. The callers - usually dating services
that phone thousands of numbers randomly - are themselves not charged
because no one picks up but the incoming call leaves a phone number
on the receiver's handset.
Curious to see who called, unsuspecting Japanese redial and get
an offer such as "press 1 if you want to meet a friend, press
2 if ..." which they generally rush to refuse, lest they run
up extra charges.
NTT DoCoMo, which runs the market leading i-mode service, processes
950 million cell-phone data messages a day, yet a staggering 85%
of them are sent to nonexistent addresses, most by computers that
randomly generate numbers and send messages searching for active
The company, which will spend $8.7 million this year to block unwanted
bulk mail from entering its servers, says one-fifth of the 30,000 complaints
it received in October were about annoying e-mails.
In addition to suffering bad public relations, the carriers are
seeing their network computers overload and the slowing of transmission
times as shady programmers continue to develop algorithms sophisticated
enough to bypass server walls and create lists of valid addresses
that can be resold.
While Japanese cell-phone providers are urging users to change their
addresses frequently and to refuse to return calls from unknown numbers,
people are still spammed on a regular basis at their own expense.
This digital epidemic will soon spread beyond Japan's shores as
DoCoMo is preparing to introduce its i-mode network in Europe.
All the Wrong Places
Looking for companionship you decide to try a service advertised
in the newspaper as a "free matching" service with "local
singles". You are urged to call a toll-free number. When connected
they ask you where you are calling from and what sort of person
you want to meet. They tell you that they will have a "local
single" return the call, then hang up.
Shortly thereafter, you begin receiving return calls, often many,
over the course of several days from the services' employees posing
as "local singles." They do not disclose in the first
call, or during any of the return calls, that there is to be an
amount charged, contrary to the advertising claim that the service
Nevertheless, when you later receive your phone bill, you are
shocked to find exorbitant charges —described as collect
or direct calls from a number in Florida, England or some other
distant locale —billed to your telephone number at the rate
of about $4 per minute. In a number of instances, the bills have
reflected two calls allegedly occurring during overlapping periods
of time to the same number.
Many people were charged hundreds of dollars on their phone bills
for one company's audio entertainment service delivered through
return calls. In many cases no initial call to the service was
ever made and even those who did call are generally shocked and
surprised to find these unexpected and substantial charges on their
They may even provide a toll-free 800 number on your phone bill,
ostensibly for you to call with complaints or questions. However,
when you call this number you find it difficult to reach a representative.
You may reach only a recorded message telling you that if you
need to speak to a representative you will have to try back later
because all operators are busy. Or you may be put on hold for long
periods of time. In fact, you could easily spend several hours
over a period of several days simply trying to reach a person who
can answer questions about the charges on your phone bill.
When you finally succeed in reaching them, they tell you that
you are legally responsible for the charges, regardless of who,
if anyone, ordered and received the service in question.
In many instances, they initially refuse to credit your account,
even though you have neither ordered nor authorized an order for
their services. In some cases, they will issue a credit to you
only after the intervention of your phone company or government
Ordering You Around
You receive an e-mail informing you that your order has been received
and processed and your credit card will be billed for charges ranging
from $250 to $899. The trouble is, you haven't ordered anything.
The e-mail advises you that if you have questions about your "order" or
want to speak to a representative you should call a telephone number
in area code 767. You don't realize that the area code is for Dominica,
West Indies, because no country code is required to make the call.
You call expecting to speak to a representative about the erroneous "order" but
are connected to an adult entertainment audiotext service with
sexual content. Later, you receive telephone charges for the international,
Callers to one number are led to believe they are talking to a
live person, but in fact it is a clever recording that responds
to the caller's voice. Among other things, an irate-sounding man
with a British accent warns, "Your check will come round or
we'll come round to get it." The recording seems designed
to keep callers on the line as long as possible, and is reportedly
billed at $25 per minute.
Others reported that this "man" with a British accent
kept telling them to hold on while he picked up other phone calls
and supposedly yelled at his staff. He continued to yell at the
callers as well, saying "send the money," and yelled
into other ringing phones as long as the callers remained on the
"This scam used low-down tactics and high-tech tools to rob
consumers in their own homes," said Jodie Bernstein, Director
of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.
They contacted people using bulk e-mail —commonly known
as spam —using inactive return addresses which prevented
you from refuting the orders by e-mail.
Note: A viewer has indicated that this particular
scam event is actually an urban myth that never really occurred,
except in the mind of the initial storyteller. Should anyone
wish to dispute this claim please write so that it is not unintentionally
I Know So Many Girls
You get a call and the operator asks if you would
accept a collect call from "Jennifer" (sometimes "John" is
used). If you agree, you then hear a prerecorded message that
informs you that you have just made an $8 donation to a nonexistent
missing children's charity.
One operation from Mexico calls U.S. residents
of Mexican ancestry and asks if they would accept a collect call
from a person with a common Spanish first name along with their
Many people accept the calls thinking they are
from relatives bearing the names given. Even though the
calls are shortly disconnected as "mistaken" numbers
they all incur a minimum $57 charge.
A Recurring Nightmare
Somewhere around 900,000 victims across 22 countries have had
over $43 million dollars worth of fraudulent or nonexistent services
crammed onto their credit cards at the rate of $20 per month.
The Federal Trade Commission has won a $37.5 million verdict against
a group who bought access to lists from a California bank that
provided the account numbers for more than three million valid
Visa and MasterCard credit cards.
Rather than use the lists to confirm that potential customers
had valid cards, the defendants debited the cards for "Web
site services" the cardholders had never used. In effect,
they stole and processed Visa and MasterCard numbers from the database
such that over 90% of their $49 million a year in "sales" were
actually unauthorized charges.
J K Publications (alias Webtel, Netfill, etc.)
and their front companies generated about a third of all customer
complaints at a major card company in late 1998. Their merchant
accounts had a "chargeback" rate 100 times the national
average but each time a merchant account was closed by the credit
card companies, they would open a new one. At one point, they alone,
accounted for 4% of all Visa chargebacks.
They used at least five different merchant accounts and four fictitious
business names to process the transactions. The timing of each
new merchant account application coincided with the impending threat
of being placed on VISA USA's "active monitoring" list
for excessive "chargebacks" -- amounts debited to cards
but disputed by the consumers who were charged.
According to U. S. District Court Judge Audrey B. Collins, "A
shocking 40% to 50% of the "web" charges were taken from
people who said they did not have a computer and had not given
their card numbers to anyone."
Consumers, many of whom were billed repeatedly over successive
months, appealed to their credit card companies for help, but many
banks will only go back 60 days and since the total for two months
was less than $50, the credit card company was not obligated to
refund everything. People were also told that they could not block
future charges to the cards so many finally canceled their credit
card accounts as the only way to avoid the charges.
The $37.5 million damages verdict represents the illegal charges
minus the amounts that consumers already received through chargebacks
and credits. The FTC has identified in excess of only $20 million
in defendant's assets, so it is not clear whether the $37.5 million
ordered by the Judge will be available for consumer redress. Those
wishing to make claims can contact the Court-appointed receiver
One defendant was barred for 10 years from owning, controlling,
holding a managerial post, consulting for or serving as an officer
in any business that handles consumers' credit or debit card accounts,
while another fled to Jamaica soon after he was served with the
The distributed nature of the Visa/MC system, with each bank managing
its own "business", is a weakness in the system. Visa
International does not have access or control to Merchant Account
information. Only the banks have that information.
Networked e-commerce allows criminals to test credit
card numbers across the merchant account system in high volume.
Using credit card number generation technology they can attack
a very large number of victims in a widely distributed manner
with small transactions, thereby delaying detection and reducing
the incentive for prosecution.
Though it allows credit card numbers to be used
without identifiers it also enables this type of fraud. This
has privacy advantages but it would be a lot harder to generate
credit card numbers if identifiers were required.
More info on the Netfill
You Actually Save 1.46%
The use of bogus "rebate" checks is often
used to deceive consumers into signing up for such ongoing billable
services as Internet yellow page directory and Internet services.
YP.Net; Telco Billing, Inc.; Publication Management
Inc. and their owners
The FTC alleged that they sent checks for $3.50
marked "REBATE ACCOUNT" to people all over the country
but that nothing on the front of the check alerted consumers
that, by cashing the check, they were agreeing to purchase an
Internet yellow page listing at the rate of $19.95 per month
for a year, or that the charge would automatically be placed
on their telephone bill.
The FTC charged that because only a notice printed
on the inside of the envelope spelled out the terms and conditions
of the agreement it was deceptive.
The settlements will not only bar them from using
the term "rebate" on solicitation checks in the future
but they are now required to clearly and conspicuously disclose
the obligations you will incur by cashing such solicitation checks. They
will also be required to send notices to confirm service and
billing agreements and to give people the opportunity to cancel.
In addition, they are required to give certain
affected consumers the option of a two month refund.
A related company, Simple.Net, along with Simple
Access, Inc., Dial Up Services, Inc., and ISP Marketing, Inc.
engaged in a similar marketing scheme and are subject to a similar
Enhanced by Fraud
The FTC, which accused San Antonio Texas-based New Century
Equity Holdings Corp. and two of its subsidiaries of "cramming" or
hiding unauthorized charges for Web site design and "other
enhanced services" on the phone bills of thousands of unsuspecting
consumers has settled its complaint.
New Century and its subsidiaries, Billing Concepts Inc. and Enhanced
Billing Services Inc., agreed to a settlement of the complaint
which alleged that the companies attempted to force consumers to
pay for Web site design services and calling cards that the consumers
did not ask to receive.
It was noted that New Century and its subsidiaries did not sell
the services in question, but rather acted as "billing aggregators," serving
as intermediaries between the fraudulent vendors and the phone
As such they provided the portal into the telephone billing system,
without which crammers would have no way of placing charges on
consumers' phone bills. The FTC has also filed complaints
against several of the crammers who used New Century's services
Under the settlement deal, New Century Equity Holdings agreed
to notify consumers who may have been bilked and surrender $350,000
that it and its subsidiaries collected or sought even after complaints
from consumers that they did not authorize the charges in question.
A Good Job You Called
Two men have been charged in a cramming scam that bilked 5,600
people out of $120,000 by charging a fee for Chicago city job applications.
Joseph Peters of Chicago and Canio Carl Saluzzi of New York were charged
with placing ads with local newspapers that offered "City jobs,
now hiring, no experience".
The ad instructed applicants to contact a telephone number at a charge
of $19.95 per call.
People who called the number were greeted with a recorded message
that instructed them to call a different number. Those who called
the second number were told a list of jobs was available by visiting
or calling City Hall, or by checking the city's Web site.
Thousands of residents looking for work were duped into paying for job
listings that are free and available to anyone contacting City Hall.
City officials, who were alerted by people who noticed the charges
on their telephone bill, had Ameritech shut down the advertised
phone line. Officials said people who called the number should
contact Ameritech to dispute the charges.
Uncertain Future In The Cards
02/02 - Miss Cleo, is a familiar face on television
advertisements which offer viewers an insight into their lives
through free psychic readings or Tarot cards.
"Call me now," she implores in her husky Caribbean accent, as a toll-free
number flashes up on the screen. But to actually speak to the psychic, callers
must dial another number that charges $4.99 a minute after the first three minutes.
Federal regulators, who said two Florida-based companies behind the psychic
-- Access Resource Services Inc. and Psychic Readers Network -- were
reaping huge profits from so-called free readings that on average cost
consumers $60, have filed a complaint accusing them of using deceptive
television advertisements to scam as much as $360 million from hotline
Sean Moynihan, a lawyer for the two companies, denied the charges even
though Howard Beales, head of the FTC's consumer-protection division,
said the two firms, previously the target of legal action in nine separate
states, were "permeated with fraud."
The federal agency said that while it has received more than 2,000 complaints
about Miss Cleo over the past 18 months, they estimate that up to 6 million
people might have been affected.
The federal complaint seeks to put a permanent stop to the deceptive
advertisements, appoint a receiver to preserve company assets, and freeze
the assets of the firms' chiefs, Steven Feder and Peter Stolz.
Tips to help you avoid cramming scams.
Be aware that your local telephone company may bill for services
provided by other companies.
Be especially wary if you're told to enter codes, leave your name,
or answer "yes" to prompts. Unscrupulous entertainment
providers may use this ruse to send you a bill.
All 900 numbers cost money, even if you're calling to claim a "free" prize.
All 900 numbers that cost more than $2 must give you a brief introductory
message about the service, the service provider, and the cost of
the call. You have three seconds after the message ends to hang
up without being charged.
Consider getting a 900 number block; it stops calls from going
through to 900 number services. Blocks also are available for international,
long distance, and local toll calls. Call your phone company for
Examine your phone bill for recurring monthly charges. These charges
typically appear as "Miscellaneous Charges and Credits." They
may be so small, or described in such general terms, that they're
easy to overlook or confuse with valid services you may have ordered
from another provider. Watch for fees described as "Min Use
Fee," "Activation," "Member Fee," "Voice
Mail," or some similar phrase.
If you find an error on your bill, instructions on your statement
will tell you who to call or write to dispute the charge. Follow
up any phone conversations with a letter, sent by certified mail,
return receipt requested. Keep a copy for your files.
Option Billing Leaves No Options
I really appreciate your site. Between yours and Quatloos.com,
I have been able to reveal several scams in progress that have
been presented to me in recent years. This latest problem
I face may be up your alley, maybe not.
Recently, I received "membership packets" from several
different companies describing themselves as travel clubs and buyers
clubs. The common thread these "clubs" all share
is that they are offering a free trial membership to whatever it
is they peddle and if I DON'T take action to either call or write
them to cancel my "membership" during the trial period,
they will bill my credit card for whatever membership fee they're
Keep in mind that we were not contacted by any telemarketer or
by any other method beforehand, and never authorized these companies
to enroll us in anything, and never provided them a credit card
I contacted one of these companies who said they had a recorded
telephone authorization from my wife, but could not produce same
upon my demand. They then proceeded to offer me extra "features" at
no cost if I would reconsider my cancellation.
Of course, I told them what to do with their "features" and
made it clear that I wouldn't purchase any product, no matter how
outstanding the value, from someone who resorts to these kind of
marketing tactics. I suspect that what these companies are
doing is waiting for you to call and cancel your "membership" so
they can offer some kind of extra throw-in to change your mind,
and then that's when they actually get your credit card number
and voice authorization.
However, I have not taken the gamble of ignoring one of these
clubs to see if they will actually charge one of my accounts. Is
what these companies are doing legal? If not, is there any bureau
I can report them to? Any insight or advice you could provide
would be appreciated.
Thanks, Mike Wilcox
Thanks for the kind words. Just out of curiosity, who do you reveal
these scams to? As for this negative option billing scam I think
you hit the nail on the head. They just want you to call so they
can get their claws into you. I am surprised that they are not
also using the cramming technique of billing your phone call as
well, regardless of the outcome by tricking you into calling a
900 or out-of-country long distance code.
I wish I could advise you who to call other than the FTC. From
my FAQ page there is a link to Reporting the crime to other agencies
as well. I would like to post your message on my site if I may,
perhaps we will hear more on this from other viewers.
You may recall I wrote you last week about
the trouble I was having with companies enrolling me in their
discount/travel/buying clubs without my permission. The literature
they send in the mail says you get a "30 day free trial
membership" and if you do not cancel at the end of the "trial
period", you are automatically billed for the membership
fee. Even if you never consented to be enrolled in the program.
Well the story got uglier since I last
wrote you. Turns out that Imperial Holidays debited my account
before I even had a chance to get off my cancellation letter.
Furious, I called them up and was told that they got our information
from a company selling a gadget on TV which my wife bought over
the telephone last month. At the time they took the order, they
asked her if they could send her some information on a discount
travel offer they had. At no time did they mention they were
enrolling her in any "free trial membership".
But here's the kicker: They told me that
the 30-day trial membership began the day my wife agreed to let
them send her the information. Since I did not get this information
until 3 1/2 weeks later, I effectively had 3 days to call and
cancel this "free" membership before my account would
To make a long story a little shorter,
Imperial Holidays (also dba Crown Holidays) agreed to refund
our money, but said it would take up to 30 days to credit our
account. I called my bank to dispute the charge, then called
the Florida Attorney General to file a complaint! The bank says
they will likely credit the money to my account while they attempt
to recover from Imperial Holidays, but now I'm committed to doing
anything and everything I can to expose this and any other scams
Please feel free to post any or all of
this correspondence to your site if you feel it will help protect
anyone else from this filthy scam!
Update 02/02 - I had written you in the past regarding
Triad Discount Buying Service, a company that buys credit-card numbers
gathered by other companies marketing products on TV commercials,
etc., then enrolls them into their program and charges an annual
fee without their permission.
While I was successful in getting money back that they stole
from me on three different occasions, others were not so lucky. See
the article below. Thanks and keep fighting the good fight!
Crown Holidays "Membership" scheme
Date: Fri, 03 Aug 2001
I recently found your website dealing with scams and fraudulent
schemes. I have a story to share with you which is similar
to the posting that Mile Wilcox has on your site.
My wife recently bought a gadget thru a television ad and
we were told that we would be enrolled for a free 30-day trial
membership in "Discounts USA" (a company offering
discount travel programs and such) and my card would automatically
be charged a membership fee after the trial period unless I
called up and cancelled.
We cancelled the membership on the same day.
When my credit card statement came the next month, there was
a membership charge from this "Discounts USA" and
from a company called "Crown Holidays" that we had
never even heard about.
I called up both companies and asked for an explanation. I
took particular exception to the charge from "Crown Holidays" because
they had not even informed us that we were being enrolled for
a membership program. No literature, no brochures, nothing.
Anyway, both companies apologized and promised to credit back
the membership charge to my credit card account. "Discounts
When I called up "Crown Holidays" again, I couldn't
even get to talk to a customer service representative. They
were apparently directing all complaints to their email address.
So, I wrote them a mail threatening a lawsuit in the hopes
of recovering my money. As is to be expected, I have yet to
see that membership money.
Anyway, I have gone the same route as Mike Wilcox and disputed
the charge with my credit card company and also filed a complaint
with the Florida Attorney General. I am curious to know, though,
how far Mike has gotten with this approach.
I sincerely hope that "Crown Holidays" gets pulled
up for their fraudulent practices and am willing to put in
any effort to expose these guys.
As a matter of idle curiosity, I often wonder about the holiday
deals from Crown Holidays that guys who do "sign up" for
membership get. Are they promised a holiday in the Caribbean
and get put on a cargo plane to Surinam (No offence to my Surinamese
friends; I'm sure it's a beautiful country in its own right.
But when I think of the Caribbean, I usually think Bahamas)?
For info on Vacation
Well, Crown Holidays backed off and they have credited the
money back into my account; it showed up on my last credit
card statement. So, I'm okay on that front. I'll just be more
wary of buying over the internet or phone from now on.
As No Longer Seen On TV
12/31/01 - Boca Raton-based Triad
Discount Buying Service Inc., related companies
and their operator, Ira Smolev, will pay
$8.3 million in consumer restitution a $9 million multi-state
settlement with a group of buying clubs alleged to have deceived
consumers into purchasing club memberships.
Some consumers, when purchasing items seen on television or
over the telephone, would be signed up for a free, 30-day membership
to a buying club - sometimes without their knowledge. The
third-party companies would then provide the consumers' credit
card numbers to the Triad companies, and within 45 days the
companies charged membership fees to the consumers' credit
cards without their authorization.
Under the agreement, approximately 275,000 individuals who
filed complaints against Triad companies nationwide may be
eligible for partial membership refunds from the companies
pending court approval.
In addition, Smolev, as well as the Triad companies, are required
to drastically revise their marketing practices to avoid future
deceptions. Included in those changes are prohibitions against
misrepresenting "free" offers of goods or services
and failing to disclose any obligations of consumers in accepting
trial offers. The companies are also prohibited from signing
up new members or renewing existing memberships without express,
verifiable authorization from the consumer, and from obtaining
or disseminating consumers' personal billing information, including
credit and unique identifying information, without authorization.
Cramming Voicemail Down Your Throat
I received a phone call from a man who said that he represented
a new telecommunications company in the area and he wanted
to verify my address so that he could send information about
the company's new service.
I asked what the service was but he just repeated his opening
speech about address verification and added that he would only
be sending four pages on the product which I could throw in
the trash if I did not like what I read.
Thinking back, it was very leading to get me to say yes to
the questions, even making a joke of the repetition which sort
of made me feel stupid for being concerned and asking questions,
though he would still not tell me what the product was.
Then the following day I received a phone call from another
man from the shipping department saying they gotten my zip
code wrong and wanted to verify my address.
I stopped him and said that as it was just paperwork why was
it being handled through a shipping & handling department? I
stated that I did not purchase, order or agree to anything.
He said "Yes, but I need to verify your address..." and
started his speech over again just like the other guy did. Again,
every time I interrupted he would start over. The last
thing he said was our service would be added to your phone
bill and quoted a price. Thank you and have a good day,
It was very frustrating and by the time I hung up I knew there
was something wrong but they had my info so I would just have
to wait and see what the scam was.
I realized afterwards that I should have hung up or refused
to answer the questions but with their sales pitch and tone
they both kept me rather flustered and I simply didn't think
fast enough to respond correctly. Now I have received
a letter that reads:
Welcome to VENUS VOICEMAIL SERVICES - the Next generation
The following package contains information about your new
service provided by Venus VoiceMail Services... bla bla bla Your
New Voice Mail Number is: xxx-xxx-xxxx Your Access Code
is: xxxx Thank You and Welcome bla bla bla If
at any time you need assistance, please call one of our Customer
Service Representatives at: 1-888-948-1930
In very small print at the bottom of the letter it reads -
Your Activation Fee is $19.95 Your Monthly Charge Will
As soon as I received this mail, I tried to call the phone
number but got a message. "Office hours are Monday - Friday
8:00 - 8:00. This machine will not accept messages, please
call back during normal business hours."
The customer service for Verizon, my telephone company was
closed as well so I can't contact them to see if I can stop
this from being added to my bill until Monday. I don't
have the time to play this kind of game at work where there
could be repercussions for using business phones and time for
I would really like to go after the people responsible for
this mess. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Cynthia Coffey 03/23/02
I also foolishly allowed Venus Voicemail Services to send
me the information because they told me I could throw it in
the trash. I basically told them they could send it to
me just to get rid of the person on the phone.
Now I have received a letter disclosing an activation fee
of $19.95 and a monthly charge of $15.95. After reading
about cramming I feared it would be billed through my local
telephone company so I phoned them back to cancel.
They were able to pull up "my account" and while
I was assured it was now cancelled I also asked for a cancellation
number. The "support lady" did in fact give me a
number though I have to wonder about that.
When I asked who their parent company was she told me this:
Mercury Internet Services
240 Arch Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19106.
I wonder if it is still considered a scam since I think I
was able to "nip it in the bud."
Connie Hudson 05/04/02
We Meant a Sinner Every Time
04/02 - Though they can't find them yet, the FTC is moving
to shut down a multimillion-dollar e-mail scam run by BTV
Industries in which Internet users responding to an
official-looking contest notification for a Sony PlayStation
2 or some other prize were funneled into a pay-per-view adult
Consumers who responded to the contest notification were directed
to a Web page that appeared to be operated by the popular Web
portal Yahoo. From there, consumers were prompted to make a "toll-free" Internet
connection to claim their prizes.
By accepting that prompt, it downloaded a file that auto-dialed
a 900 number and funneled you into an adult Web site, where
you were charged up to $3.99 a minute by AT&T who has been
cooperative about paying refunds to consumers who complained
about the charges.
Although the contest notification did eventually trigger a
disclosure box that outlined the fees for entering the site
they were in fine print and ran totally contrary to the terms
mentioned in the contest notification.
Yahoo Inc., which is not affiliated with the Yahoo sweepstakes
spam campaign has also filed suit against the alleged scammers.