FCC Fines T-Mobile at Least $90M for 'Cramming' Bills

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2014-12-19 Print this article Print
bill cramming fine

Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC's enforcement bureau, said during the conference call that both the T-Mobile and AT&T settlements, combined, show that the nation's phone carriers are being put on notice that they can no longer rip consumers off by assessing unauthorized charges.

"We stand together as two federal agencies and as 50 states and the District of Columbia," he said. Through the investigations by the agencies "we learned that T-Mobile profited handsomely from unauthorized Premium SMS [Short Message Service] charges," said LeBlanc. "They allowed vendors to charge consumers month after month even after customer complaints. In short, we learned that T-Mobile was in bed with the crammers. And crammers are predators that are a threat to consumers everywhere."

Rich and LeBlanc declined to comment when asked by eWEEK about any pending similar investigations against Sprint and Verizon Wireless, which have so far not been named in cramming complaints by the government.

The FCC's partner agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), filed a lawsuit on Dec. 17 against Sprint over similar alleged cramming actions against its customers, according to an earlier eWEEK report. "The bureau's complaint alleges that Sprint operated a billing system that allowed third parties to 'cram' unauthorized charges on customers' mobile-phone accounts and ignored complaints about the charges," the agency said in a statement. The CFPB said it is seeking refunds for affected consumers and penalties to deter such unauthorized third-party charges in the future.

A report published by The National Journal on Dec. 15 said that a $105 million bill cramming fine against Sprint will soon be announced by the FCC. LeBlanc of the FCC would not comment about that report.

Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC, said in a statement that the settlement with T-Mobile "is a win for consumers who have been victimized by cramming. It means compensation for T-Mobile customers who were fraudulently billed for third-party services that they did not want or authorize. And it goes one step further. Today's action will also help protect all of T-Mobile's customers from bogus third-party charges in the future."

The pressure will continue to be placed by the agency on phone carriers that continue to push the insidious practices on their customers, said Wheeler. "The FCC remains committed to protecting consumers from cramming as well as any unjust and unreasonable business practices committed by the nation's carriers."


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