Friday, June 08, 2007

Crammers are Taking Advantage of Consumers - and Getting Away With It!

A Monkey Bob - Consumer Crusader Post.

“There are three things in the world that deserve no mercy - hypocrisy, fraud, and tyranny.” -
Fredrick William Robertson

It appears that I was recently "crammed" on my phone bill. The Federal Communications Commission defines "cramming" as:

“Cramming” is the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading, or deceptive charges on your telephone bill. Crammers rely on confusing telephone bills in an attempt to trick consumers into paying for services they did not authorize or receive, or that cost more than the consumer was led to believe."

Cramming is a big problem. This activity is scamming consumers out of billions of dollars each year. And the chances of crammers being caught and convicted are almost zero!

In March of 2007 a company called YP.Corp added a $27.50 charge onto my Verizon home phone bill - for something called "web maintain". I never requested or authorized this charge. When I contacted them about this, they sent me a refund check.

When I looked into this situation, the YP.Corp charge on my phone bill appeared to meet the definition for cramming. After a number of letter exchanges with YP.Corp, they still have not offered an adequate explanation for why I was charged.

In addition, I question YP.Corp's credibility because - in December of 2006, YP.Corp agreed to pay $2 million in refunds after settling in court with the Attorneys General of 34 states. In a 12-14-06 statement from The Office of the Attorney General of Missouri - Attorney General Jay Nixon said that "The businesses and organizations often did not realize that depositing an “activation” check for $3.25 from YP Corp. — which does business under the names, and — triggered a monthly charge of $25 to $30 on their telephone bills or from their bank accounts for an Internet directory listing."

I filed complaints with government agencies because - even though I got my money back - there are probably thousands of people who were not refunded by the companies that use this questionable business practice. Because of the subtle way that it is done, many victims don't even realize that they are paying for something that they never wanted!

The YP.Corp settlement took place 6 months ago, and prosecution was only initiated after a considerable amount of time, and after a large number of complaints were collected and evaluated. But there doesn't appear to be any mechanism in place - for an individual consumer to initiate an effective government investigation of his (or her) cramming complaint.

The data below illustrates the steps that I took to try and start an government investigation of YP.Corps' charge on my phone bill:

1) I filed a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs for the State of New Jersey (where I live). It has been two months since I did this, and I have received no response.

2) I filed a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs for the State of Nevada, where YP.Corp has offices. All of the correspondence that I received from YP.Corp came from their Las Vegas, Nevada office. Instead of investigating this situation, the State of Nevada forwarded this complaint to the Division of Consumer Affairs for the State of Arizona, where YP.Corp has their headquarters.

3) Instead of investigating Nevada's forwarded complaint, the Arizona Division of Consumer Affairs forwarded this complaint to the State of New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, the agency that still hasn't responded to me.

4) I filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission - who has a page on their website for filing cramming complaints. But their response to me said that this situation did not fall within their jurisdiction. They suggested that I contact the Federal Trade Commission. The obvious question here is - Why is the FCC collecting cramming complaints, when they will not take action on them? My guess is that this complaint page is supposed to make Americans feel like the FCC is protecting them against cramming, when in fact it is not.

5) I filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, who responded with a list of suggestions on how to protect myself from cramming. But they did not pursue an investigation of my complaint.

6) I filed a Mail Fraud complaint with the US Postal Service - twice - but have received no response.

Therefore it appears that no government agency is investigating individual cramming complaints - and then taking effective action against the guilty companies. So it looks like consumers will continue to be victimized by cramming - without adequate Government intervention or protection.

I welcome comments from my readers.

Note: At the time that this post was written, YP.Corp has not been charged or convicted of cramming - in my situation - by any court of law. However the evidence that I have presented in this post indicates that YP.Corp's charge (on my home phone bill) appears to be cramming.

Every responsible journalist has an obligation to present both sides of a story. I therefore invite YP.Corp to submit a response to this post.

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