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Verizon Agrees to Full Restitution in Phone Cramming Charges Lawsuit

Phillip Dampier March 6, 2012 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon, Video 1 Comment

Verizon Communications has agreed to full restitution, as part of a class action settlement, for unauthorized third party charges on their customers’ phone bills.

Known in the industry as “cramming,” extra unauthorized fees pop up on phone bills for voicemail, dating lines, ringtones, or 800 numbers many customers have no idea they even had.  Almost all of the charges come from independent companies unaffiliated with Verizon.  But critics charge phone companies have been ignoring abusive cramming practices, in part because they share a percentage of money billed and collected from customers.

Deceptive cramming charges are often hard to spot on phone bills replete with cleverly-named-to-be-obscure surcharges, taxes and fees.  Many crammers deliberately keep descriptions about the services they are billing as vague as possible, sometimes appearing as “special services charge,” “voicemail access,” or even “monthly charge.”  Many ratepayers assume it is all just a part of the cost of having phone service.

A class action lawsuit against Verizon accused the company of doing little to stop unauthorized third party fees, and many customers afflicted by them report getting them off their bills is not as easy at it should be.

“When I had a mysterious $14.95 monthly fee for ‘voicemail,’ a service I knew I didn’t have, Verizon required me to fight with some Bermuda-based company to get the charges reversed, and they just kept repeating I must have authorized the service because it was on my bill,” reports Stop the Cap! reader Kevin Sessly. “They wear you down until you just pay the bill.”

Sessly eventually won refunds after contacting his state’s public utility regulator.

As part of the settlement, Verizon customers will be entitled to full refunds of all unauthorized third party charges from April 27, 2005 through Feb. 28, 2012.

“Some settlement class members may have a claim for hundreds or thousands of dollars in refunds under the settlement,” class counsel Bryan Kolton said.

Verizon has also agreed to adopt an “opt in” system where customers must first allow third party charges on their phone bills before a company can bill your account.  Currently, customers are subject to third party billing unless they specifically block it with their telephone company.

“It is difficult to overstate the credit that is due Verizon for its commitment to fixing the third-party billing system as it relates to Verizon customers,” said John Jacobs, one of the lead attorneys for the class. “By this settlement, Verizon has committed to extensive and unprecedented changes that we believe will go a long way toward eliminating cramming and will change the industry.”

Crammers have used a variety of tricks to bill phone customers for services they never ordered.  Completing sweepstakes or contest forms with a phone number is one common method, asking for a cell phone number as part of a “free ringtone offer” is another.  Many services also trick customers into signing up with free offers or discounts on other products or services.  Many customers forget to cancel before the trial ends, resulting in recurring charges.

Customers will be able to recover the full amount of the unauthorized charges, if they have copies of their past phone bills, or obtain a quick $40 flat-rate refund by submitting claims at www.verizonthirdpartybillingsettlement.com or calling toll-free 1-877-772-6219.  Both services should be up and running by March 9.

Non-Verizon customers can still take steps to protect themselves from unauthorized charges by calling their provider and requesting a block on all third-party charges.  This service is provided at no charge.

ABC News reports on the Verizon settlement and steps consumers can take to identify cramming and obtain refunds for unauthorized charges.  (2 minutes)

 

Currently there is 1 comment on this Article:

  1. Frances Fixler says:

    You had sent me a post card a few months ago saying that I could be part of this settlement. I lost this postcard. I would now like to be represented by you for overbilling by Verizon. I do not have last years phone bills.
    Please advise
    Thank you
    Frances Fixler
    340 East 61st Street
    New York, NY 10065
    212-832-0180

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