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How Long-Distance Scams Work

Phone Bill Cramming

Cramming involves illegally putting unknown and unexplained charges on your bill in the hope that you won't notice them, or will pay them anyway. This type of fraud can be club memberships, service programs, or simply vague, generic-sounding charges like "service charge." You may never use or receive the service or product, but you are charged for it. How do these charges get on your phone bill? There are a number of ways. Let's take a look:

  • Contest entry forms can bury their true intent in the fine print that no one reads or could comprehend if they did read. By signing and listing your phone number (so they can call you when you win!), you'll be authorizing them to bill you for their "service" or "membership," which you've probably never seen or heard of.

  • Direct mail sweepstakes are another way that your name and number can be captured and used in this type of scam. You may get a notice in the mail about a sweepstakes and instructions to call a number to see if you've won. This may automatically enroll you in a service that you don't want, but will be billed for on your phone bill.

  • Free calls via 800 numbers, like those for psychic services, or adult entertainment, request that you state that you "want the service" in order to get through to the psychic. This statement is recorded and used to enroll you in a service, club, or other type of billed program. You never receive anything -- probably not even the psychic reading -- and are billed on your phone bill for the "service."

  • Instant calling cards are access codes that reference your phone number and charge paid calls for adult entertainment to your phone bill. This may come about when a visitor (or family member) uses your phone to call an 800 number for an adult service. The person is given the code to use for future calls, and the code charges back to your phone number, not the caller's.

  • Dating services may also be a way of scamming unsuspecting people. When you call the service to talk with your date, you are told that your date will call you back and you'll need to enter a code to be teleconferenced. These charges are billed to your phone number and are usually mislabeled as collect or toll charges from other cities.


To protect yourself from cramming, always review your phone bill for unknown charges. If you find charges you can't identify, contact your local phone company and find out how to dispute the charge.

  • Request that a 900 number block be placed on your number.
  • Don't respond when a recording requests that you state "yes" or "I want the service."
  • Don't enter codes into your phone unless you know what they are for and know it is a trusted source.
  • Always read the fine print when you register for a contest or sweepstakes.

If you think you've been crammed, call the company who placed the charges on your bill and try to get an explanation. If they are charges for services or products you did not authorize, ask them to remove them. Then, call your local phone company and report the incident. They should be able to help you get the charges removed. File a complaint with the FCC if you can't get any cooperation. Or, you can contact your state Attorney General's office.