Consumer Alert: Review Telephone Bills for Unfamiliar Charges

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Consumers are encouraged to examine their local telephone bills to find out if they are paying for products or services they never intended to purchase, the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) said today.

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We recommend that consumers pay close attention while surfing the Internet and read any fine print carefully, especially when personal information is requested. Each month, consumers should review their monthly telephone bill to make sure unintended charges have not been added.

Consumers are encouraged to examine their local telephone bills to find out if they are paying for products or services they never intended to purchase, the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) said today.

The OCC issued a similar warning in June 2006 after some consumers throughout the country noticed charges on their monthly telephone bills for services such as enhanced voicemail, emergency roadside assistance or Web page hosting. Consumers claimed they never authorized the charges, some of which may have resulted from providing their telephone numbers and other personal information while browsing the Internet.

Since local telephone companies often have billing and collection agreements with other companies, charges from third-party companies may appear on customers' bills.

"In today's economy, the last thing consumers need is to have charges they never authorized appear on their telephone bill," said Janine Migden-Ostrander, Consumers' Counsel. "We recommend that consumers pay close attention while surfing the Internet and read any fine print carefully, especially when personal information is requested. Each month, consumers should review their monthly telephone bill to make sure unintended charges have not been added."

Reading the fine print and understanding the details is critical since consumers are often bombarded with requests for personal information. However, if no disclosure is made to customers, they may become a victim of "cramming," which is unlawful and occurs when a company adds a product or service to telephone bills without authorization.
The OCC recommends that consumers consider the following tips:

  •     Pay attention to the Web sites you visit and read the information associated with requests for personal information, including your telephone number. Be careful of any "too good to be true" gifts since they may require the purchase of a membership or product.
  •     Review your monthly telephone bills for names of companies you do not recognize. In addition, look for mysterious charges that relate to an extra service or feature that you never ordered or accepted.
  •     Call your local telephone company and the company providing the service if you have questions or need to dispute a charge. Ohio's Minimum Telephone Service Standards require contact information for third-party companies to be included on bills.
  •     Ask your local telephone company if it will "recourse" the disputed charges, which would remove them from your bill. However, the third-party company that added the charge to your local telephone bill may still try to bill you directly.
  •     Some local telephone companies offer a way for customers to block charges from third-party companies. The OCC has learned that AT&T, Cincinnati Bell, Embarq and Verizon offer ways to block miscellaneous charges. While these blocks may not be 100 percent effective, they can prevent most unauthorized charges.

About the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel
The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC), the residential utility consumer advocate, represents the interests of 4.5 million households in proceedings before state and federal regulators and in the courts. The state agency also educates consumers about electric, natural gas, telephone and water issues and resolves complaints from individuals. To receive utility information, brochures, schedule a presentation or file a utility complaint, residential consumers may call 1-877-PICKOCC (1-877-742-5622) toll free in Ohio or visit the OCC website at http://www.pickocc.org.

Contact: Ryan Lippe
(614) 466-7269

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