FCC to release rules to prevent unauthorized charges

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Do you understand every charge listed on your phone bill? Better yet, do you even look at it before paying? The Federal Communications Commission said you should because companies are sneaking in unauthorized fees.

The practice is called "cramming" and according to the FCC, only about one in twenty consumers are able to decipher their bills and notice any hidden fees. Tomorrow it will consider new rules so companies can no longer play tricks with your money.

Hunter Catlett's habits when it comes to his cell phone bill may sound familiar.

"Really when the bill comes I just open it up, see the amount and unless it's astronomically high, as long as it's around the same amount, I usually just pay it," he explained.

Without the thorough examination, it's easy for him to miss any charges he didn't authorize.  Those fees add up. The FCC said "cramming" costs consumers $20 million a year. The Better Business Bureau calls the practice deceptive.

"The company will charge an additional $1.90 for a service charge or additional usage fee, or for some cases, they're for services, it could be everything from a psychic reading to a voice message," explained Tom Gallagher.

In fact, we found a perfect example on Catlett's mother's bill.

"It says billed on behalf of 'digitalvillage.com, webhosting gold $12.95,'" he showed us. Catlett said his mom wouldn't know how to use such a service.

The FCC plans to fine four companies millions for similar alleged cramming activity and will consider new rules to protect consumers Tuesday.

If Catlett had his way, they would read something like this: "You can't charge anything unless you ask them. Don't say put it on the bill and make us take it off. There should be something they have to do before they put it on."

The agency also released a cramming tip sheet Monday with what to look for and how to file a complaint if you think your bill has hidden charges. Click here for more information.

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