In Your Corner: Hidden Phone Bill Charges

By Ryan Elijah

June 18, 2010 Updated Jul 8, 2010 at 4:49 PM EDT

Lisa Schaefer was simply looking for a way to decrease her rising phone bill but when she called her phone company, Century Link, she got a surprise.

"I was just looking to reduce my phone bill. The customer service rep told me I had 3rd party charges, I didn't even know about the 3rd party charges", said Lisa Schaefer.

Lisa had charges that totalled $102 on her monthly bills going as far back as August of last year. They were in various amounts and for various services and she says she didn't sign up for any of them.

"somewhere we must must said it was OK, we do download coupons on the computer", said Lisa.

Century Link told her the charges likely came from the internet. They did agree to credit her account for all of the charges. We found dozens of complaints about the process called "cramming".

When the FCC deregulated the telephone industry it opened the door for 3rd party companies to charge customers through their phone bills.

Lisa isn't alone in not recognizing the monthly charge from hello mail for $14.95, we found countless complaints from people who felt ripped off and had never heard of the company, ESBI, or Enhanced Services Billing Inc.

Companies like ATT and Verizon have seen a dramatic increase in 3rd party charges. Verizon tells us those charges come from from Ad to texts for shows like American Idol, and they've added protection for customers.

Jodi Poirier, District Manager at Verizon said, "we have a "double opt-in", where customers must accept more than once. Customers also need to make sure it's not a reoccuring charge, instead of just a one-time charge"

Parents also have the option of blocking 3rd party charges to control cell phone plans. The bottom line, more so than ever, consumers need to follow Lisa's lead and check your bill to see what services you're being charged for, cancel any authorized charges and ask for reimbursement and certainly read the fine print online and be wary of saying yes to a telemarketer.

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