AT&T 'Crammed' the Wrong Customer's Mobile Phone Bill

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2014-10-08 Print this article Print
ATT Cramming 2

For its part, AT&T notes that the company has discontinued premium text messaging services. "In the past, our wireless customers could purchase services like ringtones from other companies using Premium Short Messaging Services (PSMS) and we would put those charges on their bills," AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel told eWEEK in a prepared statement. "Other wireless carriers did the same."

Siegel said that AT&T discontinued such third party services in December 2013, shortly before other carriers did the same. Siegel also notes that AT&T now makes it possible for all customers to block any third party charges.

If your company doesn't already prevent such third party charges as part of its wireless contract, this is a step you should take. Not all third-party charges are premium text messaging services, nor are all of them part of a cramming scheme. But there's unlikely to be a business case for such things as special ring tones, which is another hotspot for third party charges.

Perhaps the most concerning part of this action is that phone companies in general, and we're talking about both wireline and wireless companies here, tend to present themselves as victims in this whole process.

A common thread in similar prosecutions over the years has resulted in statements to the effect that the carrier was just passing along what they thought were legitimate charges and how were they to know there was a scam going on?

But in the AT&T action, as well as in other recent cases, there appears to be a pattern of abuse. Customers are routinely prevented from getting refunds for anything more than a couple of months, they are faced with a range of excuses as to how it is they must have authorized such charges or they're promised refunds that never come.

One of the most useful parts of the joint FTC–FCC investigation is the revelation that the carriers are actually active participants in at least some of these scams.

They receive a hefty percentage of those third-party charges, amounting to about a third, according to the FTC investigation. Ramirez said that her agency's investigation showed that AT&T would only refund part of the money for fraudulent charges when the company refunded anything at all.

But this can get worse. If your business BYOD plan is reimbursing employees for their wireless charges, then you also need to audit their phone bills for the same kind of bogus charges that you're checking your own bills for.

And you need to come up with a policy that clearly says you're not going to pay for third-party charges. This way your staff can have their custom ring tones, but your company won't have to pay for them.


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